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.”


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.


Straight as an Arrow


When I teach the basics of drawing, the first thing my students learn is to draw a straight line. This simple act is the basis of design discipline — there are several aspects of mental and physiological skills that have to happen in concert to produce our wonderful line.

Physiological discipline is the understanding of how our arm and body functions and taking advantage of its limits. The mental discipline involved is a simple act of looking to where you need to go. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but it’s even faster when we’re looking at the finish. Where our mind goes, our body will follow.

In my never-ending quest to understand life, I realize the act of drawing a simple line is all that’s needed to accomplish any goal — look to the finish or in other words, “Keep your eye on the prize.” When we focus on where we need to be, every action we take will get us closer to the goal. We don’t waver, we don’t get distracted. We focus on the endpoint and our line is straight as an arrow.

This is true discipline. This is design.