Let’s look at it this way, friends: soul is nothing more, probably, than the authentic vibration of the biosphere, registered and amplified within the human sensorium. Think of it as that somewhat lumpy cloud of indefinable energy that is generated when the human emotion and human intelligence interface with the larger body of nature.
— “Mars Albert Stubblefield” in the novel Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins
I can never be sure how serious to take the tangents of Tom Robbins’ characters. They could go either way. But because I’ve been thinking about soul lately I gave this one a few extra reads. I think it contains some tidbits worth harvesting.
On my website I used to talk about how brands need soul and how, outside of design, what I’m really attempting to do is “find and convey deeper meaning and emotion”. It’s was a short bit and I’m not sure anyone really got it. When I read this rant from Robbins I understand why I came across as vague: I was attempting to define how one goes about creating a lumpy cloud of indefinable energy. And I’m applying it to brands/businesses/strategies nonetheless (which feels a little superficial). Stubblefield goes on:
It’s a bit of a cliche to say it, but when you think of soul, you should think of things that are authentic and things that are deep. Anything superficial is not soulful. Anything artificial, imitative, or overly refined is not soulful. Wood has a stronger connection to soul than does plastic, although, paradoxically, thanks to human interface, a funky wooden table or chair can sometimes exceed in soulfulness the soul that may be invoked by a living tree.
This part is straight forward. This why I left the creaky floor boards of my office untouched when I converted it from a hayloft. Old things have soul and that is why it makes sense to look at history and the origins of things or projects when attempting to find soul. This is why it makes sense that something that is truly genuine will inherently have at least a little soul. The reason why I say ‘brands need soul’ is not because they really need it but because I prefer things that have it, and so do many others.
There are many designers who understand soul and the interfacing of human emotion and intelligence. But so often these things are overlooked. Authenticity without soul is easily identifiable (by most) as marketing trop. It makes us cringe. More and more, people are developing a pretty good nose for BS as well as a cagey sense of awareness for what’s real. Or at least here’s hoping.