My mind is blown. Your mind is blown. Anybody who watched the Opening Ceremony at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics had their mind blown. Spectacular. Big. Incredible. Historical. No verbs can be found.
I’d go as far to say that this was the most incredible experience ever designed. The scale, the coordination, the inventiveness, the low-key yet over-the-top use of technology. We’ve never seen anything like this before.
The Bird’s Nest is the new iPhone.
Every year or two, something comes along in the design world to reset the design barometer. iPod. Minority Report. iPhone. Everything after is compared to that barometer, wants to be like it, wants to emulate its success. The Opening Ceremonies is that new barometer, and we’ll just simply call it the Bird’s Nest. From the opening drummers to the use of massive screens to the incorporation of history and message to the incredibly tight coordination to the stunning image of Li Ning running around the stadium scrim to light the torch, the Bird’s Nest is the experience to reference, emulate, and beat. A perfect blend of story and engineering.
I’m not the first to say this, nor will I be the last. But that is partly the part of the overall theme of the ceremony, or as Dan Saffer said: “The human being as pixel.” As much as we love to highlight the individual, the One, in the West, we need to remember that we are also part of a community, the Many, as highlighted in the East. Neither belief is 100% true, yet both are true. We are both one and many. The symbolism was everywhere. The drummers. The human printing blocks. Yes, the individual can accomplish a hell of a lot when the mind is set, but look at what can happen when many minds are set on the same thing. Even though much of this imagery came from the mind of director Zhang Yimou, he could not have built this on his own. One can’t live without Many, Many can’t live without One. The central paradox of life?
The world has a whole raft of problems going on that will be passed on to the next generation, as highlighted thematically in the Bird’s Nest ceremony. Who will solve these problems? Will it be the East, who seems to be looking toward the future and addressing its problems, or the West, who seems to look to the past and deny its problems? As Leo LaPorte said, “I think we’ll look back at this and say, this was when the American century ended and the Chinese century began.”
This is a moment that will stick with us. This is the new benchmark of experience design. Everything else is just a toy.