Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Design and Distraction

Todd Being Distracted In Vietnam

Looking at design as an occupation, it’s pretty easy to view it as simply a job like any other; I mean, you have an idea,  or a request from a customer for a new item and based on the parameters of the job, you dutifully go about gathering necessary information to understand what the item will be used for, in what context, and what you as the designer, can add to make it other than just one more thing that looks and works like so many other items already on the market.  Exactly; not that complicated on the surface but there is of course that gnarly bit about creating something really new.  

While creating something new is always satisfying in itself, it’s not always an easy place to find. The road is not a straight one, and there are no signs for guidance.   A lot of the process of design is researching the various needs which must be fulfilled; which can be done by someone who is organized, and detailed.  Ideally the designer will imbue all of those qualities, but alas, often they will not.  Design by definition requires a certain whimsy in the process, so it is unusual that the linear thinking person and one able to consider the beauty of whimsy come together in the same body. 

When I start out sketching a new item, I usually make some very small sketches with not a lot of detail.  If I’m lucky this process gives me a general direction for the structure or look of the item.  I cannot profess to know how other designers work; some I suspect are like laboratory technicians; organized, clean, and methodical in their approach.  Others I know are disorganized (to be generous); creating order from chaos as it were, but always with a huge conglomeration of stuff around all half- finished.  I would put myself in the middle.  I have a large number of things piled on my desk, which I am afraid to clean and organize for fear that I will lose something.  On the other hand my drawing pad is sacrosanct.  I somehow manage to keep this always in the same location and any drawings which are located there have not yet been sent off to be sampled; a process which I have had in place for 20 years in spite of the fact that I am easily distracted. 

Distraction is one of those qualities that is rarely seen as such.  I was distracted in school, considered a “day dreamer” by my teachers.  My mind always wandered as if lost in a forest.   Only later did I realize that this could be a good thing; if I was able to control it, but for the record, it was pretty hard to control.  If harnessed properly, distraction can be a wonderful tool for the designer; however, if not kept in check it can really play havoc and create lots of confusion, not to mention half-finished projects.  Distraction allows me to bounce from idea to idea like a hummingbird feeding on flowers.  The key is to keep your overall direction for the project, in the back of your mind so you come to a conclusion.  All of the creativity in the world will be for naught if the designer does not arrive at a conclusion.  There are times during this process that you discover something really interesting but it would be better suited for another item or even a different category of goods.  If possible make a note, or some bread crumbs,  then get back to what you were working on before you end up in the Australian outback and can’t remember how you go there.   To be successful the designer must be part hummingbird; gathering ideas and possibilities and part project architect; ruthlessly discarding ideas or concepts which do not fulfill the requirements of the project. 

So when starting out on a new project, I always have a loose guide in my mind as to the purpose of the item or range of product; whether it is serve ware, lighting, fountains, or decorative such as ceramics and pillows.  This allows me to court distraction without courting disaster; allowing the creative process to take whatever path it might;  knowing that I always have a guide, or at least can follow the bread crumbs home, in case I get lost.