Almost forgot what it was like.

It has been a little over 5 weeks since becoming a student again.

Back at the start came the assignment to layout some personal goals as a sort of an introduction to graduate studies — in 3 minutes. Here was the question list:

What do you aspire to?

What do you want be designing that would be the most fulfilling to your interests?

What are the origins of your aspirations?

OK, after designing for television and radio, 3 minutes is a luxury. So, I timed it out. I started with the origins of my aspirations and traced my design roots back to the beginning. It occurred to me after much thought that; essentially, there have been 5 revelations since I discovered design (a long, long time ago). Herewith:

1 Process becomes Solution

When I started out the tools were a T-square, an x-acto knife and rubber cement. But those were just hardware. The engine runs on software. The software said that design is about problem solving which, of course, is all about the process of understanding what the problem is and asking the right questions. If you ask  — and answer — the right questions the solution is usually screaming at you.

2 Discipline becomes Freedom

Design is not unlike any other creative discipline. You begin by learning the scales and practicing, over and over and over again. If you keep doing it, it becomes almost second nature. You can riff. Then you can improvise. Then you have jazz.

3 Seeing becomes Vision

Design is also about seeing, another skill that you can hone if you do it long enough. It’s a little like composition in photography or drawing. After a while you know whether it is composed or not and you start to look at things like systems and very quickly see where they are out of composition. Eventually what emerges is a persistent ability to envision what it could be.

4 Culture becomes Design (becomes culture… becomes design…)

Design is the product of culture, micro and macro, like necessity is the mother of invention. The culture is the story behind the design, the history, the connective tissue between my design and your design, good design and bad design.

5 Story becomes Design

Then one day I realized that it is story that actually builds design. The experience, and authenticity are tied to story in synchronization with design. The degree of authenticity is directly related to a seamless interaction with the surrounding design.

I don’t have time to go into the answers for the first 2 questions in this blog, but I’ll get there. The most fascinating thing was that this was real thinking. We don’t do enough of that once we settle into our jobs, and get comfortable with what we know. And, God knows, the corporation certainly doesn’t foster that kind of crazy talk. We reach a certain position in business and that’s it. Our expertise winds down to what we’ve accomplished, or our title or the last accomplishment on the resume. I’m not belittling that. Heck, that’s a result years of experience and insight brought to bear on helping people and the business you’re in charge of make it through today and hopefully succeed tomorrow. It’s no small feat.

But there is more.

Coming back to school, I realized that nothing makes your feel more alive than when you have to start over; when you have break new ground; when you have to think, and think really hard. You can’t draw on what you did last week or last time this happened because it has never happened before.

Sounds a bit out there, but thinking, reasoning, and creating from scratch are tremendously underrated experiences.

Now that I’m waist-deep into the whole graphic novel realm, research and study en route to my own creation, I am thinking like I did 30 years ago —like “What if?”. What a rush!

More to come.

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