Work it Out

All too often in my observations of the working habits of design students, I see too much of a reliance on technology. They will give up because the software can’t do what they envisioned. They give up on a concept and relinquish their vision to a software algorithm. This is what makes the difference between pedestrian designers and incredible designers. Incredible designers push their own limits and knowledge with their tools. Pedestrian designers give up and let their tools dictate their design. Designers have to find their own breakthroughs—they have to work it out.

In cases like this, I often remember a quote from the great John Wooden (legendary UCLA basketball coach), “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.”

By making the best of how things work out doesn’t mean you let things just happen. You must put in the work. You have to work it out. By putting in the work, you have more of a chance of creating something incredible. Draw the extra sketches. Explore more colors combos and type combos. Create more concepts. Only then will you be rewarded with incredible design solutions.

Elegant solutions only come from working out the problem.

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Foreground and Background

When you observe a great scene of a movie, a great classic painting, or even concept art, we interpret what we see as if we are actually placed in the scene. We see what our eyes and brain want us to see. But if we pay attention to the composition, our focus comes into play and components of the scene become separated into foreground and background.

This separation between what’s important to focus in on and what supports the context of the scene is essential to both art, design, and, of course, life. With this purposeful manipulation on the part of the artist and designer, the harmony of the composition makes things easy to follow and understand.

What if we applied this concept of foreground and background to our own lives. We start to prioritize our life. We find out what’s important enough to focus in on and what in our lives are just background context. The most important things in your life always come into focus in the foreground and the less important ones go the background and support the important things.

Like a classic painting, pay attention to the composition of your life and it will always lead you to the important things.

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Episode 8

If you haven’t heard of the HBO series, Game of Thrones (GOT), you should have some idea of what it is—it has become quite the cultural phenomenon. There is an underlying pattern with GOT though. Each season, there is the quintessential episode 8. This is the episode that is sometimes referred to as the throwaway episode because of its long and arduous storytelling. Then when all is said and done, it becomes a tortuous hour of episode watching one can ever get through.

But, the silver lining in all this is that episode 8s eventually lead you to the glory (and gory) of episode 9s. Episode 8 in hindsight is needed for all the rollercoaster of emotions of episode 9.

In my experience with design projects, we all have that episode 8 moment. This is when the newness of a project is tarnished and everything you do is tortuous and sometimes you just want to call it quits. The fun is gone. The color choices are all wrong. The font choices become pedestrian. You just want to trash it and start all over again.

But, an interesting thing happens. Something triggers excitement again. Whether it’s a new way to look at the project or a simple editing decision, the episode 8 moment becomes the glorious episode 9 and glory is once again reborn in the project—All the blood and guts you sacrificed are worth it. All is well in the world.

You see, the hardest chapters in your life always give way to bringing the best ones. You just have to make it through your episode 8.

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More Glasses

As a continuation of my previous post on glasses. There’s another aspect of my design life that seems I have to adjust to as I get older—the need to utilize multiple glasses. I have to utilize one for everyday activities and one for computer work. The one for everyday activities is also a progressive pair, which I could never get used to. This basically means I have to adjust my head tilt relative to my sight view in order to see varying distances.

Basically I have to plan ahead of time for what I’m about to task. I no longer have to buy one pair of glasses. I have to purchase multiple. I need eyeglasses for every location I plan to work in.

When I start the initial phases of any design work, I have to mentally put on a different set of glasses. Even at different phases of design work, I need to see things differently. Sometimes we need to see more into the future. Other times we need to see things in a microscopic sense. As a design community, we have to be ready to see everything at any given phase of a project. We can’t be so myopic in our views that we can’t move forward. We need to put on another pair of glasses to go beyond and push through any obstacles.

It’s those times when we have to be a mindreader with our client’s thoughts that I still haven’t found the right glasses for.

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Relationships

For a period of time, I once studied relational database design. It is a fascinating field and I learned many things about my own chosen field of design. Relational database design is based on the premise of “one-to-one” and “one-to-many”.

We need this relational data premise to enjoy our modern day life of the Internet of Things. But we can take that concept further as we look into our understanding of the roles in our life—our real relationships.

We are sons, daughters, friends, siblings, workers, managers, teachers, etc… When issues happen in our relationships, we have to look into how that relationship is structured. As an example, a parent of many children has a one-to-many relationship. But, a child to a parent, is a one-to-one relationship. A teacher to students is one-to-many. But a student to a teacher is a one-to-one relationship. In order for total harmony to occur, the aspects and rules of the relationship (link) have to be followed. One piece of data affects other piece or pieces of data.

When we understand that our link to another person may not be the same the other way, we tend to understand behaviors a bit more. We are social creatures and we need those connections, whether it’s real or artifical. Those connections and links are important to our survival. But how we affect those links is determined by our understanding of said relationship.

Be mindful of your relational design in your own life.

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Habits

We have our habits—good or bad. As humans we are pattern seekers as well as pattern behaving creatures. We are slaves to our habits. After all, we need predictability in our lives in order to survive as a species. We need to know that certain actions cause certain results—when we are hungry, we find something to eat. It’s all about patterns and habits. These are hardwired into our brains from repeated actions and results from child to adult.

Hardwiring consists of physical neural connections. Because of this hardwiring aspect of habits, it becomes very hard to break those habits. The more we do a habit, the more our body reacts in the same way. This is why addictions are so hard to break.

When I look for new forms to keep my design solutions fresh, I’m constantly drawing the same things—my own hardwiring at work. It’s my addiction I strive to break every day of my design life.

To overcome this, I have to create a new neural connection—a new addiction. Maybe I use a new pencil, pen (or stylus), or paper (or iPad). I can’t break an old habit, so I have to replace it with a new one. I have to create a new neural connection. Maybe I’ll start drawing with my off hand. Or, to really go conceptual, maybe we redefine what drawing is. That’s another topic.

That old adage, you can’t teach an old dog a new trick has some physiological truth. Old habits do die hard. But, we can create new ones. It’s time we trick our brains and “Think Different.”

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Glasses

Every couple of years, I notice my vision starts to bother me and I have to make an appointment to see an eye doctor—mainly because my eyeglass prescription has changed. I can’t see things the way I normally do. I can’t focus and the world becomes a struggle to visually understand and the world stops making sense. The main tool I use as a visual designer has become my greatest weakness—my eyes. The tools of my trade become useless without them.

Design is the same way, we have to refocus every couple of years or else you’ll lose focus and your design world will stop making sense. By refocusing, I mean taking an inventory of what we understood to be good design and what tools we have to learn or relearn.

Design understanding and education does not end when we leave art/design school. We need to refill our visual prescription every couple of years in order to stay relevant in our chosen profession. It would be nice to have some kind of certification or license to practice design, where we have to renew our license just like our fellow health practitioners.

For those of us who are losing our design focus, it’s time to get the help you need—refocus, reeducate, and retool. That’s what the doctor ordered!!!

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