As designers, we’re looking for memorable impact—design solutions that are memorable, laden with ineluctable magic, surprise, wondrous artfulness, amazing and happiness-creating, or—more particularly, treatments that invoke the sense of wow! Wow is unforgettable.

Tim Girvin | Spain

I focus on the strategy, the idea, of standing-out, creating a standout solution: it’s surprising, the color and content might be a little shocking, but it reaches out towards a moment—an instance that you simply can’t forget. Designers, you know that moment—this solution is unlike anything I’ve seen before. And, to brand owners, the solution should be something that could be refreshingly surprising, memorably speaking from the shelf, the website. Working with P&G, we called this epiphanic—that jump to something that uniquely presents the brand story in a compellingly unforgettable manner, a shock—“this is new!”

Words have layers of meaning, especially when you study them historically—what did they mean then, and what could that meaning import now, as a new reflection on context and relevance. You probably know that surprise — etymologically, is the prize beyond, it’s the sur-prise; “pried” from the moment of victory in the “plunder” of experience.

More so, perhaps, this sense:
“A Surprize is … a dish … which promising little from its first appearance,
when open, abounds with all sorts of variety.”

[W. King, “Cookery,” 1708]

But, the meaning grows deeper, to war and martial arts and capture—sur, meaning “over” and the prize [prise—being more akin to pries, or to “pry”] So an assertion that is a surprise is actually a “prehension” from above. Prehensile—which, as you know, links to the concept of “grasp”—to “prehend—like: to “apprehend” or more relevant to this discussion, to hold and to “comprehend.”

Tim Girvin, Santa Fe

An idea could be a battle of, and for, ideas of the new.

Good ideas, if they are emotionally evocative, are literally “held.”
That “holds” true.
To heart.

Tim Girvin, Marrakech

OUTSTANDING—easier and more obvious — to “stand out” to “stand apart” from the crowd. “Out stood” – to out- stand, as well, is to “outlast.” And even “understanding” speaks to the notion of standing-in, being close into comprehension.

In that way, in our work, the power of something that’s memorable,
might be in its beauty.
And the capturing of attention and focus.

That’s right in there—to rethinking, listening to, digging into the layered meanings of words—with “shock.”

Which, to history—the shock will be about “an encounter”—as in battle; so too, “to shake, jolt, or jerk.” It’s a jump—or, as we’ve noted elsewhere, it’s a leaping.

Wake up: touch, taste, hear and smell…
Awaken, go out and see something—
experience the surprise, yourself!

That reminded me—the passage of surprise, awe and unforgettable moments of spectacle; it comes the layers of journeying experiences [wanderings, sightings and contemplations of those moments]—and “striking captures” of instance, and the presence in that moment:

You can see these—and surely, you too have your own minutes of momentous discovering—the shake of shock, being pried from the present, surprised in the now.

An entry door, Cardona, Spain—
A shocking concatenation of hand-carved text.
Unexpected. Unexplained. Astounding.

Sinkhole, Kauai, Hawaii
As the water surges and retreats, it flows down through an opening in the rock and coral, and “breathes in”—a torrential inhalation—which bursts out in a roaring exhalation that can be heard all along the beachfront. The percussive explosion is shocking. A jolt.

The blow [Girvin]

Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Walking in, you look up, the sheer volume of the space is amazing. But then there’s a quivering luminosity, which the light streaming through the stained glass, shining on a pillar in Spain.

A cairn, East Iceland, Glacier Lagoon
In the sheer brilliance of an ice-strewn, sea-bound river, I stacked some stones found in the riverbed. It was shockingly cold, saturated with color.

Westfjords, Iceland
Another crag run, through devilishly rocky terrain, moss-laden and mysteriously hobbled by goblins and wild ken—hulduvólk; and also wild, a river runs through it.

A rampart, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon
Hiking the Grand Canyon, there are diversions which put you out, pull you out to the most fabulous vistas, breathtakingly dangerous, view, risk, conjoined, are unforgettable. Round the moment and there’s a 3000’ drop.

Mandalay, Myanmar
Walking down one corridor, in an old temple compound, leads to another, which is an unknown portal, an unseen pathway, every step, a surprise.

New Delhi, India
Inside an Islamic tomb, a grand tower to a sufi saint, there are lower chambers in which the patterning of one room, tells a story that is supported by another story—a patterning, on another wall, each—transcribed by light. Just that moment, a surprise.

Around provincial centers, monastic compounds and governance sites, the Himalayan Dzong act as cluster points of meaning, profound spirituality and community services—
while prayer wheels churn, a child gambols.

Istanbul, Sultanahmet, Turkey
Walking the old city at night, the luminous appears; and the massive Mosque estates come alive—as the call to prayer echoes throughout the darker, quieting streetscapes.

The surprise of NYC is everywhere—any stride anywhere leads to a unexpected spectacle of the new, like a food truck on the 6th floor of a office building—sitting in an old drive through for the USPS.

Lezay, Poitou-Charentes

Borobadur, Java

A rope maker sits in a complication of ropes that he’s braiding, a surprising momentary visualization in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Every quest has its moments—which could be distant, or nearby—it’s obviously tied to the nature of the wandering for that discovery—the need to find, to seek insights, discover beyond—that vale of the commonplace to the extraordinary new sight.

The key for me is searching for the shock of the new, the wowness of something never seen [by most of us—in this case, me;] but, too, the obsessive pitch of drama, spectacle-seeking—continual discovering. You get out there, further and further, farther away—and there it is.

Surprise! Wow the new.

I recall, working at National Geographic, and a Nat Geo photographer talked to me about heading out on shoots for National Geo. He measured “out there-ness” in increments.

There is travel that is a couple of hours.
Then half day, an day.
Then two days out. And the further out that you get, the more distant the destination—
and the distance from the here,
to the there
becomes all the more profoundly outworldly.
Out there.

Wow the new.
In you.