Design: It’s like light, only different.

Ok, so you’re in science class, and you get a lesson on light. And someone busts out with the concept that light is both a particle and a wave. Assuming your brain didn’t shut down right then and there and you didn’t hide under your desk for the rest of the semester, that’s probably as far as anyone really got in terms of quantum mechanics in high school.

No, I am not going to start quoting Planck’s Law or the Heisenberg Principle. Calm down.

But this little bit of weirdness in the world of quantum mechanics can also be applied to design. Design is both a goal and a process. And how you approach is (and what you have to work on improving) has a lot to do with your basic personality, or how you approach pretty much everything.

My natural inclination is to be goal oriented. Ideally, design would spring forth fully formed out of my head like Athena from Zeus. I would know exactly what I wanted, just by looking at it. It would all come in some ridiculous rush of information from brain, to hand, to screen. I have to admit, *occasionally* that comes close to happening. It happened about 85% that way (which is a pretty good percentage, honestly) when I designed the elevators in my thesis project. Because what I *want* is to get it DONE. I want to see it, know it, design it, sink it in the basket on time and on budget and move on to the next project.

At this point all my favorite process people are screaming at their screens(I can hear you, you know.). Because they just don’t operate like this. Their joy comes in the journey. The road from point a to point b. It’s a more idealistic and far less pragmatic way of looking at things and I am nothing if not a pragmatist (does it work? No? Scrap it- I’ll design something else.). Really loving process is very romantic, really, as a way of going about things. But when taken too far it means that nothing ever gets done. Really, really strong process people need to learn that at some point, you have to make The Call. Call it done. Sign off on it and move on. They tend to feel much happier *before* a decision is made than after. I’m the opposite.

But good design falls somewhere in the middle, and it varies from project to project, just like any other variable. I know I have dragged myself kicking and screaming closer to the line between J and P, but I also know it’s a learned and not a natural ability. I *force* myself to go through process- because it’s necessary. Maybe that makes me ultimately better off, because I am so aware of it as it occurs. I tend to organize it, so I don’t allow myself to skip steps.

Interestingly, the people closest to me are process people, in an unusually high percentage. Yeah I have some strong J’s, just like me (y’all know who you are.) but there’s a lot more process oriented folks. I think that’s probably for the best- it’s an added counterbalance to my natural instinct to just get it DONE.

I find that process is easier(because it’s shorter) when designing individual pieces that don’t necessarily require a context. But the larger the project, the more complex and lengthy the process. But it’s like a workout- you may not enjoy *doing* it, but you enjoy the results.

Which would explain why I have three different books(soon to be four, plus a book on the Arts and Crafts movement) on Asian art and culture open on my coffee table right now. Because right now, I have to be about the process.

So for you process people, do you find yourself forcing yourself to honor goals and deadlines when you wouldn’t naturally? Do you have to consciously add these to your love of process? Do other goal-oriented people also find themselves quantifying process in order to more fully honor it?

It could just be me, but I doubt it.



  1. […] Damned Good Design added an interesting post today on Design: It’s like light, only different.Here’s a small reading […]

  2. I’d rather have my toenails gnawed off by ice weasels than niggle at things forever. Especially under a deadline. And god help you if you work for or with me, and are still futzing with stuff as a deadline looms. It’s one of the few times that I’ll actually snap and say what I’m thinking, instead of what’s professional.

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