Posts Tagged ‘ design ’

How do you deal with an uncertain future and still move forward?

In other words — how do you embrace the questions while still providing answers?

Designers have a a fairly accurate stigma surrounding them. People who work with designers often have the same complaint: “designers always think they’re right.” Sometimes, they are right — but in the event that almost infinite solutions could be found for the same problem (which I believe is always the case), their inability to form a new opinion can be crippling.

That said, the opposite — designing with uncertainty — is also not advisable. As Bob Johansen, of Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future, observes, “weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them.”

In Bob Sutton’s words, the solution is to have ‘Strong Opinions, Weakly Held,” going on to say that you should “fight like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong.”

Andy Grove put it another way when he said he wanted all his people to have “strong beliefs, loosely held.”

And John Lilly carried the concept into a design-specific bit of advise when he made the case that a designer should “design like you’re right, read the data like you’re wrong.”

Ultimately they’re all conveying the same important idea: that a designer (or any problem solver) should be driven by strong, well-formed opinions that they’re willing to defend — and ready to upturn at any moment.

Bob Sutton approaches this concept from the angle of someone trying to define the difference between intelligence and wisdom. In his book, Hard Facts, he makes the observation that the wise are “those who have the courage to act on their knowledge, but the humility to doubt what they know.”

I think many people jump between the two — from great confidence in their knowledge and ability to great doubt in their conviction and acceptance of the unknown. It’s the ability to operate as both people at once — the authoritative opinion, and the humble student — that proves mastery.

And that may be a process of recreation. One of my favorite quotes is  by Henry Sidwick:

“One has to kill a few of one’s natural selves to let the rest grow—a very painful slaughter of innocents.”

As Andy Grove put it, you need to “act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realize that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.”

At the end of the day, moving forward can be accomplished only one way: by moving forward. Tom Petty has the best advice of all: “Don’t dither; you can always change your mind later.” In his words, I aspire to be “confident… but not really sure.”

Ways of Seeing

In Adrian Shaughnessy’s book, How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul, the page usually reserved in books for a dedication to one’s mother or parents or closest friends is blank save for one short quote.

Seeing comes before words.
John Berger
Ways of Seeing

Ultimately, those four words are the battle cry of graphic designers everywhere. They are the slogan of the entire profession, the motivation for the entire concept of visual design. For some reason I don’t think of them as a scientific perspective or a sort of observation; they are, to me, an argument. They serve as evidence. Evidence that what a graphic designer does is meaningful – invaluable, even – and they seem to justify just how much money I’m planning to spend on graduate school.

I’m not sure why I always feel the need to defend my choice to pursue graphic design, but I do, and John Berger makes a damn good argument for me. Seeing comes before words. Therefore it’s necessary to shape what is seen so that the words mean anything at all. Not vice versa. By the time someone has seen something, words can only do so much to change their mind.

First there come seeing.

Then comes the explanation, the back up information, the concept, the mission statement, the copy, the content– everything else that an artist or company or brand or individual uses to support the initial visual offering. But no matter what you put into words, seeing comes first.