In the age of 3D printing, analog modelmaking is a bit of a lost art. But it should not be forgotten. Sometimes the smartest way to put together a model is to make something with your hands and not with a computer.
Lucky for us there are tons of resources out there including a series of videos from Industrial Designer Eric Strebel. The videos run the gamut from rendering with markers, to making 3D mockups with blue foam, to resin casting, to photo tips for product shots. Check them out here
There’s a lot of excitement about Design Thinking–a field of study made popular by Stanford University in which people learn techniques for navigating complexity; gaining empathy for users; and iterative prototyping.
Navigating complexity and gaining empathy for users are skills of the mind. The basics can be taught rather easily and with self-guided practice, they can be mastered. But prototyping is another story.
Prototyping is a skill of the senses: touch, sight, and sound with taste and smell being used less often (unless we are in the culinary arts). Prototyping is also a skill of perception: how objects and systems are perceived in time and space. However, the kind of prototyping we see in design thinking workshops consists of pipe cleaners and other fluorescent colored bits from the craft store with little regard for the senses or perception.
So how do we incorporate the more formal elements of design into design thinking workshops? Is it even possible? I have a few ideas:
COLOR. Limit the use of color. Untrained eyes can communicate clearly if they use this magical color combination: neutrals + one color. Neutrals should be used for the bulk of the design and color should be used to make the important parts “pop” or stand out.
CONSTRAINTS. Constrain the use of materials. Encouraging people to get the most impact out of the least amount of resources is a fantastic exercise. And it will give the prototype clarity.
CRITIQUE. Provide guidelines for giving and getting feedback. Prototyping is a process of continuous learning and improvement. So we can’t be presenting our work-in-progress as if in a sales pitch.
Can these skills be mastered in a weekend workshop? Of course not. But are they a good start for training ourselves to prototype with intelligence, curiosity, and elegance? I think so.
My introduction to the execution side of creativity was in my mother’s catering business that she ran out of our home kitchen when I was a kid. She called the business Gorgeous Food and thevision for the business was true to its name. The focus was on presenting fresh, seasonal ingredients in their most beautiful form. “Presentation is everything,” my mother used to say.
When prepping for a party, my mother would describe her vision, then set me up in the kitchen with the ingredients and tools I needed to execute. I kind of loved it. The openness of creativity combined with the orderliness required for assembly was a spot that I felt at home in.
It’s no surprise then, that in my adult life I LOVE watching cooking shows, especially ones that feature masters. This past weekend I watched Chef’s Table: Jordi Roca. Roca has a funny story. Standing in the shadows of his mother and older brothers, he struggled to find his voice for a long time. But he eventually found it in pastry.
My favorite part of the feature is watching the chef experiment with sugar. There are many scenes, played back in slow motion, in which Roca is spinning sugar or blowing it into glass-like forms then filling those forms with emulsions or creams. The creative process is mesmerizing. But what must be just as good, though they don’t show it, is how his team sets up for production. I’d like to see that.
I was at the local makerspace this weekend and I saw some work-in-progress hanging in the woodshop–a series of frames that played with the concept of frame. It’s a great theme. One that I explored in a piece in which I put a bunch of found objects into a fancy glass case in the lobby of a public building. The conceptual weight that frames and fancy glass cases give their contents is a fun concept to explore. Oh, how people stopped and stared at those objects!
But most of the time as artists we are more focused on the content of the frame than the frame itself. Yet, making a decision about how to frame a piece can be surprisingly challenging. For example, I have been trying to decide on whether the piece that I’m working on right now should be freestanding or hanging. I finally decided on hanging for several reasons that I won’t get into here. But one reason that was holding me back from making that decision was that I knew that that decision led to the inclusion of an overt rack or frame.
The frame influences the art. If I choose a laundry rack, that frame will give the piece a domestic feel. And within the decision of laundry rack, there are several kinds of laundry racks. If I choose a lightweight rack, I have to think about how that will affect the movement of the piece. And will that movement be welcome or distracting?
If I go with a work light or photo light rack, that kind of a rack will give the piece an industrial feel. And while I like industrial on an aesthetic level, is that really what I’m going for with this piece? Do I want the art, which is already mechanical, to be the same as the rack or do I want contrast? And if I want contrast, should that contrast be obvious or subtle? Is it something that you see right away or something that you only notice in an extended viewing?
For now, I’ve decided on a cheap, simple, lightweight laundry rack. But I won’t really know how it frames the piece until I set it up in my living room and sit with it for a while. I’m looking forward to that.
There’s a lot going on. It can feel overwhelming. On top of it all, you might have doubts or bad feelings about yourself or about things you have done in the past. It’s ok to have those feelings. It’s natural. Just try not to hold on to them even though there’s a strange comfort in their familiarity. Try not to let them take over even though some times they will. Acknowledge them and let them pass. And when they show up again, acknowledge them again and let them pass.
Life is complicated. And that extra layer of doubt only makes it more so. So peel it off when you can. And be kind to yourself. Be kind, be kind, be kind.
I love this short interview about design and inclusion with Head of Computational Design & Inclusion at Automattic, John Maeda. I like this quote especially:
Creative people are inherently inclusive because they love to learn new things. They love to be motivated, shocked, moved, be taken to a place that they aren’t used to. They’re okay being uncomfortable…with the intent of serving more people–people who aren’t like themselves.
I appreciate what he’s saying here because it’s something that I too believe about creative people. Creatives are wired toward curiosity and that often takes them to places of discomfort. But it’s not just for the sake of experiencing something new. This movement toward discomfort is an act of empathy. And it’s an understanding of a social contract that you enter as a designer: not everyone is the same and while that’s challenging for a designer to navigate, it’s also something to be celebrated.
I like this quote too. His wording and delivery are appropriately curious and playful and honest:
I’m excited that we’re all coming together as designers in tech to [ask and] understand: What is this exclusion stuff? It’s kind of icky. What is this inclusion stuff? It’s pretty hard!
Designers lean into what’s challenging about diversity and inclusion. Because it’s not only the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do.
As I mentioned a few posts ago, I’m reading The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. The author lays out 7 questions that coaches can use to effectively communicate with the people they manage. In addition to the 7 questions, another important point that the author makes is this: Ask one question at a time.
Even if you think you know the next five questions that need to be asked, the act of slowing down and asking one at a time is an act of awareness and empathy and generosity. It allows you and your employees time to get on the same page, to articulate problems and to find solutions together.
There are many examples of turning old things into new things. Sometimes this transformation takes a lot of processing (like turning soda bottles into performance gear) and other times just a little (like turning a milk carton into a birdhouse). This process above by designer Kodai Iwamoto is right in between. Old pipe is cut to size, heated, blown into a mold, and released. The results are gorgeous with the shape and function of something new while maintaining visual artifacts that signal the object’s past.
This is straight out of one of my favorite books, Art & Fear.
OPERATING MANUAL FOR NOT QUITTING
a. Make friends with others who make art, and share your in-progress work with each other frequently.
b. Learn to think of [A], rather than the Museum of Modern Art, as the destination of your work.
Yesterday I wrote about the importance of carving out the time, space, and a small group of people to share work-in-progress with. I want to add to that the importance of a shift in mindset implied in point B above. This shift asks you to transition away from thinking of publishing or exhibiting as the destination for your work. That is often a world of rejection and it can cause you to quit. Instead, shift your mindset so that you think of your small group as the destination of your work. The built-in accountability and feedback that comes from this group will act as fuel to keep you going. Even if you’re the type to get a lot of likes on the work you post on instagram, I’d argue that adding this small group to your practice will give you richer and more meaningful feedback than likes from the crowd.
In the arts, at least in art school, there are formal mechanisms in place for talking about work in progress. Artists have critique, performing artists have rehearsal, and creative writers have the workshop. I like how writers use the word “workshop” as a verb, for example, “Let’s workshop that poem.”
After graduating, many artists lose that formalized place and community, so they stop making art. Some artists find local groups to work with. Others go back to school–they enter a graduate program just to have that community again. But many more just quit. And this is a tragedy. Because the world needs more artists and it needs more art.
My definition of an artist here is, “a person who consistently makes art.” That is to say, you don’t need to make a living as an artist to be an artist. In fact, most of my friends who are artists, musicians, composers, and actors have full-time jobs that bring in their main source of income. Yet they make art–mostly every day, at least every week.
As for the artists who quit? I wonder if they would keep at it if they could maintain the practice of workshopping with a small group of people who consistently show up ready to share their work and give them feedback on theirs.