Fortune Cookie

If you’ve ever had Chinese-American food, no doubt you’ve come across the iconic fortune cookie. When broken open you come across a printed strip of paper that states a wonderful message of good will–your fortune. It makes us feel good for a moment in time and we either keep it or toss out that strip of paper. It’s also true that the message stays or is thrown away from our psyche.

Our human brain works in ways similar to our reaction to a fortune cookie’s message. The message creates a thought in our heads that could make a neural connection if we want it to. If that neural connection happens, it becomes an intention. If you believe the cookie’s message, your intentions will make it happen. After all, the body follows the brain. For example, if your brain says the body is hungry, the brain will direct the body to find something to eat. If your brain believes, your body will follow. It’s a learning response–response, stimulus, reinforced behavior. I will elaborate more on learning in a future post.

Design is like a fortune cookie. It carries a message that we hope will connect with its viewer. The struggles are there in hopes that it will leave a neural connection that a viewer will hopefully create an action (call, connect, visit, purchase, inspire, etc…). Beginning designers tend to be more ego driven and not thinking of the so-called fortune cookie effect. Remember that ego never inspired anyone.

When designing, think of how wonderful the experience is from the fortune cookie. And, just maybe, you will leave a lifelong connection with your message.

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Optimum

Optimum is defined as the level where something is the most conducive to a favorable outcome. We are always searching and striving for the optimum level of whatever it is we are into at the time. We often associate this concept with athletics. They are the epitome of optimum and we see the results manifest themselves with being bigger, faster, stronger, etc… Find any sports highlight video snippet and you can see optimum at its finest.

We shouldn’t forget that optimum applies to all aspects of our lives as well. There is always an optimum value of all things. Keep in mind though that there is a drawback to optimum levels. Above that level, it becomes toxic and below that level it is deprived. Like calcium, water, or oxygen, there is an optimum quantity that each of us needs. Beyond that it is toxic and poisonous for us. Below that our bodies become deficient, which is just as bad.

Creativity is also subject to this natural law. I’m always striving to understand my own optimum levels of creativity. I used to think there can never be too much creativity. And, yet, I see the results of toxic levels of creativity–no common sense, overly stylized things, madness and obsession, etc… Also, on the deficient end of creativity–no spark of life, fear of trying new things, status quo, etc…

Being creative is an energy that we struggle to maintain our optimum levels with. Recognize your own levels. If you’re deficient, get inspired (recharge). If you’re toxic, then calm your mind (discharge). Stay creative at your most optimum levels and you’ll be surprised with the results.

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Take Up One Idea

Designers are like everyone else, we have the same day-to-day struggles and worries as well as joys and life accomplishments that punctuate our lives. When assessing our needs and dreams, we are often tasked with taking inventory of what we’ve done and what we’d like for our future. We conclude with a list of the most important things we’d like to accomplish. This list often consists of maybe fifty or more items.

This list of 50 items can be further refined down to 5 with 1 being the top of the list. This is where the magic of human accomplishments works in mysterious ways.

When we take up the mantle to complete the 1 accomplishment. We take up 1 idea. That idea should be your life–think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

And, success breeds success. It becomes a wonderful circle of accomplishment. This success leads to the next accomplishment on your list… and the next… and the next… etc…

The most important aspect of all this is you keep these accomplishments to yourself. Never gloat and brag to others. After all, they are yours and yours alone. The Universe will reward your accomplishments in due time.

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Golden Ratio

As a continuation of my previous post about “Force” and composition, I’d like to introduce the concept of the “Golden Ratio”. This is a compositional ratio that is commonly used in classic architecture, music, classic art, the design world, and mother nature commonly uses it in almost everything we see and experience.

This ratio between 2 numbers (A:B) is commonly known in the mathematical world as 1.618. The equation is if: A/B = (A+B)/A then we have 1.618—a number once considered the most beautiful in the world, mainly because of its pleasing aesthetics. The Parthenon, pyramids of Egypt, the UN Building in New York, and the Great Mosque of Kairouan all exhibit the golden ratio.

If we estimate the golden ratio further, we find that it’s approximately 2/3 to 1/3. A ratio that is easily palpable for everyone.

Let’s take this concept even further. In photography, we have the rule of thirds. The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts. With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ now identifies four important lines (horizontal and vertical) of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image. Now imagine if we applied the rule of thirds to our lives.

For anything in our lives, the optimal setting would be 2/3 or 1/3, depending on the situation. We spend 8 hours of our 24-hour day at work (1/3 of our day). Our most worn clothes are probably only 2/3 (or 1/3) of our wardrobe. We tend to spend the most effort and energy with about 1/3 of our friends. The list goes on about keeping life manageable, useful, and beautiful in our lives, using “The Golden Ratio”.

Optimization and beauty, for me, go hand-in-hand. Keeping our lives in perspective and manageable sometimes dictates staying within this ratio. Anything more or less can cause disharmony, a situation we don’t want to deal with.

The visual world is easy to deal with. It’s the other parts of our lives that require more thought and discipline to create the beauty we desire.

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Force

Often when critiquing design work, both professionally and academically, we have an intuitive notion of whether it visually works or not. This initial gut reaction is what any Star Wars fan calls “The Force”. In the Star Wars movies, the force is this invisible energy that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds all things. This force is referenced in almost all cultures and civiliations.

I often think of “the Force” when I ponder visual design communication. Visual communication can only happen when there’s something to be viewed, a viewer, and a medium that conveys the two. This communication carries with it conveyances (packets of information). Any component and its arrangement (composition) carries meaning that is interpreted by the viewer. When both components and composition of the viewed resonate harmoniously with the viewer, the work is successful. The opposite is also true. If both components and composition don’t resonate with the viewer, the piece doesn’t work and a harsh reaction occurs. Like The Force, there’s no meaning until it reaches the viewer.

The Force (communication conveyances) can be manipulated by designers. Composition, in particular is a strong way to deal with this force. It’s a quick and easy way to create harmony or disharmony. So, composition is one of the first things I deal with when teaching new design students. When we can manipulate this strong aspect of design on many levels, we can control the viewer—a magical aspect of design. The power of arranging things is documented in the study of Feng Shui.

Often beginning designers don’t realize the power that can be harnessed with composition. And, I know which students have it and those that don’t. I guess that makes me a “Yoda” in the design world. Hmmm… I’ll take that.

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Trust

There are times in our design lives when we have to seek help from colleagues and associates. Whether it’s a technique or resource to help get things done, we have a circle of people that we trust. Students especially have to let go of their apprehension and be able to trust the teacher. Only then are they able to learn.

If at any time that apprehension comes back, we no longer are able to learn. Walls are built up and the teacher’s expertise is questioned. This concept of trust is earned and respected. This only comes with time and experience.

There are no shortcuts to trust. Our personal and professional networks are built based on trust. Relationships are built on trust. We need trust in our lives to contribute to the well-being of our society. Please don’t confuse promises with trust though.

Place your trust in people and organizations that have a track record worthy of your standards. Vice versa, you have to have a track record of standards as well.

Designers need that trust in all that we do, from our tools to our associates. We trust because we are willing to accept the risk, not because it’s safe or certain.

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Ordinary

Everything we experience in this modern world is usually designed and concepted by someone’s imagination. From our buildings and transportation we conduct our lives in to the pencils and pens we always take for granted that give permanence to our thoughts. We live in a world of everyone’s imagination.

What’s amazing to think about is how incredibly ordinary the majority of our world is. The next time you flip through a newspaper or drive through a neighborhood, take a visual inventory of what you think is ordinary. You’ll find that ordinary exists and is multiplying. We start to blend in with everyone and everything—a slow death for any creative.

I wonder sometimes if there are mental and physical issues involved with the world of the ordinary. Creatives know how much they need to pull away from the ordinary. They’ve discovered how much they need to risk in order to be seen and heard. But the risks give way to an extraordinary life with beautiful insights—ask any fine artist, the ones who risk the most.

I often ask and plead with my students to show me things I’ve never seen before—an easy challenge but hard in its execution. This means they have to push themselves into their own storm of thoughts and have their own hero’s journey, which is very uncomfortable. The best are the ones that make it through their own mental storm—the ones that make it through the ordinary.

If you are not willing to risk the usual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.

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