This week I was reminded that it’s the designer's job to pay attention to what no one else is noticing— to see at what’s within and around us, and to occupy the spaces where most people don’t want (or know how) to go.
Our frantically-paced world has made it incredibly challenging to slow down and truly see things. It has become increasingly difficult to identify the stories we are telling ourselves, or to truly experience the unhurried nature of the world we live in. Recognizing and resisting this cloudy reality isn’t impossible, though. We are awakening to the necessity of rest so we can ask ourselves those bigger and crucial questions: what are we sorely missing? Where are our blind spots?
This idea feels timely as I’ve currently been working on a title company's website with a significant emphasis on aesthetic. I found myself sitting with number of thoughts: “What will people think of this design? Does it showcase my credibility as a designer?” About midway through the week something caused me to look at the work differently—and I began to ask a better question: “What would a realtor or home buyer experience when they visit the site?” I was struck by the short-sightedness of my initial questions, and so I began to stretch my attention to include the concerns of the people who would be using the site. I began to visualize what things might be like from these other vantage points— a first time home buyer full of anxiety and confusion, or a lender who’s putting faith in a client’s knowledge and experience. Approaching the site design from a different perspective felt much more effective in improving my work’s potential than the standard position based entirely on my own point of view.
Paying attention is not an ability we receive in a spectacular flash of enlightenment—it’s meant to be an ongoing journey of discovery. And it’s a choice we’re called to make everyday.
Here are a few links that are worth paying attention to.
Hurry Slowly, Episode 15: Oliver Burkeman — Against Time Management
I had to listen to this one a few times—and will probably listen to it a few more. I particularly enjoyed the parts about paying attention, and how essential it is for us to actively decide what we will spend/devote (instead of “manage”) our time to, because time isn’t an unlimited resource.
Design Observer, Episode 74: Eyes and Hands
This one also required more than a couple listens (and probably will need a few more). The entire episode is full of great moments of wisdom, but I particularly enjoyed the middle segment about the role of the designer to look and critique. Also, there’s a fantastic conversation within about the designer’s need for humility, not empathy. (Even more reason to give this episode a listen: there’s an intriguing bit about students being assigned to walk around in adult diapers.)
Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
I’m reading this because it was on a list of the top non-design books that designers should read. The book—which takes place entirely within the span of an escalator ride—is seen through the eyes of someone who dissects the details of each object he has noticed or an experience he’s felt—from the microscopic differences between plastic and paper straws, to the extended analysis of why both his shoelaces broke within two days of each other. This isn’t a book you could easily skim through, as the beauty of it is in the mundanity of the details. The material provokes a such variety of emotional responses—there were times I somehow wanted to cry from laughter (but also times when I wanted to drop-kick the book because it required so much of my attention).
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This novel follows the generations of a Korean family for more than a century, and their movement from their homeland: they slowly drift beyond the borders of their village in Korea to the much larger cities of Japan. It’s a book about identity, and a book about time—it’ll probably make you cry. If you want to know what life might look like for a non-privileged person within a country that is blind to that struggle, it will enlighten you to their plight by placing you directly in their shoes.
Faces Places, a film by Agnès Varda and JR
Meg and I just watched this at the Contemporary Arts Center. The essential moment of the film for me was when Agnes was asked, “What’s the point?” Her response: “Imagination.” It reminded me of a line from the Mary Oliver poem that I mentioned last month. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination.” Imagination: seeing with the mind’s eye. It’s the gift we have the ability to give and receive.
These last two links are from from CreativeMornings|Cincinnati. I’ve had the privilege of working on the CM|CIN board for the last two years, but in the interest of growing my business and focusing on teaching at the university, I’ve decided to step down this month. These two links come from events that I played a role in planning. Both of these have been deeply meaningful to me and continue to shape the way I see the world.
Shakkh Ismaeel Chartier at CM|CIN
Ismaeel reminded us that the great mystery is within ourselves. That while it takes vulnerability and time to look within and pay attention to what’s happening inside ourselves, it’s worth the struggle. And maybe that’s what the world needs most right now.
Larry Bourgeois (and me) at CM|CIN
I facilitated this on-stage conversation with Larry for this CreativeMornings talk. The theme was ‘Genius’. The major takeaway was this: genius requires humility, vulnerability, and passion. It reminded me of what Adam Robinson shared (at DO Wales 2017) as the common theme of all the geniuses he’s ever met: they all had a childlike aura. During the Q&A, I asked him what that meant, and he told us how they never stopped asking questions—as opposed to always having the answers. Genius—and childlikeness—require all three of those traits: humility, vulnerability, and passion.