"If you want to study something, it's better not to know what the answer is."
I was reading the essay "Find Out For Yourself" by Shunryu Suzuki today when I was struck with a sudden thought: we can be better designers when we don't know what we're doing.
Many of us were attracted to the field of design specifically to make art. Then, somewhere along the way -- especially after having so much energy placed in making artifacts, not art -- our perception of what it meant to be a designer broadened. We became competent in creating specific kinds of artifacts. We mastered specific domains of expression.
But that didn't mean that we designed better artifacts. It's human insight that grounds and infuses design work that creates meaningful change in our society.
Making is not a direct substitute for generating meaning in design. But the process of making can lead to meaning, and our minds must be open to receive it. I've heard this described as "abductive" design thinking -- which in plain English boils down to being able to extrapolate solutions from limited information.
You can seek out that insight before creating your design, if you have the tools. If you don't, then you can start designing. But if you want to use your time wisely -- not efficiently, mind you -- you should practice agile design.
"When you seek something, your true nature is in full activity, as if you are feeling for your pillow in the dark. If you know where the pillow is, your mind is not in full function... When you do something with a limited idea, or with some definite purpose, what you will gain is something concrete."
Over the life of our class, you've been provided with a huge breadth of different types of design problems. But I think the one that may have hit home hardest -- at least for me -- was Work 72, "100 Iterations":
"Over 15 minutes, the class will brainstorm a name and description for a new, affordable organic energy drink that will be highly desirable during our lovely recession. Then, over the next 15 minutes, the class will create 100 sketches of said energy drink. We will then spend 10 minutes refining the 100 sketches down to 3 final design sketches."
The first part of this exercise was fairly easy. The class had been focusing on rapid concepting techniques and was able to brainstorm a series of viable names within the time limit.
But the second and third parts were more challenging. We had to come up with at least 20 sketches of the drink form factor and type placement within a 15 minute period, which allots less than 30 seconds per idea.
There were no boundaries. No rules. We were fumbling around in the dark for the pillow. Our pencils informed the result.
At the start of this class, I mentioned this quote by Angie Drakopolous, which I'll include here again at the end of 80 Works -- because I think it is very important to consider:
"...because of the project’s size and deadline, you couldn’t spend too much time on any individual work; so you achieved a certain degree of detachment from the end result, which allowed a lot of latent ideas and tendencies to surface. I think that was the first time I experienced art as a mind-game."
Angie doesn't just mean that you are playing a mind game with yourself to fulfill the end goal of the class and survive. These latent ideas and tendencies that Angie describes are the material. You got to better ideas more quickly as the class progressed because you stripped away a layer of attachment -- whether you liked it or not.
The important question for you to now consider is: Did you need that attachment to create great design?
I am often afraid, when embarking on a project, that the strategy is wrong and that I'll have to start over. Or that I haven't covered enough ground to get to a good idea. Or that I won't have enough time to really steep myself in the process of making to achieve flow and maybe even enjoy the design process.
All those fears are completely valid... but you can't be attached to them. They're only as real as the weather. The weather doesn't control you. If it's raining outside, you can still embark on your journey. Eventually, it will stop raining, and you will end up where you needed to travel.
"If you continue to try to find out ... you will gain more power to understand things. Whatever you do, you will not waste your time."
We have spent 11 weeks speaking words, drawing pictures, cutting and pasting paper, and creating designs in computers. On Thursday, we will review the work that we have created -- some of it no more than sketches on tracing paper -- and try to suss out exactly what kinds of understanding we have gained.
But let me be clear: This is not another summit that you have climbed. Don't be tempted to cling to what you've learned as the end-all, be-all of how to approach your design practice. Be agile in how you think about design. Surprise yourself with different methods of brainstorming and making. If you find yourself gravitating towards a solution that seems easy, it's probably not meaningful.
In short, be prepared to change your mind. Ignore boundaries. Find out for yourself.
"This is what it means to surrender, even though you have nothing to surrender. Without losing yourself by sticking to a particular rule or understanding, keep finding yourself, moment after moment. This is the only thing for you to do."
Thank you for our time together. It's been an honor to design beside each and every one of you.