Michael Kors on Embracing Self-Doubt


There’s this moment from the show Project Runway that I wish I could find on youtube. In this moment, a contestant is up on the stage receiving critique from the judges. As I remember, the judges liked his work in this round and were giving him positive feedback. Relieved, the contestant starts crying and says, “I had such a hard time with this challenge [sob]. One minute I was happy [sob] the next minute I was in tears and questioning myself….”

At this moment, judge and world-famous designer Michael Kors interrupts the contestant to point something out. He holds up his left hand, points to the contestant and says, “You know that feeling that you are having right now? [long pause]. That feeling [another long pause]. It. Never. Goes. Away. [hold silence].”

When I heard him say that, I felt such relief for the contestant and for myself as a creative person. I thought, ‘If Michael Kors, one of the most famous and successful designers in the world, felt that he needed to stop this contestant to share this insight about his own creative life, then it must be true and it must be important.’

Self-doubt and questioning, this is what creatives do. It’s just how they work. Yes, it makes them a little crazy and it drives their friends a little crazy too (especially the accountants!). That tortured artist thing isn’t a myth. It’s real as alluded to in a well known Kors quote, “Fashion isn’t for sissies.”

So what can we do about this doubt? As with most things that are hard, be mindful of it, even accepting of it. And learn how to manage it. Because that feeling? That feeling that you’re having about your work right now? It. Never. Goes. Away.



Michael’s Night at the Met Gala

Build to Learn – leather tote edition

leather work

I recently scored some bargain hides in OKC and mailed them home to Ithaca. They arrived last Thursday and bit by bit, over the past week, I’ve been working toward making a full-scale leather bag.

You can see my iterative prototyping here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/wySRTm8M2rdiyWke9

I started with a tiny prototype just to learn how the stitching would feel in this material. But it was so tiny that I couldn’t even turn it inside out when it was sewn up.  So I moved up to a half-scale version of the bag, first in EVA foam. This prototype was really quick and gave me some good intel–I just wanted to see how the bag would hold up when I turned it inside out after sewing. Turned out ok.

From there I moved to a half-scale in leather. From this prototype I wanted to experience each step of the process: cutting and preparing the leather, gluing and clamping, sewing, and turning it inside out. All went well except for the proportions. When I turned it inside out, it was too tall because the leather, unlike the foam in the previous model, brought the side seams in significantly.

But my prototypes gave me the confidence to move to full scale even though I hadn’t yet gotten the proportions I wanted. I made proportional adjustments in my full-scale template then cut and prepped and glued and sewed. I rushed through the rivets a bit because I was running out of time, but overall I am very pleased with the bag. I’ll carry it around with me for a week before I make another, just to test how it behaves in the wild. But I have a feeling that I have a design that’s close to production ready.

Hoorah! Now the question is, can I buy myself a fancy rivet press? Uh, tools are cool.


Externalities aren’t external

Seth Godin posted a piece last week titled “Embracing Externalities.” “Externalities” is a concept from the field of economics that is used to describe the side effects of industrial activity. For example, the pollution that gets dumped into the river by the factory is considered an externality to the factory’s business model.

In Godin’s piece, he asks the reader to reject this concept. He admits that rejecting it, in theory, isn’t that hard to do. The hard thing is to create and put systems in place to dismantle the concept. Sure this would be challenging but it’s not impossible.

We value ourselves as innovators, don’t we? Let’s innovate our way to a more sophisticated system–one that embraces externalities.

Read Godin’s original post here


Circular Economy – Ellen Macarthur Foundation


Paper Snowflakes

Cool-Ideas-for-Kids_Name-Snowflakes-tutorial copy

I was going through my pinterest boards this morning and saw this silly snowflake with my name on it. My name starts with an X which is rare in this country.  It’s not something that I see in the media very often. Anyways, it made me giggle.

For the tutorial on “Name Snowflakes” from which this image comes, click here

To see more beautiful snowflake designs and templates that are made here in Ithaca, check out Mariellen Brown’s site here


Studio Snap Shot: milled hides


I picked up these bargain-bin hides while in OKC this past week. It feels freeing to have so much (cheap) material to work with. I’m going to try out a bunch of things in weeks to come.

These hides are milled which means that they are soft and don’t have as much structure as the veg tanned scraps I’ve been working with. But I still think they can hold the shape of a basket if I keep it small enough. We’ll see! If all else fails, these babies can make a whole lot of straps and book covers.

for more studio snap shots, see my google photo album: https://photos.app.goo.gl/PKaNMFj8ScEsxeK58


repost: The Designer Fallacy

originally posted on this blog in June 2013

Philosopher Don Ihde identifies a phenomenon he calls “The Designer Fallacy.” It takes its cue from an idea in literary theory called “Intentional Fallacy,” which refers to the mistake of thinking that the meaning of a text is restricted to what the author intended; it’s presumed that meanings emerge from texts in various ways. Unintended “meanings” often emerge in design as well. End users of designed objects use them in ways that the designers never intended. The results of this new use can be good or not so good, but I just heard of a good unintended use of a design: there was a bit today in the NYTs on people using parked bikes from NYCs new bike-sharing program in an interesting way:

In a fit of urban guile more likely to affect gym memberships than program memberships, some New Yorkers seem to have identified the newest, cheapest way to tone their lower bodies: hop aboard the seat [of a NYC bike-share bike] and pedal in place — with the bikes still locked — as if the stations were rows of exercise equipment.

Creativity is everywhere, isn’t it?

read the rest of the NYTs piece here

abstract of The Designer Fallacy  here

collection of this fallacy at play here: Thoughtless Acts

Studio Snap Shot – little baskets


I’ve never understood why people make jokes about basket weaving. Think about it: What skill could be more useful than making an object that carries things from one place to another, using materials that you have lying around? I happen to have a lot of tyvek and a little bit of leather, so I’ve been designing tyvek baskets with leather handles (at half scale for now). I think these vessels are sweet and I like imagining filling them up with fruit in summer.

I love all kinds of baskets and if I had the right studio space (which would have to include a sink), I’d definitely take up weaving.


Swamp Road Baskets are the most beautiful baskets, made here in The Finger Lakes

I love this modern spin on Shaker Baskets by Studio Gorm

My BASKETS board on pinterest


repost: Write-storming #inclusion

If you read this blog, then you know that I’m interested in techniques for harnessing collective intelligence. Why? Because the complex problems we face require participation from a diverse array of stakeholders. Why? Because diverse participation, when done right, leads to better outcomes.

If you do a lot of teamwork, then you know that it’s easy to fall into the pattern of letting a few people on the project team dominate the majority of the conversation. A great technique for engaging the entire team, and thus arriving at more creative results, is write-storming. What write-storming does is it carves out time and space for all team members to engage in quiet writing and reflection. The ideas that individuals generate during a write-storming session can then be drawn on for group discussion.

I’ve been doing write-storming in one form or another for years but I really like how author Leigh Thompson maps out the technique. I’ll summarize here: Write-storming sessions are short, like 5-10 minutes. In a session, team members work silently to generate a lot of ideas on their own. Each idea should be written on an individual index card in legible hand-writing – I recommend all caps for legibility. Then the cards are collected, shuffled, redistributed, and read aloud for discussion. It’s important that the ideas remain anonymous so that the team can focus on the work and not on egos. The next step is for the team to categorize the cards and flesh out the ideas that have the most potential. I recommend fleshing out an array of ideas from conventional & easy ideas to unconventional & challenging ones.



Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Work in FastCo 



repost: Why is Design Thinking Useful?

Design-thinking is a popular topic among product developers and entrepreneurs. I think that’s because there are a lot of similarities in the processes that designers, developers, and entrepreneurs use. Whether we’re developing apps, services, or physical products, we’re all in the business of making new stuff and saying to a group of people, “This will solve your problem.”
Some of what you’ll read here will sound familiar. I’m a designer, so this post is phrased in a design-thinking vocabulary. But it’s a useful vocabulary for anyone, especially for folks who work with team members and users from different disciplinary backgrounds.
Design-thinking is a combination of anthropology and art. It’s anthropology because design-thinkers study how groups of humans interact with one another and how tools mediate those interactions. And it’s art because design-thinkers make stuff that other people will see and use. Artists call other people the “audience,” but design-thinkers call them “users” and more recently “co-creators.”Design-thinking is useful in several ways:
Design is often understood as how a product looks, but that’s because form and color are the visible edge of design. But there are several other elements of design. Design-thinkers don’t start their projects with a technology or a product idea. Instead, they start their projects by finding problems that humans have. Then they study those problems where they occur like an anthropologist in the field. Finally they prototype and test product ideas that address the problems they’ve identified.
TIP: Start your project by observing and talking to people with problems.
Design-thinkers never assume that the problem they start with is the problem they’ll end up solving. They spend a lot of time at the beginning of a project making sure they are addressing the right problem. They constantly revisit the problem statement and if they stray from it they do one of two things: revise the prototype to address the problem more clearly or reframe the problem. Here, they are both anthropologists and artists: the former interacts with humans to understand the problem and the latter is  iterating.
TIP: Revisit your problem statement early and often. It should evolve over time.
Design-thinkers know the difference between divergent and convergent thinking. And they know when in a project timeline it’s appropriate to engage in one or the other. Divergent thinking is exploratory, like what we do when we’re brainstorming or sketching. And critique is convergent, honing in to make decisions. The entire product-development process goes back and forth between these two types of thinking. For example, once you hone in on an idea to develop it further (convergent), you put your divergent hat back on to explore all of the options.
TIP: Be conscious of when you’re engaging in divergent or convergent thinking. It will help you control your development process.
Design-thinkers value critique. They don’t consider their ideas precious; they just want to find the best one. And if that means sharing ten ideas to find that most of them fail, then so be it. Here, they are like artists who have a complex relationship with their work. Work is painful and they accept that. Critique hurts at first, but after a few of them you develop a thick skin.
TIP: Talk to other people about your ideas, even your bad ideas. If you don’t, then you’re missing out on valuable feedback.
Design-thinkers don’t have all of the answers before they start designing: they prototype. This practice is similar to that of making art. Sure, artists think about what they will do and make sketches, but the best discoveries happen as they start the work.
TIP: Build prototypes, test them with users, take note of where the prototypes break. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Part of what makes designing so challenging is that it requires you to navigate ambiguity. Design-thinkers accept this. They are “at home” with uncertainty and know that it can be frightening, but they rise to the occasion because they accept it as part of the design process. If someone had the problem figured out already, it wouldn’t be a problem, right? Design-thinkers recognize that the problems they are working on are problems for a reason and that their job is thus appropriately difficult.
TIP: Understand that the design process is difficult. This understanding can help us get through the sometimes arduous or frustrating design process.
One of the reasons design-thinkers often struggle with ambiguity is that they are challenging the status quo. If they see a problem they don’t like, they never say, “I can’t do anything about that. That’s just the way it is.” Like artists, they make stuff to promote change. If you’re developing a new product, you had better believe that you’re in the business of promoting change.
TIP: We must be discerning artists. Artists introduce something new to the world and declare “This is better than that.”
That’s not to say that design-thinkers don’t appreciate users’ comfort zones. They know that their own vision is often too radical for users, so they put their anthropologist hats on and work on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is their vision; at the other is users’ comfort zone. The trick is to find that sweet spot on the spectrum where people are pushed out of their comfort zone, but not so much that they are scared away. Once we find that sweet spot, we’re in a position to nurture early adopters.
TIP: We must be realistic artists and know that without adopters our work has no meaning.