Discovery

Seeing is a huge part of being a designer. The sense of sight allows us to create an organization’s look, identity, and experiences. The work involved to getting a successful finished piece goes far beyond a designer’s sense of sight. Great design involves so much more. Discovery is ultimately what gets designers to their promised land. We need those adventures to embark and we have to be willing to undergo that journey.

Some designers never leave the security of their own little world and thus create the same things over and over again. They may be content with that, but we have a greater responsibility to the design world. We have to keep pushing and discovering new undiscovered worlds of thought and experience. We have to embark on our own hero’s journey. Only then will we run into the conflicts with others, within, and our world. These conflicts will leave us changed forever–changing how we see our own world. And, ultimately, changing design.

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. When we get restless and bored with our design is when we need to go discover new worlds of design.

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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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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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Being Wrong

So there are numerous times that I have to juggle several projects that have ever-tightening timelines. One of the most fun aspects of any project is the exploration and ideation phase where the gathering of research starts to gel into a palpable design direction.

The results of this exploration/ideation is where certain fears starts to rise—you start to question your decisions; your intelligence; your career; your reason for existing; etc… The decisions will dictate the direction for the rest of the project.

Although the fears are unfounded, they do exist. But, as a creative, these are the feelings you have to go through—the exact same feelings that keep you creative and living the life you chose. This fear of being wrong can keep you from moving forward. Just like staring at a blank sheet of paper paralyzes even the best of creatives. The thought of ruining a totally pristine sheet of paper is daunting.

Overcoming this fear for each and every project moves us forward and keeps us humble. Give the fear a new context as energy and keep the fear and use it to propel us forward. It’s okay to be wrong. It gives us direction and focus by eliminating the paths we shouldn’t pursue.

As you gain more experience, you’ll start to recognize better paths and directions, but the fear you have will be more of an ally. Always remember, to live a creative life, we must use our fear of being wrong.

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