Wait… Don’t Wait

We often hear the phrase, “…good things come to those who wait…”. This is great advice for those who have issues with being impulsive. As designers, for the most part, we don’t have that luxury–We are valued based on our ability to get things done.

I see it way too many times, especially in academia. Design students have a tendency to procrastinate and let a deadline guide their design. There’s no glory in waiting to the last minute to put a presentation together. Although, this seems to be the status quo even in the professional world–our lives would best be served to have project management skills that would create less stress for everyone involved.

Designers, both academic and professional, please consider adding project management as part of your repertoire. In this day and age of increasing speed from concept to production, our tools can only take us so far. Our design skills are what differentiate ourselves from our competition (and there are plenty out there). So, utilizing the right skills and the right tools at the right time is paramount to a designer’s success.

Good things come to people who wait, but better things come to those who go out and get them. Design waits for nobody.

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Language

Design first and foremost is communication. It’s a language that is easy to learn but infinitely difficult in its execution (Note: just ask anyone who has taken my design courses at UCLAx). As a form of communication it differs immensely from our spoken language. Not only from its obvious use of the senses engaged, but also in its inherent structure.

Vocal languages commonly only stress one side of an interaction. For example, “A stone is hard” describes its properties. It doesn’t convey anything more than a simple one-sided tidbit of information. The structure is very simple–remember your grammar and you’ll understand.

Design is all about a visual language that describes not only a component’s properties but how other things interact with each component in the composition. Each component itself conveys its own set of properties as well as its visual relation to other things around it–the composition also conveys another level of meaning. If done with careful consideration for Composition, Components, and Concept, the visual language of design can communicate and spur more levels of communication long after its initial contact by the viewer. Design can speak to the soul.

So, when you see anything created by humanity, listen to what it conveys. You’d be surprised with the conversation.

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Courage

Having taught Design for over 11 years, I’ve seen students come and go through the academic design world. A common denominator amongst the students is their underestimation of the complexities of being a designer. Many call themselves a designer because they have access to software and equipment. Others call themselves designers because they’ve taken an art class or they’ve been told they’re talented. Whatever the reasons for being a designer, the discipline of design requires much more than software, hardware, classes, or talent. One of those is Courage.

Courage is defined as having the ability to do something that frightens oneself or having strength in the face of pain or grief. Describing fear in the same breath as design is strange. But, consider our comfort zones that we have to expand in order to succeed in this field that has no right or wrong path and whose target is constantly moving or being redefined. Design is a wicked problem and fear is a natural feeling in all aspects of design.

Courage is what’s needed to overcome those fears. This is one of the deciding factors that will dictate whether a student will make it in the world of design outside of academia. Courage requires a certain humility–an acknowledgement that we aren’t the center of the universe and that we’re bringing to life someone else’s vision. I’ve had students have so much of an idealistic point of view that they aren’t able to push beyond their own egotistical styling. They believe their own hype and when tasked to create something outside of their comfort zone, they crumble. They weren’t able to overcome fear nor garner the strength.

In the words of the great Walt Disney, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

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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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