Neither Virginia Woolf, Maureen Dowd, or Michel Hazanavicius are package designers, and yet they understand something about the nature of creativity, the decibel level in our lives, and even how consumers respond to objects on a retail shelf.
For most of us this is a quiet time . . . a time for reflection between the hectic holidays and the anticipation of a new year to come. A quiet time we cherish because of its relaxed and restful contrast to the hectic pace we know will resume next week.
In the cinema it is a moment of silence, in mathematics it is the zero, in music it is a rest, in sports it is the time out, in design it is white space . . . those quiet seemingly empty things that help us appreciate all the more the voice track, the numbers, the notes, the rest of the game, or simply the other elements on the front panel of a package. A movie, equation, symphony, basketball game, or package design would all be a very different experience without that sense of contrast.
Yet we are losing this sense quiet in our lives, as is pointed out in a Maureen Dowd column earlier this month, with our intense pace and increasing connectedness. As she says, “The sounds of silence are a dim recollection now, like mystery, privacy and paying attention to one thing — or one person — at a time.”
And Virginia Woolf seemed to understand this rift in the modern world when she wrote, in the early years of the 20th century, about a time similar to ours. “On or about December 1910, human character changed.”
Yet for us . . . in the early years of the 21st century . . . things may be changing in ways unexpected. On many shelves of the retail store, the level of simplicity, calmness and yes even white space is on the rise. There is less shouting going on, even in the traditionally high decibel product categories like detergent or pain relievers.
Perhaps, for once, package designers have sensed this change ahead of most. Perhaps we together with our clients are beginning to recognize the value of this time out, and how this moment of quiet is being used in so many other areas of our life to heighten the appreciation for the whole experience.
As Michel Hazanavicius, Director of the new silent film “The Artist”, says about the lack of sound in his movie, “I compare it to the zero in mathematics. People think it’s nothing, but actually it’s not. It can be very powerful.”
Virginia Woolf describes these experiences as “Moments of being”, and my hope for the New Year is that our lives will be filled with more of them.
This portrait of Virginia Woolf, taken in 1902, is by George Charles Beresford