Design is: Seeing
As humans, we're all set up with relatively similar equipment: Eyes, ears, nose, fingers. We all get the same signals into our brains. It's the way we process those stimuli that makes us valuable for our different occupations.
Designers may think that the trick to their brains is that they can somehow see form better, or have better motor control for better sketches, or have a more subtle mastery of color. While these things all effect the overall output of a designer, the true strength in a designer's brain lies in the way it helps form connections between isolated ideas.
For example, lots of people can tell you that ballistic fabrics have been becoming more available, and more used in all sorts of last resort protection for the rich, military, or law enforcement. But it took the brain of a designer mixing things up to connect that into a T-shirt for such a beautiful social commentary as this bullet resistant T-shirt featured at the recent "SAFE" MoMA exhibition. Bridging the gap between highly refined function, and the epitome of bland culture makes a powerful statement about the safety that wearers of T-shirts may not have.
Not a lot of design schools teach this idea of just paying attention to connections. Just being in places to learn about them. Just noticing objects again, as though you didn't take fire hydrants, stairs, and car tires for granted; this is the strength of the designer's brain. And it is left to atrophy, without practice.
One school is teaching these skills. The Tracker School, founded in New Jersey by Tom Brown Jr., has been building mindfulness of its students surroundings since 1978. You might think that a wilderness survival school has nothing to offer designers, but we beg to differ. In Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature and Tracking
, Tom could be a design professor, he nails it so perfectly:
Slow down - you'll never catch connections if youre moving 90 miles a minute
Let go of worries - Don't worry so much about doing things "right". Keep on the path toward good things, rather than right ones.
Let go of time - again, focusing on the things that traditionally define interactions, like time, can interfere with ideation, and flow.
Have you ever sat in a room, or rode a bus, or waited in an airport, and just paid attention to what's around you? Maybe it's time you stepped back from your problem solving routines, and gave your mind a chance to reinforce itself. Go pick a tiny parcel of space, and try to stay interested in it for as long as you can. Think about the different ways that each piece if the space is related to the others. How do the pieces work on their own? What sorts of flows of information are going on in this space as well?
Thomas Carlyle once said, "The tragedy of life is not what men suffer, but what they miss." What he didn't say, was that this is more than a tragedy for a designer. It is failure.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team