Intuitive mysteries: The UK UFO Archives

Posted by Ian on Nov 2, 2008 in blog | No Comments
There’s nothing like a good mystery. 
Just recently, the UK Ministry of Defense released a new batch of UFO records to the UK National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents cover the years 1986-1992 and relate a wide range of sightings and experiences involving unidentified flying objects.

In a videcast by Nick Pope at the National Archives, it is said that since the establishment of the Freedom of Information Act, the highest percentage of requests have dealt with UFO records.
What drives the popularity behind UFOs? Is it the mystery? Or is it the possibility that we do know something, but that it is shrouded by conspiracy? Whatever the answer, there is an evidential human desire to try to comprehend these documented moments when human intuition was unable to immediately understand an experience. 
Perhaps design can learn something from the popularity of the UFO mysteries. Perhaps experiences which are somewhat less intuitive for utility but which are immediately seen as mysteries can be as successful as those which are designed to be easily understood and intuitive. Situations designed to have no immediate experience or perception of truth can create a strong cult of desire around a product or event.
The intuitively designed product such as an iPod gives the user an immediate sense of ‘how to use it’. These products can, however, overly provide intuitive knowledge to the point of limiting fascination, mystique or wonder. 
The intuitive mystery (such as of UFOs) leaves a person with urgent questions of ‘what’ and ‘why’. These questions can have unlimited promises of knowledge and possibilities of new experiences within them. 
Take for example, the film Independence Day‘s (1996) advertising campaign. For months and weeks before the release of the film on 3 July 1996, a single black screen with a white dot would be shown for about 10 seconds with the date 3 July 1996 and the text ‘It’s coming’. The design of the campaign was based on mystery and intrigue.
It’s something of an intuitive paradox, but humans can immediately recognise a mystery when they see one – it is intuited as an opportunity to ‘figure something out’ or to know more. So rather than structuring the experience so all is immediately known and comfortable, perhaps design could take a page from the UFO archives and utilise the human desire for intuitive mysteries – with the most successful being those that never get worked out…
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