I don’t do well with noise. Allow me to clarify: Although I have nothing against volume (I love loud* metal) I experience a strong negative reaction to the chaos that comes with noise. In fact, I find noise so off-putting that I avoid industry events, shopping malls, and children’s birthday parties—leaving my spouse to deal with any events our kids are invited to.
Some love going to restaurants that have a party “vibe”: lots of animated discussion, high ceilings that create echoes, and pop hits playing atop it all. I find such experiences nearly intolerable. I hate straining to make out what’s being said. The hard listening that’s required to filter speech from the surrounding cacophony leaves me angry and depleted—and feeling a deep desire to get out of that space.
For me, noise goes beyond the audible, and is present in anything that’s disorganized or unclear. My wife bears the brunt of my inability to deal with noise more than most. I need objects in our house to be put away neatly, easy to locate, and logically grouped. When our home is not so, I go a little bonkers. Often, I start pulling apart closets and performing involved taxonomy exercises on these spaces. This behavior extends to my office desk, computer desktop, and even the contents of my backpack. I aspire to minimalism because I cannot tolerate clutter.
Part of this sensitivity must be related to my obsessive compulsive tendencies. I’m not being hyperbolic, my behaviors match the diagnosis for OCD with surprising accuracy—even if my symptoms are on the mild end of the spectrum. However, I don’t think that’s the sole reason for my distaste of noise. Part of this aversion must come from being Finnish.
I haven’t lived in Finland for more than a couple of months at a stretch, but I grew up surrounded by Finnish esthetics and sensibilities. Notions of clarity, economy, and purpose were valued in our household. No item was ever out of place. There was little unnecessary decoration. Function and form were always closely linked, meaning that all chosen and made household objects exhibited a sort of simple sobriety.
The remarkable aspect of Finnish design is silence. Although this might not be present in every single designed object that comes from this country, it’s consistent in the nation’s output. And therefore when the Finnish designer deliberately zags, the viewer notices, because such moves aren’t made haphazardly. By comparison, the common American esthetic is an ongoing assault on the senses that pummels the viewer into a sort of emotional comatose. Eventually, this leaves the audience uninterested in responding to anything other than the most heinous affronts.
My point? The world is full of noise. Even if I’m more sensitive to this clutter than others, many are overwhelmed and exhausted by the need to filter almost all of what they encounter. You need to determine which politician will do as he/she says—even though most make the same litany of promises. You’re obliged to read through countless reviews just to determine which blender to buy. And on sites like Facebook, you have to sort through endless posts, filtering what’s clickbait and junk, from what’s relevant.
The Information Age isn’t just making our lives better, it’s also forcing us to contend with much more noise. And cutting through this noise is hard mental work. So, if you want to endear your brand/offering to customers, you might benefit by thinking in terms of silence. How unmistakable can you make your offering? How clear can you make your promises and actions? And how simple can you make the buyer’s experience?
Most people—designers included—are adept at adding more noise. Only a limited few hold the discipline and fortitude to instead serve the design, remove the noise, and get out of the way.
*Loud music is closer to silence than one might realize. For example, I can’t properly think when writing in a noisy coffee shop. However, putting on a pair of headphones and drowning out that noise with one singular rhythm and melody can help me achieve a higher level of focus.