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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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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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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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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