Parenting a Designer

Project Requirements

Project Requirements

 

After having a few good laughs and nodding in agreement at the uncanny insight on a blog post called “Dating a designer: 10 things you need to know”, I was inspired.  I haven’t dated a designer (or at least not recently), but I’ve known a few and I’ve raised an aspiring industrial designer to adulthood.  It has been a unique experience – one that I’m sure that other parents can identify with.  So I’ve decided to share a few insights of my own.

You’ll know it when you see it. You’ll know your kid is destined to be an architect or designer when other toddlers are cramming everything into their mouths and your child is building complex structures with wooden blocks.  You’ll know it when they prefer to arrange their food into pleasing patterns to actually eating it.  It will be obvious when you see their first grade drawing of a detailed scene drawn in perfect perspective – and then you see their classmates’ sketches of stick mommies and three-legged cows.  Design thinking may show up early. Recognize it and nurture it.

Trust their judgment.  When your designer child laments that they’re the only one in the family with style, accept reality.  It’s probably true.  Instead of feeling offended, accept constructive criticism and rely on their expert judgment.  My young designer once told me that I needed a signature color.  “I suppose you have one.”  “Of course,” she answered.  “I’ll bet you even know the Pantone code.”  “376. Pea Green.”  She was right.  I needed definition.  I wasn’t able to pin my essence down to a single code, but if you look in my closet you’ll see a range that spans from light aqua to cerulean blue.  I’m not a designer, but my color scheme and confidence have improved.

Gift shopping can be a challenge.  Unlike the blogger who is dating a designer, I wouldn’t say gift shopping is next to impossible.  Or at least not until they get older, tastes are more refined and they’re lusting after a minimalist watch with no numbers.  Let’s just say that you need to be willing to consider unusual presents.  You may even have to visit places like Lowe’s for items such as a Dremel MultiPro kit or drop by Office Max to pick up a 12 pack of Pilot Precise V5 pens.  Their friends will shake their heads and say, “You got a tool kit for your birthday?  That sucks.”  They’ll never understand.

Designers are the new rock stars.  At least to designers.  At her age, I knew the latest hits and was damaging my hearing at stadium concerts.  She works at a fabric store and gets excited when the new collections arrive from her favorite textile artists.  We’re not so different.  Really.

From my experience, parenting a designer is like raising orchids.  It’s not always easy, and they only bloom under the right conditions.  In fact, just read this excerpt about growing orchids and tell me if it doesn’t sound familiar…

For your best crack at success, start by choosing one of the less fussy varieties that is adapted to the type of growing conditions you can provide.  Buy the most mature plant you can afford (young plants are much more difficult to please)…”

Yes, young designers can be fussy and difficult to please, but they are imaginative thinkers that will help you to see the world in a whole new way.  With the right conditions, plentiful resources, patience and understanding, your young designer will bloom and grow.

So stock up on paper, pens, tools, hardware and art supplies.  Expose your designer to new experiences and inspiration and see what develops.  Most of all – accept, encourage and enjoy.

Travel by Design

The journey is about more than the trip

Experience Time Span (iversity.org)

I recently took an online class called “Design Thinking” through iversity.org, a platform for Massive Open Online Courses based in Germany.  One lecture sparked an interest in designing user experience and made me think about travel.

The simple visual above perfectly describes my travel experience.

Stage 1 is The Vision.  When I know that I will be taking a trip, I begin to imagine the experience as I plan activities.  Anticipating the journey, I am already experiencing it in my mind.  I can almost feel the cobblestones under my feet, smell the sea breeze or hear the animated chatter in the marketplace.

The next phase is The Experience.  While I’m traveling, I tune into the moment with intensity.  Unfamiliarity sharpens my senses, as I notice every detail around me.  Colors seem brighter, tastes more memorable and sounds that might go unnoticed at home form a cacophonous symphony.  I feel awake and alive.

The 3rd stage is Reflection.  When the journey is over, I return home and reflect.  Instead of being just a checklist of tourist attractions, each experience becomes embedded in my psyche and changes my perspective.

The final phase, which may last a lifetime, is The Story.  This is the memory that becomes a piece of well-worn quilt that I wrap around my shoulders.  Over time, the memories may lose intensity, but they are still colorful tiles in life’s mosaic.

Thinking about the entire process makes me realize how wonderful it is to incorporate design thinking into the trip.  When I become the creator, each journey is unique and the experience is entirely mine.  Instead of standing behind the crowd that glances at the Mona Lisa and heads to the next destination, I turn around and discover a joyful masterpiece on another wall.  Walking the streets of a German town, we happen upon a tiny printing museum and are treated to a leisurely private tour with a knowledgeable master.  On our way to the Alamo, we take a detour and find the peaceful garden at the Spanish Governor’s Palace.  Allowing time to get lost and time to explore, we discover forgotten paths and hidden treasures.

Experience design means paying attention to the details and thinking about the entire process – before, during and after.  When it comes to travel, it means creating a loose plan and allowing plenty of time and opportunity for exploration and serendipity.  Planning means that I know the address to plug into the GPS, the names of cities I’ll visit and the place I might sleep.  But the time in between unfolds as it unfolds.  I design the experience, do my research and plan the “ingredients,” but how it all comes together is something totally unexpected and memorable.

 

Think Inside the Box: With Constraints Come Freedom

Creativity may bring to mind brainstorming and unlimited possibilities.  It appears to be free-flowing, expansive, open.  It may be anti-intuitive, but limitations can boost creativity.  Constraints provide boundaries and clarity so that the artist can focus on the problem or challenge at hand.  They’re a decisive starting place that leads to clear results.

Challenge:  Using a 4′ x 4′ square of cardboard, design and construct a chair capable of bearing your weight when seated.  You may fold, score or cut the cardboard, but no pieces may be removed and you may not use any type of adhesive.

Industrial design students were given this assignment – a more difficult task than it appears.  Because of the limitations – 4×4, cardboard, no pieces cut out and no glue – and the requirements – you must be able to sit on it – they could focus on the creative aspects.  What shape would function best?  How can I make something functional and elegant from this simple material?  How will it all fit together?

Cardboard Chair

Cardboard Chair

My “400 Words” writing practice is much the same on a smaller scale.  When I set a manageable limit there are no excuses.  The title, centered and bold, serves as the starting line and the 400th word is the finish.  I’m free to say anything about the chosen topic, but it ends at 400.

I also like the concept of limitations when it comes to space.  Living in a small apartment means looking at usable space with a different perspective and finding creative solutions such as multifunctional furniture or equipment.  Bookshelves are installed in the space above the door.  Beds have drawers beneath.  Tables expand and chairs stack.  Futons are rolled and beds fold into walls.  If something new comes into the house, something else must leave out of necessity.  Even better are boats.  Have you ever seen a sailboat with an attached garage or basement?  With limited space, you’re confined to essentials and there is beauty in the smallest detail.

Today, try thinking inside the box.  Make a feast from the contents of your pantry and fridge.  Draw a masterpiece the size of a business card.  Instead of a coffee break, write a haiku.  Read 20 pages, walk 2 miles until the sun rises, fill a flat rate box with surprises and send it to someone you love.  As my daughter, the designer, says, “With constraints come creative freedom.”

Cardboard Chair

Beauty, Form and Function