Of atoms, bits, design and digitalisation

Visiting the Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective in Louisiana Museum of Modern Art was eye-opening and shutter-closing. People walked around with their phones ready at hand; the exhibition seemed to be designed for selfies and possible profile photos. It felt like we were part of the artist’s grand scheme documenting and sharing everything as we saw it. It felt like the physical experience was enhanced by the digital dimension, not enslaved by it.

Do we sometimes forget the physical form that we inhabit in the age of digital this and digital that? Do we design experiences only for screens when the best experiences are experienced in atoms instead of bits? Digitalisation is a means, not an end goal. The best digital services and experiences build bridges between atoms and bits: think AirBnb, Uber, Tinder and Wolt, for example.

When everything is measured in clicks, visits and time of engagement, we shouldn’t forget to design experiences that live outside the screens we stare at for the most part of our days. At best these experiences are actually the ones shared most likely by the people present. Never underestimate the power of selfiebility.

This is why we need people who understand how to create experiences outside of the traditional marketer’s playbook. Miltton’s new Head of Design, Jesse Auersalo, is part of the solution: he comes from a world revolving around art exhibitions, fashion shows and innovative club concepts. Something that companies in Finland have traditionally been lazy or even scared to utilise.

Back to Denmark and Louisiana: the queue just to get into the Kusama exhibition was 45 minutes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d be breaking visitor records this year. And I’m not saying art shouldn’t be taken as art, but designing smart ways of enabling the visitor’s self-expression might interest totally new audiences. Needless to say I exited through the gift shop.


Mikko Hakkarainen is a creative strategist and partner at Miltton Creative. He’s shamelessly enthusiastic about marketing, design, tech, music, movies, books and the pop culture. All sorts of phenomena, that is.

Twitter: @Mikmo