As the sun comes up on a new day…
Chances are good you know them all by name: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po. They live in one of the most completely artificial environments on earth, or anywhere outside of Disneyworld, the Tubbytronic Superdome. Under the sign of the drooling sun, over hill and bucolic dale, just beyond the rabbit warren, they frolic, prance, and party-hearty. They like to run and jump. Sometimes they collide. They march in line, and bump butts and bellies when they dance. They disappear down a slide through a hole in the roof of their grass-covered berm where they return home to eat toast and custard, and have a friendly vacuum cleaner named Noo Noo who sucks up their messes. Important messages reach them by way of telescoping drive-in movie theater loudspeakers that carry soothing yet powerful PSAs. And whenever the giant pinwheel on the hill spins its glitter magic their bellies light up with exploding electrons: time for another yummy tummy video.
These are the Teletubbies, and they are “tele-visual” in the most sophisticated sense of design-user-experience. Each has his or her own personal antenna, the better to receive those incoming wi-fi transmissions. And they speak a form of hypocoristic psychobabble that could only be described as “soopergooey.” But what you might not have known is that they are all designers. Oh yes indeed. And they take serious responsibility for your material culture in ways of which you are only vaguely aware.
Take Tinky Winky. He’s a big purple male whose triangular-shaped antenna accurately reflects his unstable personality. Tinky Winky is totally devoted to “humanistic design” which, for a teletubby is quite a stretch. His foundation, The Tub Fund, is devoted to taking care of those ever green commons in Tubbyland, making design safe from neocolonial-imperialistic-jingoistic takeovers. He spends much of his time on the road, flitting from one hot spot to another with his beautifully designed INDEX award winning fire extinguisher. A teleconference guest at last year’s Bellagio Conference, he wanted to run for President of Haiti, but it’s hard enough for him to maintain his Tubbyland citizenship. An ardent devoteé of social networking, at last count TW had 550,000 Facebook friends, most of whom couldn’t understand him, but many who were still willing to volunteer for The Tub Fund. News of his bisexuality notwithstanding, Tinky Winky is a very droll, ultra compassionate fellow.
Dipsy, by comparison, has no sense of humor at all. You can tell this from his completely straight dipstick antenna, reminiscent of Bongo in Matt Groening’s Life in Hell. Probably a reflection of his bilious green color, Dipsy easily takes offense. Once, at a meeting with the rabbits to redesign their burrow, he flew into a rage simply because the youngest rabbit kept thumping. This was so out of character for a Teletubby that some of the more sensitive rabbits burst into tears. At that very moment Dipsy’s tummy video lit up with a particularly gruesome scene from Friday the 13th and the entire assembly erupted into chaos. Since then he has done precious little work for the Leporidae family. Dipsy is also seriously into design research. What he can’t discover on the Internet, he’ll turn up at one of the many design conferences he regularly attends. A former national board member of several professional design organizations, Dipsy is into schmoozing. And he’s very concerned about bandwidth. His wireless provider is constantly dropping tummy transmissions.
Laa-Laa, a female, believes in sustainability. Vexed that Dipsy inherited her favorite color as a primary memetic trait, Laa-Laa makes the best of her yellow fur by promoting examples of etiolated gardening. Able to quote the Bruntland Report chapter and verse, Laa-Laa is no closet environmentalist. In fact, she has frequently been arrested at radical demonstrations, and has had a life cycle analysis run on herself no fewer than two dozen times. Although a proponent of yellow-white gardening, Laa-Laa is LEED Platinum when it comes to design. No pamphlet is printed before she has a complete accounting of how many trees have been saved by using 100% post-consumer-waste paper. A proponent of the triple-bottom-line, she likes her lattés tall, sweet, and skinny, and her ink soyish.
Poor little Po can only talk about branding. She’s a founding member of the AIGA’s Young Advertisers for the Glorious Future of Capitalism community of interest, and is very concerned about rumors that branding is dead. When she was still very young Po was involved in an effort to brand her own antenna, which is in the shape of a bubble wand, but she instead sold the idea to the University of Oregon. Since then she has been the driving force behind Teletubby marketing schemes, including attempts to patent a certain GFP Bunny which fell flat. For Po the iterative design process is less about creating alternative futures than living yesterday’s tomorrows today. She really loved the “Just Do It” campaign. An ardent enemy of branding bashers, Po was once seen biting the leg of Naomi Klein when the latter got lost in the country and wandered by the Superdome. Consequently, Po is rumored to have an eating disorder.
If you are wondering why you never imagined these Teletubby behaviors before now, mark my words, it has everything to do with the general tendency of designers to serve the public by suffering in dutiful silence. In these uncharacteristic days of Bruce Mau/ Philippe Starck/ Rem Koolhaus design superstardom, Teletubbies remain steadfastly in character behind the scenes, a secret brotherhood diligently ensconced in the Superdome, working to convince you that their primary function is the entertainment of pre-school age children while they actually plan the violent overthrow of the natural universe and the establishment of a designocracy that will last 1000 years, the Tubberiad.
When next you review your design career, think of these professionals. Warm and cuddly by day, like bunnies in soft green meadows, furtive and focused at night, like bunker-busting laser-guided cruise missiles, these design theorists and practitioners are wholly devoted to the improvement of your experience, the extension of your brand, and maybe even the domination of your umwelt.
Time for tubby bye-bye.
Time for tubby bye-bye.
Martin Scriblerus is a wholly owned subsidiary of the International Society for the Advancement of Malediction. No designer, living or deceased, expressed or implied, has been exempted from consideration for this piece. If you are feeling left out and would like to be included in a future lampoon, please contact the appropriate office of the ISAM.