The Audience Formerly Known as The General Public

Bernays shows us that in making judgements about how best to communicate ideas to audiences, one must pay real attention to the audience in question. It’s important to recognise that the concept of a ‘general public’ is long gone. There is a growing understanding among public facing entities that ‘publics’ (plural) are made up of people with an assortment of different backgrounds, communities, experiences, perspectives, interests, motivations, personalities, genders, ethnicities, education histories, ages, religions, sexualities, disabilities, cultures, socio-economic and geo-demographic contexts, health needs, political affiliations, values, attitudes and beliefs.

Reducing people to a series of character traits or demographics is problematic for a variety of reasons, not least because that is not what people really are or want to be thought of, neither do they respond naturally or honestly to that which measures them. People often surprise you (or change) when you get to know them. They regularly change their minds and have public and private personas.

Some might understand successful public engagement to be that which renders the passive audience member active, but even levels of interaction and enthusiasm can be put down to mood. Whilst it is a positive step to create multiple opportunities for two-way communication there will always be a desire and expectation amongst audiences to sit back and consume outputs.

Gladiators of wide audience reach like Apple, Google, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon all understand that in a capitalist democracy, those who innovate based on the needs, wants and convenience of the consumer take their seat at the table of the future. In other words, their survival and prosperity depends on their relationship with an audience.

Therefore, if we want humans, culture and society to be sensitive to research outputs, we must play to the sensibilities of the audience, not rely on an expectation the reverse is true because it’s preferable. I thought it conceptually appropriate therefore, with the exception of key texts, for this thesis to reference sources predominantly from popular culture. As a consumer that is what I see, where I take my influence, and what my generation might consider to be the 21st century arena of knowledge transfer and production. What may have begun as a bias towards consuming non-text based outputs has turned in to a quest for diversity, leading me to ask; what is out there?

Interaction design is concerned with how audiences (the end-user) actually behave and what they’re susceptible to, not how we want them to behave or be susceptible to. In a way, designing for oneself is also designing for others. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. By creating experiences in this way connections are established in more meaningful ways, ways that transcend demographics. But understanding comes from seeing someone else’s point of view. Might it be the dialogue between these two methods of design where we find the truth?