“Over the years, I’ve come to understand that all design has a natural flow to it. You start out with one thing in mind, but if it goes in another direction, you cannot deny it that transition–or it won’t work. You cannot bend design to your will, you can only bring forth what wants to be brought forth. If in the end, it is not what you really wanted, then you accept what it is and start over, in a new direction.” – comment by Matt @ the tiny house blog
The above quote was a comment posted to the Tiny House Blog about a project that was posted there, but it struck a cord with me and got me thinking about the process of design. This has even come up recently in some social conversations going back to the days of design studio and even in present day practice, so obviously the topic is being discussed on multiple levels – as it should be.
I’ve always been fascinated by the process of design, be it architecture or furniture or clothing or technology or those little shell-shaped soaps they put in hotel bathrooms. In college “design” was simply what we did. My alma mater was very concept oriented – very little attention was paid to “can this be done”. The emphasis was always on exploration and creative problem solving, which is the essence of design when you get right down to it. Now, to be fair, we were required to take the requisite courses in structures and environmental technology and construction technology. But these were not Studio (yes, with a capital “S”), these were “core” classes – you know, the ones that you had to get through in order to get to Studio. That was the goal – Studio = Design. Little did we know this also meant way too many sleepless nights spent hunched over a drafting table (yes, we hand drafted and built real models with chip board and glue) or squinting into a computer monitor, but that’s a story for another time. This exploration led us, naturally, to some very interesting solutions to various design problems that we were presented with….and well, some not so interesting, but hey, you live and learn right?
You might be asking “what the hell does any of this have to do with childbirth? Well, in all of our Studios, Design typically began with the presentation of a particular site and a particular problem that needed a solution. We were all bright eyed and full of joy at this exciting new prospect to flex our mental muscles – much like a young woman feels when she finds out she’ll be a mother. The luster can tend to fade quickly when, like a pregnant woman entering the second trimester quickly becomes fatigued and “swelled”…uh I mean “glowing”, the design begins to stagnate or some key part of the design seems too not quite fit in for reasons you can not discover on your own. Frustration sets in, you start to wonder what the hell you were thinking in the first place. You’ll never finish, the design is horrible and everyone will laugh at you.
Upon entering the third and final trimester of Design, you feel drained both emotionally and physically. You’ve been staring at your computer screen or chip board model for more than 24 hours and all the lines and planes are blurring together. At this point you’re convinced your design is crap and should be trashed. But as you continue to push through, you’re nearly at the end and you get that last burst of energy and inspiration. Suddenly those elements that you had been trying to force seem to need just a little shifting and massaging. Finally the design comes together, you’ve created something that works, that at least solves the problem you’ve been tasked with. It may not be the most elegant or polished, but somehow it works. This portion of our little tale is especially clear in my mind from my thesis. I was so drained, so despondent about my project that, two weeks before final critique, I dragged a trash can over to my desk and did one big arm push into the bin – I chucked it all and started fresh. Perhaps not the smartest thing in the world, but hey, it wasn’t working and I needed to try something new to get at a working solution, one that could breath on it’s own in the real world of Design.
Then, the pain sets in – presentation/birth. You’ve toiled, you’ve sacrificed, you’ve eaten every pint of haggen daaz within 30 miles…wait that’s not right. Now it’s time to show the world (or at least the 12 students and 4 professors with enough energy left to sit through your presentation) your design solution, to make your case, to “birth this baby”. You start out slow, the pain is bearable, as you walk through the initial stages of research and concept design. But soon, much sooner than you want, you’re getting to the meat, the heart, the soul of your design, your baby. There are some grumblings from the crowd. You wonder if you can keep going. Sweat is trickling down your back into your underwear, you resist the urge to scratch your butt.
Suddenly you’re at the climax of your presentation. You can breath a little easier, there are smiles on the judges faces. Some of your fellow students are now dreading their own birth experience that is suddenly one presentation closer to reality. You turn around and stare longingly at your boards, your model. You marvel at the hours, days, weeks and months it has taken to create such a masterpiece. Now the students and judges have moved on to the next presentation/birth and you can finally scratch your sweaty butt. Oh the sweet joy of victory and accomplishment. Euphoria.
And now it’s time to start all over again on the next project, the next presentation, the next painfully agonizing and torturous birth.