Being Authentic

The title might suggest that Van Essen Studio has it all together and that you’re about to read a “how to” on being authentic (or to put it another way, genuine or more broadly, original). If you’re interested in reading that however, you may want to stop here because I don’t believe we can stay authentic at all.

This thought of not being able to stay authentic has been bothering me for a long time. Of course we’ve all heard the legend of Picasso saying ‘A good artist copies, a great artist steals’. Whether he said this or not, I believe the core of this thought is true. Even more so, after listening to an episode of NPR’s ‘Invisibilia’ about Entanglement I got convinced. True authenticity is non existent. Maybe Plato was right and there is an original ‘idea’ of everything in the world of ‘ideas’.

The show starts with explaining the entanglement in physics which basically means that two atoms at different locations can have the same properties and if one atom changes, the other atom changes as well. The furthest distance Physicists have tried this is over 88 miles. Super interesting because this discovery brings along dozens of questions.

The show uses this topic to talk about something called Mirror-Touch Synesthesia. A condition that causes the neurons of a person to emit signals which result in physically feeling another persons feelings. In other words when a person gets slapped in the face, then the person with Mirror-Touch Synesthesia will physically feel it.
I know what you think, this can’t be true right? That’s what I thought when I heard it, until this British Psychiatrist explained something we all may know but don’t realize on a daily base. He explained that our brain is the organ responsible for experiencing pain. So a spectator with an overwhelming amount of empathy, can indeed feel the physical pain of someone else.

OK, now what does this have to do with authenticity?
The show continues to talk about contagion by showing a old video of a Candid Camera show:

On the show, the scientists argue that we all take on behavior of other people, even if we don’t know it. It expresses itself in such minuscule ways that we may think that we are immune to peer pressure but in truth we are not. Think about when you see someone yawn and get the urge to yawn yourself or more existentially, think about what you wear, where you live and how you live. Are those really decisions you made yourself?

As UX designers authenticity is incredibly important. We want to stand out and rise far above the competition but as original as I try to be with approach and our design language I’m heavily influenced by my competition.

Almost every week I Google around a bit with queries resembling ‘best UX website’ or ‘most beautiful website’. Today I Googled ‘Best UX agencies’ and the first search result was this entry from and the amount of beautiful websites that in essence all look the same first made me happy. Van Essen Studio does not have a standard WordPress website with the ever present full width hero image and three columns explaining what the company excels at. Surely we are truly authentic? But then of course, then I saw the work of Digital Telepathy and if you scroll down just a little bit you see that somebody else already has pulled off the exact same trick we use on our homepage.

What was I thinking? Of course Van Essen Studio looks up to the giants that made the site of New Relic and
I guess it is a compliment to Digital Telepathy and confirmation to us that we created something similar without knowing it.

True authenticity, I don’t think that is really a thing and great inspiration comes from the heroes before us. In pushing each other on, our work can only get better. No need to try hard to be something we’re not, it’s time to be inspired by those around us.

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