The Artist and the World around Them

Fabrizio Cocchiarella

The Artist and the World around Them

Psychic Products to Visionary Rumours

Rethinking how design can shape human existence in modern times

A study into perceptual experience and the way people ascertain fact from fiction through rumours presents new challenges for design to look beyond what is perceived as ‘normal’ and explore the realms of fantasy rationale as a way to design new meaning, behaviours and environments. What if design considered alternative perspectives to imagine beyond the current reality. We seem bound by our political systems, economic pressures and commercial market-led decision making. The current system in which our reality is materialised relies on design producing for ideals that perpetuate the same problems that have got us into a ‘state of unsettlement’ within our cultures and climate.


As designers design to ‘solve problems’ do we inhibit our opportunities to design ourselves into new possible futures? By focusing on fixing and being ‘realistic’ are we placing barriers in front of our creativity to re-work rather than re-invent? Are we inhibiting our opportunity as designers or perhaps should we be celebrating being unrealistic in order to imagine things that perhaps haven’t been imagined before (Dunne, 2019). Could this be where true innovation lies? Testing the previously thought to be un-testable? To imagine the previously un-imaginable.. what do we have to lose? Perhaps we should be materialising our dreams, listening to our imagination and celebrate being constructively unrealistic in order to explore new territory in design. Design has the ability to create new methods for living and new modes of reality, enabling opportunity to mobilise change through shaping human existence in modern times.


In thinking about what ‘the real’ is and how we engage with what is ‘normal’, perhaps we should be thinking about what is beyond our current knowledge and find ways to encounter and explore territory we still don’t currently understand. In exploring notions of the ‘para-normal’ could this be new territory for design to examine how personal belief influences the perception of how we engage with the ‘everyday’?


The term paranormal in this context refers to “a proposition that has not been empirically attested to the satisfaction of the scientific establishment but is generated within the non-scientific community and extensively endorsed by people who might normally be expected by their society to be capable of rational thought and reality testing” (Irwin, 2009, p.16-17).


An exploration of paranormal phenomena in relation to current political and geographic tensions could be a way from which to measure the psychological state of divided communities and an opportunity to rethink philosophical priorities. As humans become more disconnected from collectiveness, metaphysical notions can be attributed to manifestations according to the archetypes of modern fantasy. The UFO, ghosts, supernatural powers, psychic phenomena and experiences of telepathic connection could be the manifestation of visionary dreams that deal with conflicting traumatic issues in the self and in relationship with lived experience. Many are experiencing a growing 'Psychic Disturbance’. In confusing times of fake news and fake truths could it be pertinent that people in all societies look for comfort in symbolic visionary rumours. 


Through the common metaphysical interventions of the paranormal there is an opportunity for design to investigate the role of the ‘psychic product’, how it is manifested and how it is encountered. As geopolitically we become more nationalistic, phenomena like Brexit illustrates how communities may detach and isolate themselves in their own confirmation bias. Independence is defined through a ‘psychic disturbance’ (Jung, 1959) based on hopes, dreams and fantasy rationale.


The notion of the paranormal is something everyone can connect with, it is in our histories, folklore, belief systems and cultural values, it acts as a reference to nature and science, posing plausible explanations for the unknown. Imagination, fascination and fantasy nurtures a human desire for discovering alternative truth, reality and rationale. It investigates new possible futures outside the current commercialised world view that could be more valuable towards a ‘nature of living’. 


Through design adopting an experimental approach merging science (what we know or can attempt to measure and prove) and creative speculation (prediction and invention) to investigate the opportunity to explore sense making through the lens of parapsychology it is possible to mediate and translate perceptive experiences through design’s alchemical ability to direct, analyse and materialise ideas into physical form. Through designed tools that re-invent how we interpret the world through refocusing our parameters for evaluating, measuring and experiencing it, psychic products tantalise the imagination within a grounded realism. Contemporary work examining the anomalous (Irwin, 2009) (e.g., haunted locations) has established associations between the designed environment through staged haunted experiential scenarios and its effect on wellbeing and behavior (Anette et al., 2016) allowing opportunity to consider alternative factors in designing for experience. Through adopting a scientific approach to design to inform and evaluate the success of designed objects and environments, how can design 'emotionally engineer' the built environment as an interface from which to explore 'para-normality' and extend visceral experience.

The Psychic Product conceived through a process that goes beyond current modes of design practice, perhaps Para-design in their nature have the potential to investigate the science of human behaviour and relationships between location based phenomena, environmental qualities and paranormal belief. Practice through Para-design utilises psychical research as a lens from which to re-invent design scenarios that explore the phenomenology of experience. There is potential here to inform applications for research, enriching social and cultural relationships with place, establishing new connections with environmental ecology and developing new insights for architecture, design, spatial planning and interpretations for living in uncertain times.


By stimulating conversation and action around new approaches to design practice, designed objects become tools to test perceptual experiences of the anomalous and notions of possible interpretations of the real. Psychic Products explore the territory between ontology (the way we make sense of being), phenomenology (the way we read our environment) and psycho-geography (the way we translate space and find meaning in the design of places) to create Visionary Rumours that shape how we engage with ‘LIVING THE DREAM’.


This essay is part of a series of essays produced as part of ‘State of Unsettlement’, a research project with the UFƟ Collaboratory


Annett, M. et al. (2016) The Living Room: Exploring the Haunted and Paranormal to Transform Design and Interaction. Proceedings from 2016 ACM Conference ‘Designing Interactive Systems’, Brisbane, Australia, pp1328-1340.


Dunne, A. (2019) A Larger Reality. Fitness for What Purpose? Essays on design education celebrating 40years of the Sir Misha Black Awards. Editors, Mary V Mullin, Christopher Frayling. Design Manchester, Eyewear Publishing, pp116-117.

Irwin, H.J. (2009) The Psychology of Paranormal Belief: A Researchers Handbook, University of Hereford Press.


Jung, C. G. (1959) Flying Saucers, A modern myth of things seen in the sky. Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Fabrizio Cocchiarella is a designer, lecturer and researcher at Manchester School of Art. Current work through design practice utilises psychical research as a lens from which to re-invent design scenarios that explore the phenomenology of experience, re-interpreting ‘ways of seeing’ our relationship with the physical and metaphysical through ‘para-design’. An alumni of Design Products at the Royal College of Art, Fabrizio is also the co-founder of the Unidentified Facility Collaboratory which connects a collaborative search to investigate new forms of design practice and research.