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Copyright © 2012 by Frank Chimero
http://www.shapeofdesignbook.com
http://www.frankchimero.com
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Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution
Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 Unported License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/
The Shape of Design was born of a spirit of generosity in
those who backed the book on Kickstarter. It should
continue that way. Share and remix the text, so long as
the resulting work is non-commercial and attribution
is provided.
Thank you.
Editor: Mandy Brown
Copyeditor: Allen Tan
Designer: Frank Chimero
Printed and bound by
Shapco Printing, Minnesota
Written on the road:
New York, New York
Portland, Oregon
Austin, Texas
San Francisco, California
Los Angeles, California
Phoenix, Arizona
Springeld, Missouri
Wellington, New Zealand
Nottingham, England
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Cardigan, Wales
Brighton, England
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Foreword
Introduction
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How and Why
Craft and Beauty
Improvisation and Limitations
Form and Magic
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Fiction and Bridges
Context and Response
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Stories and Voids
Frameworks and Etiquette
Delight and Accommodation
Gifts and Giving
Endnotes
Acknowledgements
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Frank Chimero and I came together over a shared commitment
to jazz. But not only exchanges of music. We emulated the form.
He would write a blog post. I would respond. I would improvise
one of his hunches. He would iterate one of my posts. A call-
and-response approach to a developing friendship.
We wrote like this alongside one another without ever meeting
or speaking directly – much like many of us: we never meet the
people we admire from afar. We read their stories. We watch their
videos. We inspect their work. We make up the in-between parts.
We improvise. Frank’s stories became my stories, our stories. This
book is, partly, about making things out of stories, and using them
to help us live well.
Without warning one day, a mail from Frank appeared in my
inbox, introducing himself:
You know what I love about jazz and improvisation? It’s all
process. 100. The essence of it is the process, every time is
dierent, and to truly partake in it, you have to visit a place to
see it in progress. Every jazz club or improv comedy theater is a
temple to the process of production. It’s a factory, and the art is the
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assembly, not the product. Jazz is more verb than noun. And in a
world riddled with a feeling of inertia, I want to nd a verb and
hold on to it for dear life.
My conversations with Frank began to draw a line between
the adjacent systems in the world and our own design process.
Jazz. Tools. Art. Pizza. Announce a noun, and Frank helps
trace its mutable shape to something more active. A verb! The
adjacent process.
Deciphering and designing these systems is hard work. Done
well, and one gets there “the long, hard, stupid way,” as Frank
frames it in the pages to come, nodding to the gap between
eßciency and the extra eßort that compels us to make things
with pride and compassion. Our process will vary, but steeling
ourselves to persist is what Frank gives us the tools to do.
In that way, this book is not unlike a more ubiquitous tool and
platform, the U.S. Interstate Highway System. Today, we take it
for granted, mostly, but its numbering system at one point had
to be designed. At a time when telephone poles lined dirt trails,
Bureau of Public Roads employee Edwin W. James and committee
were asked to come up with a more expandable system as roads
were growing in the 1920s. They designed what we know today as
the Interstate Numbering System. Prior to that, people relied on
color codes for direction. Telephone poles ringed with color bands
lined highways, corresponding to individual dirt trails across the
country. As trails expanded, telephone poles became painted from
the ground up, sometimes ßfteen feet high, so trying to distinguish
among colors became dangerous.
E. W. James changed that. He decided that motorists would be
able to ßgure out where they were at any time given the intersection
of any two highways. North / south highways would be numbered

with odd numbers; east / west with even numbers; and numbers
would increase as you go east and north. The Interstate Numbering
System was designed for expansion, anticipating the future
contributions of people, cities, unexpectedness. It’s a tool. It’s a
platform. And it’s still not done nearly 100 years later.
If you wish to use this book as a tool, by all means, put it down
at any time. Leave the road. You will ßnd your way back as the
intersection of two points will serve as your guide. Then wander
back. This is the point of any road or system after all: to take you to
a destination in a time in need. Or, consider the book as a platform
and musical score: respond to a passage, to a chapter. Consider
Frank’s call your opportunity to respond, and each sentence your
opportunity to create. That is the reason they were written.
I’m honored to say that since that original mail, there have been
many Frank mails in my inbox. Later:
I see a platform and it tells me two things: rst, other people’s
contributions are important. Second, the world is not done. Wow.
If I want to believe anything, it’s that.
Start improvising.
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What is the marker of good design? It moves. The story of a
successful piece of design begins with the movement of its maker
while it is being made, and amplißes by its publishing, moving
the work out and around. It then continues in the feeling the work
stirs in the audience when they see, use, or contribute to the work,
and intensißes as the audience passes it on to others. Design
gains value as it moves from hand to hand; context to context;
need to need. If all of this movement harmonizes, the work gains
a life of its own, and turns into a shared experience that enhances
life and inches the world closer to its full potential.
The designer is tasked to loosely organize and arrange this
movement. She is the one who works to ensure this motion is
pointed in a direction that leads us toward a desirable future.
Marshall McLuhan said that, “we look at the present through a
rear-view mirror,” and we “march backwards into the future.”
Invention becomes our lens to imagine what is possible, and
design is the road we follow to reach it. But, there is a snag in
McLuhan’s view, because marching is no way to go into the future.
It is too methodical and restricted. The world often subverts our
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best laid plans, so our road calls for a way to move that is messier,
bolder, more responsive. The lightness and joy aßorded by creating
suggests that we instead dance.
Dancing requires music, and we each have our own song. These
songs are the culmination of our individual dispositions. It is a
product of our lines of inquiry about the work that we do, and
a demonstration of the lens we use to see the world. The ßrst
portion of this book concerns itself with these inner movements.
We each carry our own tune, and if we listen to ourselves, the
song that emerges is composed of the questions that we ask while
working, the methods we choose to employ in our practice, and
the bias we show by favoring certain responses over others. Each
song is the origin of the individual’s creativity; it is a personal tune
that compels us to make things, and feel obligated to do so in a
way specißc to ourselves.
The second part of the book looks at the milieu of design: the
cultural context of the work we create, the parties involved in
its making, those groups’ relationships to one another, and the
expected outcomes of the designer’s eßorts. Design has a tendency
to live between things to connect them, so this is analyzed in more
detail to ßnd patterns. It looks to weigh the value of ßction, the
mutability of artifacts, and the multiplicity of responses available
in design. The purpose of all of these assessments is to look at
the space around design to identify the moving parts, so one can
begin to strategize how to make this movement sway together and
respond accordingly as things change.
The last part of the book focuses on the primacy of the audience
in design. It assesses methods to create more meaningful
connections with them to unlock the great opportunity of this
fortuitous arrangement. What can be done if we speak truly and
honestly to the audience of our work? Perhaps this changes the
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success metrics of design to more soft, meaningful qualities, like
enthusiasm, engagement, and resonance. Reframing the practice
as something more than commerce and problem-solving lets us
focus on fundamental issues about utility. It requires us to raise
simple, dißcult questions about our work, such as, “Does this
help us to live well?”
The Shape of Design is a map of the road where we dance rather
than a blueprint of it. It strives to investigate the opportunities
of exploring the terrain, and it values stepping back from the
everyday concerns of designing. It attempts to impose a mean-
ingful distance in order to ßnd patterns in the work and assess
the practice as a whole. One can observe, from this distance, two
very fundamental things about design that are easy to miss in the
midst of all of this movement.
First, design is imagining a future and working toward it
with intelligence and cleverness. We use design to close the gap
between the situation we have and the one we desire. Second,
design is a practice built upon making things for other people.
We are all on the road together. These two things dictate our
relationship to the world and our bond to one another. They
form the foundations of the design practice, so our work should
revolve around these truths.
The practice, simply, is a way of thinking and moving that we
use to enhance life. It is available to anyone. We listen to our song,
watch how things move, imagine the arrangement, then act. We
dance together backwards into the future, giving inßuence and
taking it, forming and being formed. This is dance of eternity, and
the shape of design. I hope to see you singing on the road.
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“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.”
¡.¡. cumm¡Rcs
If in the spring of 2003 a nightwalker found himself passing
by North Spaulding Road, and – despite the hour – had the
presence of mind to look up, he would ßnd a light ablaze on the
second ßoor. He would see me in proßle, seated at my drafting
table, kneading my face like a thick pile of dough. As I looked out
the window, we would nod knowingly at one another, as if to say,
“Yes, four in the morning is both too early and too late. Anyone
awake must be up to no good, so let’s not ask any questions.” The
nightwalker would continue down the street, weaving between
the rows of parked cars and the sweetgum trees that bordered the
sidewalk. I’d go back to kneading my face.
I remember one specißc night where I found myself on the tail
end of a long, fruitless stretch. I took to gazing out the window to
search for inspiration, to rest my eyes, to devise a plan to fake my
death for forty-eight hours while my deadline whooshed past. I
looked at the tree before my window and heard a sound rise from
the leaves. It seemed misplaced, more likely to come from the cars
than one of the trees next to them.
20 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
“Weee-oooh, wooop, wwwrrrlll. Weee-oooh, wooop!”
You don’t expect to hear the din of the city coming from the
leaves of a sweetgum tree, but there it was. I scoured the leaves,
and found myself trading glances with a mockingbird, each of us
sizing the other up from our perches. He was plump in stature,
clothed in brown and white feathers with black eyes that jumped
from place to place. He had an almost indistinguishable neck to
separate his head from his body, which I took as a reminder of the
potential eßects of my own poor posture. The leaves on the branch
rustled as he leaned back to belt his chirps and chimes. Burrs fell
from the tree, thwapped the ground, and rolled downhill on the
sidewalk, eventually getting caught in the tiny crevasse between
two blocks of cement, lining themselves up neatly like little spiked
soldiers. Then, a suspenseful pause. We both held our breath.
Finally, his call:
“Weee-oooh, wooop, wwwrrrlll. Weee-oooh, wooop!”
This was not the song of a bird, but the sound of a car alarm. He
mimicked the medley of sounds with skill, always pausing for just
the right amount of time to be in sync with the familiar tempo of
the alarms that occasionally sounded on the block. Mockingbirds,
as their name would suggest, have a reputation for stealing the
songs of other birds, and my feathered friend was doing so quite
convincingly, despite his poor choice of source material. But the
bird didn’t understand the purpose of the sounds he imitated. I
remember distinctly saying to myself that a bird’s gotta sing, but
not like this. And in that moment, a brief little glimmer of insight
came to me from the bird’s song: his eßorts were futile, and to
a large extent, mine were too. We were blindly imitating rather
than singing a song of our own.
Our mistake was the same as that of the creative person who
places too much focus on How to create her work, while ignoring
¡cw »Rb w¡\ · 21
Why she is creating it. Questions about How to do things improves
craft and elevates form, but asking Why unearths a purpose
and develops a point of view. We need to do more than hit the
right note.
Imagine an artist working on a painting in his studio. You
probably see him at his easel, maulstick in hand, beret on head,
diligently mixing colors on his palette or gingerly applying paint
to the canvas, working from dark to light to recreate what is
before him. You may see him judging the light, or speaking to
his model, or loading his brush with a slated green to block in
the leaves in his muse’s hair. This is a classical way to imagine a
painter at work, and it’s ßttingly represented by Vermeer in The
Art of Painting (overleaf ).
But, if you have ever painted, you know that this image is not a
full picture of the process. There is a second part where the artist
steps back from the easel to gain a new perspective on the work.
Painting is equal parts near and far: when near, the artist works
to make his mark; when far, he assesses the work in order to
analyze its qualities. He steps back to let the work speak to him.
The second part of painting is captured in Rembrandt’s The Artist
in His Studio (overleaf ).
The creative process, in essence, is an individual in dialogue
with themselves and the work. The painter, when at a distance
from the easel, can assess and analyze the whole of the work from
this vantage. He scrutinizes and listens, chooses the next stroke
to make, then approaches the canvas to do it. Then, he steps back
again to see what he’s done in relation to the whole. It is a dance
of switching contexts, a pitter-patter pacing across the studio
ßoor that produces a tight feedback loop between mark-making
and mark-assessing. The artist, when near, is concerned with
production; when far, he enters a mode of criticism where he
The Art of Painting Johannes Vermeer, 1ooo
The Artist in His Studio Rembrandt van Rijn, iozs
¡cw »Rb w¡\ · 23
judges the degree of beneßt (or detriment) the previous choice
has had on the full arrangement.
Painting’s near and far states are akin to How and Why: the
artist, when close to the canvas, is asking How questions related
to craft; when he steps back, he raises Why questions concerned
with the whole of the work and its purpose. Near and Far may
be rephrased as Craft and Analysis, which describe the kinds of
questions the artist asks while in each mode. This relationship
can be restated in many dißerent ways, each addressing a neces-
sary balance:
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The relationship between form and purpose – How and
Why – is symbiotic. But despite this link, Why is usually neglected,
because How is more easily framed. It is easier to recognize fail-
ures of technique than those of strategy or purpose, and simpler
to ask “How do I paint this tree?” than to answer “Why does this
painting need a tree in it?” The How question is about a task, while
the Why question regards the objective of the work. If an artist
or designer understands the objective, he can move in the right
direction, even if there are missteps along the way. But if those
objectives are left unaddressed, he may ßnd himself chasing his
own tail, even if the craft of the ßnal work is extraordinary.
How do you work? How do you choose typefaces for each
project? How do you use this particular software? These ques-
tions may have valuable answers, but their application is stunted,
24 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
because each project has dißerent objectives. Moreover, every
individual is in a dißerent situation. Many How questions, much
to the frustration of novices, can’t be answered fully. Ask an
experienced designer about How they work and you may hear,
“It’s more complicated than that,” or “It depends.” Experience
is to understand the importance of context, and to know which
methods work in which contexts. These contexts are always shift-
ing, both because requirements vary from job to job, but also
because ability and tendency vary from individual to individual.
We each have our own song to sing, and similarly, we each have
a store of songs we can sing well.
Variation in context implies that it is just as important to dis-
cuss Why decisions are being made as to How they are executed.
If we wish to learn from the experience of others, we should
acknowledge that making something is more than how the brush
meets the canvas or the ßngers sit on the fret. A process includes
all of the reasons behind the decisions that are made while the
brush or ßngers move. We can get closer to the wisdom of other
people by having them explain their decisions – not just in How
they were executed, but Why they were made. This is a higher
level of research, one that follows the brush up the hand and to
the mind to investigate the motivations and thought processes
used so that they can be applied in our own situations.
The ßnished piece on its own, however, frequently acts as a
seductive screen that distracts us from this higher level of investiga-
tion. The allure of the veneer hides many of the choices (good and
bad) that were a part of the construction; the seams are sanded
out and all the lines made smooth. We are tempted by the quality
of the work to ask how to reproduce its beauty. And how can you
blame us? Beauty is palpable, while intentions and objectives
are largely invisible. This leads us to ask How more frequently,
¡cw »Rb w¡\ · 25
as if the tangibility of these characteristics were to somehow
make them superior. But asking Why unlocks a new form of
beauty by making choices observable so they can be discussed
and considered.
The creative process could be said to resemble a ladder, where
the bottom rung is the blank page and the top rung the ßnal piece.
In between, the artist climbs the ladder by making a series of
choices and executing them. Many of our conversations about
creative work are made lame because they concern only the top
rung of the ladder – the ßnished piece. We must talk about those
middle rungs, understanding that each step up the ladder is
equal parts Why and How. To only entertain one is to attempt
to climb a ladder with one foot: it may be possible, but it is a
precarious task.
Moreover, a balanced conversation about these middle rungs
leads to a transfer of knowledge that can spread past the lines
that divide the many creative disciplines. The musician may learn
from the actor, who constantly ruminates about the ßner details
of drama and performance. The actor can learn from the painter
about the emotive power of facial expressions. The painter from
the designer, about the potential of juxtaposing images and words.
And the designer from the poet, who can create warmth through
26 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
the sparseness of a carefully chosen, well-placed word. We climb
our ladders together when we ask Why.
Why questions not only form the bedrock for learning and
improving, but are also the foundation for inspiring ourselves
and others to continue to do so. In 2009, the Public Broadcasting
System aired its ßnal episode of Reading Rainbow, a half-hour
show devoted to nurturing a love for reading in kids. Each episode
of Reading Rainbow highlighted one book, and the story inspired
an adventure with the show’s host, Levar Burton. Unfortunately,
the program met its end because the show’s approach opposed the
contemporary standard format of children’s television: teaching
kids how to read, rather than Reading Rainbow’s objective, which
was to teach kids about why they should read.
Reading Rainbow had a long run, lasting twenty-three years,
but its cancellation feels like a symbolic blow. Education, just like
climbing the ladder, must be balanced between How and Why. We
so quickly forget that people, especially children, will not willingly
do what we teach them unless they are shown the joys of doing so.
The things we don’t do out of necessity or responsibility we do for
pleasure or love; if we wish children to read, they must know why.
If we wish painters to paint, poets to write, designers to design, they
must know why as well. How enables, but Why motivates, and the
space between the two could be described by the gap of enthusiasm
between simply understanding phonics and reading a book that
one identißes with and loves.
Creative people commonly lament about being “blocked,” per-
petually stuck and unable to produce work when necessary. Blocks
spring from the imbalanced relationship of How and Why: either
we have an idea, but lack the skills to execute; or we have skills, but
lack a message, idea, or purpose for the work. The most despised
and common examples of creative block are the latter, because the
¡cw »Rb w¡\ · 27
solution to a lack of purpose is so elusive. If we are short on skill,
the answer is to practice and seek outside guidance from those
more able until we improve. But when we are left without some-
thing to say, we have no choice but to either go for a walk or
continue sußering in front of a blank page. Often in situations like
these, we seek relief in the work of others; we look for solace in
creations that seem to have both high craft and resounding purpose,
because they remind us that there is a way out of the cul-de-sac we
have driven into by mistake. We can, by dissecting these pieces,
begin to see what gives the work of others their vitality, and better
understand the inner methods of what we produce ourselves. If we
are attentive, with just a dash of luck, we may even discover where
the soul of our own work lies by having it mirrored back to us in
the work of others.
But we must be careful not to gaze too long, lest we give up
too much of ourselves. Forfeiting our perspective squanders the
opportunity to let the work take its own special form and wastes
our chance to leave our ßngerprints on it. We must remember
Why we are working, because craft needs objectives, eßort needs
purpose, and we need an outlet for our song. If we stay on the
surface and do not dig deep by asking Why, we’re not truly design-
ing. We’re just imitating car alarms from sweetgum trees.
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“A sunower seed and a solar system are the same thing; they both are whole
systems. I nd it easier to pay attention to the complexities of the smaller
than to pay attention to the complexities of the larger. That, as much as
anything, is why I’m a craftsman. It’s a small discipline, but you can put
an awful lot into it.”
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They say all things began as nothing. I should believe this, but
it is dißcult to conceive of nothing in the middle of a world that
is so full. I close my eyes and try to picture a darkness, but even
that is something. We are told that there was a big bang at the
beginning of time that created the universe, but this turns creation
into a spectacle. I’m skeptical of showmanship. The romantic
in me wants to imagine there was no ßash, no bang. Perhaps
instead there was a quiet dignity to the spurring of matter from
nothingness. I tell myself a story to draw back the darkness and
ßll the void.
In the beginning, a voice slowly approached from afar, so
unhurried that it was hardly noticeable. “Better,” it whispered.
But no bang, no ßreworks. No grand gestures or swipes of God. The
30 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
secret closed in and contained the void, like how a hushed, familiar
voice in the dark can create a pocket of warmth around it. I picture
how the loose gases ßrmed to make the planets. The spheres spun,
and the atoms collided and combined in uncountable ways over
billions of years. The cocktail thickened and congealed, and after
an unimaginable number of attempts, life showed up, sprawled
out, then pushed on. We gained hearts and eyes, legs and hands.
We crawled out of the muck, climbed into the trees, and eventually
came back down.
The ßrst boom, the recipe that produced the universe and life,
was born of circumstance. The second boom, one of the mind
and making, was by design.
I hold a token of the second bang in my hands. No bang, no
show – most would say what I’m holding is just a rock. Walk into
any proper house of curiosities and ask to see their hand axes.
They will show you something similar to what I hold: a stone
resembling an arrowhead with a tip that is honed and sharp. It
will be close to the size of a deck of cards and ßt comfortably
into the hand. Hand axes are frequently cited as the ßrst human-
made objects; the oldest specimens, discovered in Ethiopia, are
estimated to be about two-and-a-half million years old. We have
been molding this world for a very long time.
The hand axes record the ßrst moment that we understood that
the world was malleable – that things can change and move, and
we can initiate those transformations ourselves. To be human is to
tinker, to envision a better condition, and decide to work toward
it by shaping the world around us.
In this way, design is a ßeld of transformations concerned with
the steps we take to mold our situations. The maker of this hand
axe transformed a rock into a tool which allowed him to turn a
sealed nut into an open platter; it allowed him to turn beasts on
c¡»¡1 »Rb ¡¡»u1\ · 31
the plain into dinner. The same making instinct was at play when
the Wrights ßew their ßrst airplane or when Greek architects sat
down to mastermind the Parthenon. The products of our endeavors
sprawl out behind us in a wake of repercussions and remain, in
some cases, for millions of years.
There is often a diligence in construction to these axes, an
elegant symmetry to their form. These details don’t necessarily
contribute to the utility of the tool, but their presence implies that
we’ve cared about craft ever since our minds ßrst opened up to the
idea of invention. A polished axe does not chop better, just as the
reßned design of a lamp does not necessarily light a room more
fully. Beauty is a special form of craft that goes beyond making
something work better.
The Shakers have a proverb that says, “Do not make something
unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both, do not
hesitate to make it beautiful.” We all believe that design’s primary
job is to be useful. Our minds say that so long as the design
works well, the work’s appearance does not necessarily matter.
And yet, our hearts say otherwise. No matter how rational our
thinking, we hear a voice whisper that beauty has an important
role to play.
The hand axe is a prime specimen to consider beauty’s role in
this tangle of concerns, because the stone’s waned usefulness
lets us consider its aesthetic appeal on its own. Despite the axe’s
utilitarian origin, the experience of buying my particular hand
axe was more like purchasing a piece of jewelry than something
kept in the toolbox. The determinate factor was how pleasing each
hand axe was to my eye. The aesthetic details I found desirable
were the same to the person who made the hand axe. This overlap
connects me to the past; someone long ago had an eye similar
to my own, and cared enough about the tool’s beauty to choose
32 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
a rock with an even ßnish, then mold it into a pleasing symmetry.
That care remains intact inside the stone.
Craft links us to a larger tradition of makers by folding the
long line that connects us across the vast expanse of time. I am in
awe of the brushwork of Van Dyck even though the paintings were
made four hundred years ago. My jaw drops at the attention to
detail in Gutenberg’s original forty-two line Bible, and can’t help
but be impressed by the ornamental patterns of Arabic mosques
and their dizzying complexity. We all bask in the presence of
beauty, because there is a magical aura to high craft. It says, “Here
is all we’ve got. This is what humankind is capable of doing, with
every ounce of care and attention wrung out into what’s before
you.” Craft is a love letter from the work’s maker, and here in my
hands is that note enveloped in stone.
I’m reminded of a piece of advice I received during my third
year at university. I was preparing to go to a design conference
to show oß my portfolio in an attempt to land a summer intern-
ship. The day before I left, I stepped into my favorite professor’s
oßce with my portfolio to give him a second look at everything.
I had done most of the projects in his classes, but I thought one
c¡»¡1 »Rb ¡¡»u1\ · 33
last bit of feedback might be helpful. He was on the phone, but
he still waved me in, and pointed to a empty spot on his desk so
he could browse my book while on his call. He ßipped through
the pages quickly, saying the occasional “Yes” and “Okay.” The
words were most likely to the woman on the line, but I sat on
the other side of his desk imagining that they were in approval
of my work. Finally, he got to the last page and asked the woman
on the line to hold for a moment. He held the phone to his chest,
looked at me, and simply said, “Needs more love.” He pushed the
portfolio back across his desk, smiled warmly, and shooed me
out of his oßce.
I still think about this advice, and what exactly he might have
meant when he said my work needed more love. At the time, I
took it to mean that I should improve my craft, but I’ve come to
realize that he was speaking of something more fundamental
and vital. My work was ßat, because it was missing the spark
that comes from creating something you believe in for someone
you care about. This is the source of the highest craft, because an
aßection for the audience produces the care necessary to make
the work well.
This kind of aßection has a way of making itself known by
enabling those who come in contact with the work. In the sev-
enteenth century, for example, Antonio Stradivari achieved what
many consider to be the pinnacle of craft in the instruments that
he made. He produced about ßve hundred violins in his life, and
those still remaining are coveted by players around the world.
It’s said that their sound is lush and transcendent, and one can
imagine Stradivari hunched over the body of one of his violins,
meticulously ßne-tuning the details to create the most divine
sound. Stradivari’s secret recipe has long been lost, but modern
science has given a bit of insight into his methods through the
34 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
analysis of his instruments. Some experts believe the secret to his
violins lies in their ßller and varnish, which is believed to contain
volcanic ash, insect wings, shrimp shells, and “tantalizing traces
of organic compounds that could be bedroom residues, sweat, or
pheromones of the master’s own breath.” Secret recipe, indeed:
each instrument was a beautiful union, where the maker was
himself a material used in the construction. There is no way to
describe Stradivari’s work other than as a labor of love.
The work has enough love when enthusiasm transfers from
the maker to the audience and bonds them. Both are enthusiastic
about the design. I can imagine the excitement in the room when
Stradivari would hand his newest violin to a skilled musician,
because the violinist would unlock the instrument’s full potential
by playing it. The products of design, like Stradivari’s violins,
possess an aspect that can only be revealed through their use. It
is why I’m always compelled to pick up my hand axe and roll it
around in my hand, rather than letting it sit on the mantle. The
stone is pleasing to the eye, but it was made for the hand, so
it feels more appropriate to hold than display. And it’s when I
hold the hand axe that I can hear the voice that whispers “better,”
sense how the line that connects me to the past folds, and feel a
love inside that rock. In truth, there are two sets of hands on this
stone, and it’s by holding the hand axe that it begins to unfold
its true magic. The stone, in spite of all these years, is still warm
from the hands of the one who made it.
¡m¡¡cv¡s»1¡cR »Rb ¡¡m¡1»1¡cRs · 37
c¡»¡1¡¡ 1¡¡¡¡
¡m¡¡cv¡s»1¡cR »Rb ¡¡m¡1»1¡cRs
“I’ll play rst, and I’ll tell you about it later. Maybe.”
m¡¡¡s b»v¡s
When we build, we take bits of others’ work and fuse them to
our own choices to see if alchemy occurs. Some of those choices
are informed by best practices and accrued wisdom; others are
guided by the decisions of the work cited as inspiration; while a
large number are shaped by the disposition and instincts of the
work’s creator. These fresh contributions and transformations
are the most crucial, because they continue the give-and-take of
inßuence by adding new, diverse material to the pool to be used
by others.
Happily, these materials do not behave like physical materials
when they are shared, because they do not run out. Their proper-
ties are eloquently explained by eighteenth century haiku master
Yosa Buson. Translated from Japanese, he wrote:
Lighting one candle
with another candle —
spring evening.
38 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
Buson is saying that we accept the light contained in the work
of others without darkening their eßorts. One candle can light
another, and the light may spread without its source being dimin-
ished. We must sing in our own way, but with the contributions
and inßuence of others, we need not sing alone.
Buson’s haiku is also instructive in how to work with the con-
tributions of others. Haikus come from an older Japanese poetic
tradition called renga, a form of collaborative, give-and-take poetry.
One poet would write the ßrst three lines of a ßve-line poem, and
then pass his work to another poet to write the last two. From
there, the last two lines would be used as the basis to begin three
new lines from a third poet, and then another two lines from a
fourth. The poem went on and on, two – three – two – three, with
each new contribution linking into the previous portion like a
daisy-chain. Renga required the acceptance of old contributions
as the basis for new additions, and this arrangement ensured the
poem’s strength and provided a structure that guided the poets
during the poem’s creation. The poets were able to get to work
by using what was already there as a material, and then building
atop previous parts with their own contributions.
Perhaps Buson’s haiku and the methods of renga oßer a way to
curb the ruthlessness of the blank page. They imply that starting
from zero may be elegantly side-stepped through the contri-
butions of others. They also show that imposing some sort of
structure can help us begin and gain momentum.
The ßrst step of any process should be to deßne the objectives
of the work with Why-based questions. The second step, however,
should be to put those objectives in a drawer. Objectives guide the
process toward an eßective end, but they don’t do much to help
one get going. In fact, the weight of the objectives can crush the
seeds of thought necessary to begin down an adventurous path.
¡m¡¡cv¡s»1¡cR »Rb ¡¡m¡1»1¡cRs · 39
The creative process, like a good story, needs to start with a great
leap of lightness, and that is only attainable through a suspension
of disbelief. The objectives shouldn’t be ignored forever, but they
should be deßned ahead of time, set aside, and then deployed
at the appropriate moment so that we may be audacious with
our ideas.
To begin, we must build momentum and then reintroduce the
objectives to steer the motion. I ßnd the best way to gain momen-
tum is to think of the worst possible way to tackle the project.
Quality may be elusive, but stupidity is always easily accessible;
absurdity is ßne, maybe even desired. If the project is a business
card for an optician, perhaps you imagine it is illegible. (This
is in the spirit, but you can do better.) If it is a brochure for an
insurance agency, imagine otters on the cover and deranged hand-
writing on the inside for the copy. (Further!) If it is design for an
40 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
exhibition of Ming Dynasty vases, brand it as an interactive show
for kids, and put the vases on precariously balanced pedestals
made of a shiny metal that asks to be touched. (Yes!)
The important realization to have from this fun – though
fruitless – exercise is that every idea you have after these will be
better. Your ideas must improve, because there is no conceivable
way that you could come up with anything worse. We’ve created
the momentum necessary to slingshot us toward a desirable
outcome by stretching our muscles and playing in the intellectual
mud. Now is the time to take the objectives out of their drawer
and use them as the rudder to this momentum. We must steer our
ideas, but we can be less discerning than if we were starting from
scratch, because progress at this point is going in any direction.
Any step is guaranteed to bring you closer to the border that marks
the end of bad ideas and the start of good ones. Even wandering
is productive, so that is precisely what should be done.
The way one creatively wanders is through improvisation. Now
that the objectives are in front of us again, we can use them as a
way to guide our ambling and riß on ideas. It sounds strange, but
I suspect that while you are rißng, you’ll ßnd yourself reusing
parts of the awful ideas you created earlier. The bad ideas have
been documented and captured in some way, which turns them
into a resource that can be mined in the process. New and better
ideas will certainly come as well, but mixing the two speaks to
the cumulative nature of improvising and the special sort of pres-
ence it requires. Ideas build on top of one another, and to do so
well, one must be in the moment, actively poking at the current
situation to use its opportunities as material for construction.
Formalizing the properties of improvising is valuable, because it
ensures that one can respond to the moment in artful and ßtting
ways before it fades.
¡m¡¡cv¡s»1¡cR »Rb ¡¡m¡1»1¡cRs · 41
We should look to jazz and improvisational theater – the two
formalized creative pursuits that use improvisation – for guidance.
Both have developed common rules that are meant to ensure a
fruitful process. The ßrst maxim of improv is “Yes and….” This
rule is easy to understand, but like most cardinal virtues, it is much
more dißcult to execute than to grasp.
“Yes” dictates that each contribution is valid and accepted.
The rules of the game, the whims of others, and indeed our own,
preserve momentum and keep us from self-editing too early. Mo-
mentum is the most important aspect of starting, and rejecting
and editing too soon has a tendency to stiße that movement. For
instance, if you and I are improvising a scene on stage, and you
say something I wasn’t expecting, I can’t pull you aside and ask
you to change your line. The continuity would be broken, so
I must accept what you oßer, and then build on top of it. It’s
the same whether we are working collaboratively in a group,
or if I am simply in dialogue with the work like the painter at
his easel.
The “and” part of the “Yes, and…” maxim dictates that impro-
vising is an additive process that builds itself up with each choice
like a snowball rolling downhill. The back-and-forth dialog that
happens from these contributions in jazz and improvisational
theater resembles the structure of renga. The renga master Basho
described the spirit of collaborative poetry as transformation: the
poem achieves a newness when it changes hands, has new words
added, and cumulatively builds up.
That newness only worked, in Basho’s words, by “refraining
from stepping back.” To steal from our old analogy of stepping
back from the easel as a way to analyze the work, judgment is an
important part of the creative process, but when improvising, self-
criticism and evaluation from others must be avoided in order to
42 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
let ideas develop from their delicate state. Criticism has a crucial
role in the creative process, but its rigor should match the hearti-
ness of the ideas, which become stronger as they develop. The
more real an idea becomes, the less suspension of disbelief is
required, and the more criticism it should withstand. But all ideas,
both good and bad, start young and fragile.
This delicacy requires acceptance, but rules need to be set before
starting so the work has a more focused direction to travel. Saying
no beforehand allows yes to be said unequivocally while working.
These limitations are the fuel for improvisation, becoming the
barriers that hold the sand in the sandbox so that we can play.
The promise of a smaller scope makes us forget our fear, and the
limitations become a starting point for ideas. An improvisational
structure allows us to get to work, because we no longer need
to know precisely where we are going – just choose a direction
and trust the momentum. All we need to know are the rules of
the game.
A framework for improvisation allows us to get into the process
of making things more easily. Perhaps the most famous example
of an imposed framework was created by jazz musician Miles
Davis during the recording of his album, Kind of Blue. Davis, Bill
Evans, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane,
and Cannonball Adderley packed into a c¡s recording studio in
New York in March of 1959 without any songs pre-written. Jazz
musicians routinely tolerated this sort of ambiguity, because they
made their living by winging it. But it’s unlikely that any of them
predicted that jazz would be reinvented that day.
The predominant style of jazz at the time, called Bebop, was
frenetic and lively, but had a tendency to overstuß songs with notes.
The abundance sometimes hindered the musicians’ melodic
expression by occupying all the space in the song. Bebop has been
¡m¡¡cv¡s»1¡cR »Rb ¡¡m¡1»1¡cRs · 43
described as musical gymnastics, because the style’s ßourishes
and showmanship forced musicians to negotiate complex struc-
tures. In spite of the artistry necessary to maneuver in the Bebop
style, it can become too large a load to carry. It’s hard to swing if
there’s no room to move. Davis wanted to let the air back into the
songs, to give the musicians more space to play. They were asked
to improvise with simple scales and modes rather than Bebop’s
chord progressions.
The recording session began with Davis handing each of the
seven men a small slip of paper where he had written down a
description of their part. None of them had seen any of the songs
before coming to the studio, but with the guidance of the slips
of paper, they recorded the whole day, and booked a second day
a few weeks later. After two sessions, the album was ßnished.
Kind of Blue is unequivocally a masterpiece, a cornerstone to jazz
music created in just a few short hours by altering the structure
of the performance. The musicians accepted the contributions
of one another, and ventured out into a new frontier, using their
intuitions as their guides. Davis amassed a stellar group of musi-
cians, and with a loose framework of limitations to focus them
but plenty of space for exploration, he knew they would wander
with skill and play beyond themselves.
Davis’ example is a bit misleading though, if only for its eß-
ciency. Improvisation is a messy ordeal, wasteful in its output,
and it should be accepted as such. The key is to generate many
ideas, lay them out, and try to recognize their potential. Don’t
be concerned if you improvise and don’t use most of the ideas.
There’s always a signißcant amount of waste when mining for
gold. (Unless you’re Miles Davis, apparently.)
Limitations and frameworks, however, need not be given to
us only by someone else; they can also be a self-initiated set of
44 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
rules that open the door to improvisation. Many of the greats
have used limitations to encourage their work: Vivaldi wrote four
violin concertos, one for each season. Shakespeare’s sonnets
follow a specißc rhyming scheme and are always fourteen lines.
Picasso, during his Blue Period, painted only monochromatically.
Limitations allow us to get to work without having to wait for
a muse to show up. Instead, the process and the limitations
suggest the ßrst few steps; after that, the motion of making carries
us forward.
The restrictions of a framework take many shapes. They may
be conceptual and based on the content, where the limitations
determine the subject matter of the work:
· Write a song for each one of the muses.
· Create an illustration for each letter of the alphabet.
· Write a short story inspired by each of the astrological signs.
Restrictions can also be structural and create compositional
limitations:
· Paint on surfaces that are three inches wide and twenty inches tall.
· Write a sonnet or a haiku.
· Choreograph a dance contained in a six-foot square.
Self-imposed limitations might also be related to the tone of
the work, where the inßection of communication is deliberately
restricted:
· Paint monochromatically.
· Create a song using a mistuned guitar.
· Draw with your opposite hand.
¡m¡¡cv¡s»1¡cR »Rb ¡¡m¡1»1¡cRs · 45
Once some restrictions are set, it’s helpful to take a step back
and assess how the qualities of the limitations are interrelated,
because they may oßer some suggestions about where to begin.
For instance, a restriction in the tone of the work can provide
guidance for deciding what sort of content is best, like how only
painting in blue might suggest sad scenes or places bathed in
cavernous light.
Limitations narrow a big process into a smaller, more under-
standable space to explore. It’s the dißerence between swimming
in a pool and being dropped oß in the middle of the ocean with
no land in sight. Those limitations also become the basis for the
crucial ßrst steps in improvisation. After those, the momentum
of making accelerates as ideas are quickly generated without
judgment. New ideas interact with the old, and spur oß into
unexpected places. Each decision is a response to the last and an
opportunity to pivot in a new direction, so the process imposes
a beneßcial near-sightedness, an inability to see anything clearly
other than the next step. But like driving a car at night, a little bit
at a time is enough to ßnish the trip.
¡c¡m »Rb m»c¡c · 47
c¡»¡1¡¡ ¡cu¡
¡c¡m »Rb m»c¡c
“Design is the method of putting form and content together.”
¡»u¡ ¡»Rb
My body and mind are linked. This is hardly a ground-breaking
discovery, but for the longest time, it was a bit of knowledge that
never changed my behavior. If my mind needed to wander to
think about a project, I’d typically sit in a chair, furrow my brow,
sip my coßee, and scribble a few things into my sketchbook.
That’s no good, though: if the mind needs to wander, best let
the body do the same. A short walk is more eßective in coming
up with an idea than pouring all the coßee in the world down
your gullet.
If I can’t get out of the studio and into the city, I’ve taken to let-
ting my hand wander on a pad of paper by drawing spindly, loopy,
mindless marks. I make the sorts of drawings people produce
on the backs of envelopes while on hold with the gas company.
There is no subject, just as a good walk has no destination; their
purpose is movement. My pencil cuts across the paper like a
ßgure skater zipping around her rink, overlapping, skipping, and
48 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
spinning. The skater ignores the mark that comes in the wake of
her movement, and I do the same. This drawing isn’t aesthetic,
it is kinetic – more like dancing than drawing.
I’ve noticed that as I draw these knots on the page, the hitches
in my mind begin to unravel. I love my trick in spite of its spotty
rate of success, because it is the minimum amount of eßort and
thought I can put into working. Scribbling’s eßciency is a golden
ticket for someone prone to creative block; the scrawl is an easy,
mindless task which looks like work, and can sometimes turn
productive. The drawn knots are no consequential thing them-
selves, but they do seem to eventually lead to something else that
is useful.
A few months ago, I found myself drawing my tangles onto
tiny napkins while on a ßight from the west coast to Chicago.
I had a pressing project that needed attention, and I wanted to
have a clear direction by the time the ßight landed. So, obviously,
I spent most of the ßight looking out the oval window instead of
working. I could see Illinois in all of its ßat, tiled splendor: farm
after farm, as far as the eye could see, a tight grid of wheat browns
and cornstalk greens. Two plots merged to make a rectangle, four
merged to make a square, and a circularly tilled plot interrupted
the quilted arrangement. I couldn’t see everything from up here,
so I imagined the other parts. I ßlled in the gaps by remembering
my drives to Chicago, and pretended that the plane cabin had the
smell of soy and corn permeating through as my car had when I
took road trips along ¡-55 years ago.
My pen continued gliding over the napkin. I could see through
my window how the terrain ßt together and how the crops were
planted. My pen zipped back. I imagined the names of the streets
in an imagined sleepy Illinois town with a biblical name. My mark
doubled over itself. I pictured how the blocks shrunk in size as
¡c¡m »Rb m»c¡c · 49
they approached the center of town, then looped around the city
square. My pen gained momentum. I thought about how there
must be a Lincoln High somewhere down there, with its champion
Cardinals that won the state football title this past year. My pen
whipped back around and ripped the napkin, now thin from the
ßood of ink it had absorbed.
How nice it would be to get into a plane and ßy over our work.
Maybe we’d see some patterns and be able to deduce a structure
that would let us improvise. We could see some ßelds and a few
roads, and riß our way to a bunch of kids in Cardinal uniforms
running through a banner at a pep rally. I spent the rest of the
ßight thinking about how helpful it is to have an understanding
of the work’s structure, and decided that the best way to see the
work’s larger patterns was with a vantage similar to my seat in
the sky.
All design work seems to have three common traits: there is
a message to the work, the tone of that message, and the format
that the work takes. Successful design has all three elements
working in co-dependence to achieve a whole greater than the
sum of the individual parts.
The message is what is being said, the kernel of information
to be communicated, or the idea trying to be expressed through
the work. If the work of design is to be a tool, the message is the
utility of the tool. The message speaks to the objectives of the
work, and is the promise that the work makes. The value of the
work is deßned by the usefulness of that promise, and the work’s
ability to make good on it.
The tone is the domain of design, the arrangement the message
takes and the inßection with which it is said. Tone expresses senti-
ment and endears the audience to the work. It is often mistaken
for style, but the two should not be confused: style is a formal device
50 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
used on the surface to establish the tone of the work. Successful
projects choose a tone that ßts the message appropriately.
The format is the artifact, the thing being produced. It is often
a physical form, such as a poster, brochure, pottery, painting, or
sonnet, but also includes the choices that alter a work’s context
and placement. Increasingly, these “artifacts” are becoming less
physical, and may take the form of an application, website, or even
an experience.
The relationship between the three characteristics could be
thought of as levers on a machine: dißerent settings can be chosen
and adjusted to yield dißerent outcomes. Specißc settings have
emerged by imitating the success of others, and, through trial
and error, produce well-established couplings, much like food
and wine. We frequently return to these settings because of their
eßectiveness.
Consider the typical promotional poster for a concert. The
work’s message is “attend this event,” and it provides relevant
information, such as the performing artists, time and date, venue,
and cost to attend. The tone for the design would be dictated
by the sound of the music being performed, and the designer
works to produce a ßt between the two. Posters for metal bands
should look dißerent than those for classical performances. In
this example, all possible aesthetic outcomes are unißed by the
format: ink on paper as a poster. The format, however, still has
variables. For instance, what will be the size of the poster and
where will it hang? No matter what the settings for the levers are,
all choices are subservient to the objective.
The promotional poster is a standard, tried-and-true setting
for the three levers, but we must be willing to consider new
opportunities and dißerent settings for the levers. Creative
breakthroughs often occur when fresh conßgurations are ex plored
¡c¡m »Rb m»c¡c · 51
in the message, tone, and format. The interplay of the three levers
becomes a framework for improvisation by providing enough
structure to guide exploration, but enough freedom to end up in
unexpected and fresh places.
Suppose the designer realized that most of the promotion
for a classical concert should occur online, because tickets were
being sold through their website, and the information could
spread more easily between friends on the web. She could use
the potential of screens, rather than spending time on ideas
limited by the restrictions of printing. A new format has dißer-
ent aßordances and opportunities, so rather than recreating a
static design that works on paper, she could produce something
native to the web and build motion and sound into the solution.
Perhaps the design could have videos of the musicians discussing
certain parts of the symphony to be performed, working as an
educational resource that connects the musicians to the audi-
ence in addition to promoting the show. Escaping paper means
that the music could be closer to the message, and the tone of
the promotion can directly relate to the sound of the music. A
change of format opens new doors.
This example isn’t intended to imply a superiority of screens
to paper. Instead, it’s meant to show that our assumptions can
easily fall out of step with the context of our work. We ignore the
new opportunities before us when we take the common settings
of the levers as givens. It’s wise to step back and reassess all of
the assumptions being made at the start of each project in order
to deßne the root objective of the work, reevaluate circumstances,
and maximize the opportunities of the current situation.
Questioning convention can lead to new opportunities by
making good on the potential of fresh conßgurations of the
three levers. These explorations, however, should come from
52 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
a designer’s experience in manipulating content and format.
New conßgurations are judged by the designer’s knowledge of
the qualities, necessities, and opportunities of all three levers
and an appreciation for how they are interrelated. Fortunately,
skilled designers frequently have an understanding of the whole
machine from their experiences, and that knowledge can lead
to interesting, unprecedented outcomes that teach us how to
reconsider our world in a dißerent and novel ways.
One such laboratory that experimented in reconßguring our
expectations was nestled into the craggy coast of Catalonia. Maybe
you know something of the restaurant elBulli and its former chef
Ferran Adrià. Perhaps you have heard of his invention: molecular
gastronomy, a kind of cooking that merges the kitchen with the
chemistry lab. Molecular gastronomy has been used to serve hard-
boiled eggs with the yolk on the outside and white on the inside,
champagne solidißed into a gelatinous cube, meringue made
from rose petals, and avocado turned to puree, then put through
a “spherißcation” process to turn it to a kind of caviar.
elBulli was the laboratory of a mad man who undermined the
foundations of traditional cuisine, but Adrià’s work provided an
¡c¡m »Rb m»c¡c · 53
interesting contribution to the food world. It presented a unique
reassessment of the cooking process for a time when technologi-
cal advances in equipment and various natural gums, extracts, and
additives produced by the commercial food industry could be used
in the kitchen. Adrià’s desire to question everything can even be
seen in how he describes his craft, rejecting the name molecular
gastronomy, and instead favoring the title “deconstructivist.”
The same opportunity to analyze, question, and invent is
aßorded to any creative individual who understands the full sys-
tem in which they operate. They can use their knowledge to ßnd
new conßgurations for the three levers, and to introduce fresh
material into the making process. In these cases, creativity doesn’t
just serve and respond to the world around it. Instead, it actively
pushes the world forward into unimaginable directions through
experimentation. Sometimes, those results can be confounding,
much like the dishes served at elBulli.
Grant Achatz, an impressive chef in his own right, wrote about
his time staging at the restaurant and of his ßrst meal there:
A small bowl arrived: Ah, polenta with olive oil, I thought. See,
this food isn’t that out there. But as soon as the spoon entered my
mouth an explosion of yellow corn avor burst, and then all the
texture associated with polenta vanished. I calmly laid my spoon
down on the edge of the bowl after one bite – astonished.
What the hell is going on back there, I thought. I know cooking,
but this is the stu of magic.
Sometimes the results of graceful rethinking can be thought of
as magic, because it produces something we previously thought to
be impossible. It subverts the established ways of working, either
54 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
through sheer talent or brute force, and questions the standard
settings of the three levers. Magicians don’t just create new things,
they invent new ways of doing so, and these new methods only
appear from intense analysis of the assumptions about their work.
The products of the process are contrarian by nature as a result,
because the maker is exploring a terrain no one else has been able
to realize. Laid bare in his work is an example of how craft and art
grow, how they serve as an example of a new possibility.
Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, de-
scribes the idea of the adjacent possible as a model for explain-
ing how ideas develop and new inventions are envisioned. The
adjacent possible originated with scientist Stuart Kaußman as
a label for the fundamental atomic combinations required for
biological development. Evolution occurs one step at a time,
and the size of each step is limited: nature must ßrst create the
cells in leaves that can capture the energy of the sun before it can
produce a ßower.
Johnson extends Kaußman’s concept to the development of
ideas themselves, saying that our collective ideas advance with the
same limitations. There are prerequisites for us to reach what we
desire as we pursue better circumstances and new inventions. For
instance, in order to invent something like the printing press, we
must ßrst invent language and an alphabet, produce paper and
ink, master metallurgy to cast letters, and construct a winemaking
press. There had to be many contributions and breakthroughs
before I could sit down and write this book.
Most inventions are recombinations of existing things, but
where do the sparks for those combinations come from? What
instigates that magic to make hybrids, to use them for unimagined
purposes, and to inspire new settings for the three levers? Certain
advancements seem logical and inevitable – smaller cellphones,
¡c¡m »Rb m»c¡c · 55
faster computers, more reliable medical technology – while others
seem to come out of nowhere. Turning avocado into caviar, for
example, is not a logical conclusion in the kitchen. That choice
is an inspired one. You can always spot these brilliant inventions
as instances of magic, because our reaction, much like Achatz’s
ßrst meal at elBulli, is always disbelief.
Henry Ford famously said that if he had asked his customers
what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. Of course,
we know that the faster horse is a testament to the limited imagina-
tion of customers, but I’d suggest that it’s more representational
of not reassessing the objectives of the work in light of new oppor-
tunities. The faster horse is a recombination of the three levers in
a predictable way: the customer’s answer is staunchly loyal to the
horse, the already established format of transportation. They are
inside of the adjacent possible, and ask a How question: How can
horses be better?
Asking a Why question leads us to a dißerent conclusion: Why
are horses important? Because they quickly and reliably get us
from one place to another. A Why question deßnes our need and
uses an objective to create a satisfactory outcome for the work.
This type of question is specißc enough to be observable, but
ßexible enough to be approached in a variety of dißerent ways.
It’s easy to think that the way to improve life is to iterate on the
things that we already have, but that is a trap of limited imagina-
tion. We should be iterating on how we answer our needs, and
not necessarily on the way our old solutions have taken shape.
The root of our practice is located in the usefulness of the work,
not the form that it takes.
The most important advancements, the “magical” innovations
we produce, happen by a visionary pulling from the outside of
the adjacent possible, not pushing from the inside of it. Our
56 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
magicians – our Henry Fords, our Billie Holidays, our Gutenbergs,
Disneys, and Marie Curies – do not stand on the inside of what is
possible and push; they imagine what is just outside of what we
deem possible and pull us towards their vision of what is better.
They can see through the fog of the unexplored spaces and notice
a way forward.
The work of these individuals is lauded and momentous, but a
similar eßect is not out of our reach. The same ways of thinking
and working are available for us to mold our own processes and
shape our craft. There’s a pattern to seizing latent opportunity to
produce unprecedented outcomes, and the successes of the past
suggest a method for how to continue.
It begins with the proper mindset, established by asking Why
questions to deßne the true objectives of the work. The inquiry
emphasizes the project’s true purpose and sheds any false pre-
sumptions about how to do the work or what it should be. It
ensures the design’s relevancy by forcing one to ask about its
consequence in the world. The designer can then make decisions
that use the deßned function as guidance. The fruits of this
questioning deßne and emphasize the cornerstone of successful
design: the work ßrst must be useful before it can transcend
utility into something visionary.
Similar questioning should also be directed towards the form
of the work. An understanding of the three levers provides a
structure to conceive of fresh conßgurations. Using the structure
and aßordances of content, tone, and format, one can riß on
how the elements interplay and come to exceptional ends. Part
of the exploration for novel design is using the materials at our
disposal, especially those whose full potential have not been real-
ized. We should look around us to see what available resources
are not being fully used, like the aßordances of a screen in the
¡c¡m »Rb m»c¡c · 57
promotional materials for the concert, or the new ingredients
Adrià used at elBulli. This method modißes either the content
or the format, which alters the tone’s qualities as it negotiates
those modißcations. It is a simple thought, but one way to have
a creative process come to dißerent ends is by beginning with
new materials.
The true purpose of the process is to create an accurate picture
of the world. The misßt creative individual is stubbornly unwill-
ing to abide by anyone else’s vision of the world without ßrst test-
ing those assumptions. There’s a desire for an honest assessment,
because we can only create what we want by understanding what
is achievable. We must know the edges of the adjacent possible
before we can begin to imagine making the world better.
Often, what we perceive to be possible dims in comparison
to what we can actually do. This gap creates the opportunity for
people like Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and all the other magicians
who have expanded what we think of the world. The rest of us
believe the line that deßnes what is possible is much closer to
our feet than it actually may be. The creative misßts ask their
questions to realize the line’s true location, and conclude that
there is enough room for a great leap forward. Our questioning,
and the imagination it inspires, allows us to perform the most
important magic: to make the world grow by revealing what was
right before our eyes.
¡»¡1 1wc
¡R-¡¡1w¡¡R s¡»c¡s
¡¡c1¡cR »Rb ¡¡¡bc¡s · 61
c¡»¡1¡¡ ¡¡v¡
¡¡c1¡cR »Rb ¡¡¡bc¡s
“No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account
not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be….This, in turn, means
that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science
ctional way of thinking.”
¡ss»c »s¡mcv
There’s something about speaking, even if only to oneself, that
makes the mind work. Our verbal cowpaths are paved through
conversation. Speaking to ourselves is a crude tool to hack our
way toward clearer thinking. But in spite of its obvious beneßts,
I become self-conscious when I’m caught talking to myself. I
freeze. I try to ßnd a chair to hide behind. I cover my eyes, pull
my cap down, and pretend that if I can’t see them, they won’t see
me. I’m not here. I’ve just disappeared. The man you saw talking
to himself was only a part of your imagination.
Perhaps my embarrassment comes from a private activity made
public by its discovery. Or it could be that to be caught speaking
without a listener is suspicious and embarrassing. Speaking
requires an audience; the speaker and listener are bonded. The
Russian polymath Mikhail Bakhtin declared that the primary
62 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
position in conversation is the one listening rather than the
speaker. One must have an audience to begin to speak, and per-
haps this is a clue as to why we talk to ourselves: we monologue
to listen.
The point of speaking, and likewise creating, is to have some-
one there to receive. The results of our eßorts must move toward
others; similarly, design must move to be eßective, whether
by ßlling needs or communicating with an audience. It should
move like a provocative word: out, and then around. One set
of hands makes the work, then it passes to another to use. The
presence of the audience is what imbues the designer’s work
with its worth.
As such, it is never just the designer’s hands doing the shaping.
All design springs from a complex social ecosystem created by
multiple parties’ interests weaving together to produce the design.
The players in the arrangement are familiar: the client, who
commissions the work; the audience, who sees or uses it; and
the designer in the middle, who produces the artifact that will
join the client and audience to one another in a relationship. The
needs and desires of the audience are bonded to the capabilities
of the client under the auspicious hope that they compliment and
enable one another. In this guise, design not only becomes a way
to push toward a desirable future, but also works to establish the
vocabulary we use to deßne the terms of our engagements with
one another.
The best way to describe design is that it seeks to connect
things by acting as a bridge between them. The design of a book
connects the author and her ideas to the reader by complimenting
her writing. The design of a restaurant is meant to fuse with the
chef ’s culinary approach to create a more provocative and full
¡¡c1¡cR »Rb ¡¡¡bc¡s · 63
dining experience for the eater. Web design connects the user to
the site’s owner and oßers a venue for the connection to develop
and grow.
Design’s ability to connect requires it to be in the middle
position. The work’s qualities are deßned by the characteristics
of what surrounds it, like how the negative space between two
closely placed parallel lines creates a third line. We’re that third
line, frequently shifting in order to serve and respond to the ele-
ments around us. As the elements connected by design change,
so, too, does the design. The ßeld is in ßux, always being neither
this nor that, which makes it frustrating to try to pin down. It is,
like all shape-shifters, evasive and slippery.
The qualities of design consistently change, because there is a
wide variety of characteristics in what design connects. It means
that design lives in the borderlands – it connects, but it does not
anchor. The work must provide a path without having a specißc
way of its own. The design is always the middle position, but
rather than acting as an obstruction, it should be the mortar that
holds the arrangement together.
One way that design ßnds itself in the middle is by its ability to
establish the tone of the work. As described earlier, design seeks
to negotiate the qualities of the content with the aßordances of
the format to produce a cohesive whole greater than the sum of
the parts. This situation largely describes many of the formal
challenges faced by designers in their work. A wise design choice
ßnds the tone that can slip between the content and format, snap
into place, and bond one to another.
Design also ßnds itself in the middle of art and commerce.
The practice’s hybrid quality breeds dißerent opportunities
than either practice can alone, allowing for a special sort of
64 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
inßuence on culture. Design can speak the tongue of art with
the force of commerce. The products of design maneuver in
the streets of the city where people live, rather than the halls
of a museum where they must be visitors. There needn’t be the
pressure of artistic credibility or commercial proßtability always
present, which means that the work of the designer can go fur-
ther in shaping culture than a traditional piece of art, and make
money in a way that has more soul and spill-over beneßts than
straight commerce.
Design’s connective role is meant to support the movement
of value from one place to another for a full exchange. It means
that the products of design are not autonomous objects, but are
creations that bridge in-between spaces to provide a way toward
an intended outcome. The design must be transformative for it
to be successful. It must take us somewhere. Airports and train
stations are other examples of non-autonomous creations that
exist as in-between spaces, because they have been built out
of our desire to go somewhere else. Even cathedrals could be
considered spaces of transit, because they seek to connect the
physical world with the spiritual realm. Design is akin to these
places in that their usefulness is deßned by the consequences of
the connections they facilitate. A train station that doesn’t create
a lust for exploration is ßawed, just as a cathedral that doesn’t
inspire awe is a failure.
Design’s middle position requires it to aid movement in both
directions. The most useful bridges, after all, allow traßc to
go both ways. If value is expected to be mutually exchanged, it
means that inßuence on the design will come in both directions
from the things the design connects. The content and the
format, for instance, both mold the appropriate choices for
the tone. Art and commerce each push and pull on the design,
¡¡c1¡cR »Rb ¡¡¡bc¡s · 65
because the work must be artful as well as proßtable. From a social
perspective, the client and the audience both have a say in the
design decisions.
The last is perhaps the most complicated, because the designer
adds a third inßuence to the mix. She is trying to satiate her own
creative needs in the work as well. There is no guarantee, as many
experienced designers can attest, that the requirements of each
individual in this tangle of interest will be the same. Each comes
to the design requiring something dißerent. Those dißerences
mean it is design’s job to negotiate the problem space – to create
a way for the connection to be built. The parties’ values don’t have
to be in parity, their desires simply have to be compatible for the
work to have a chance at success.
One point of complication is that these negotiations frequently
happen during production, so the audience is not yet present.
The designer, therefore, acts as a proxy for the audience’s needs
while arguing for her own creative concerns. This makes the
whole arrangement precarious, because it means that the designer
is being paid by the client, but is obligated to the audience, for
it is the audience’s presence that imbues the work with its value.
It is a double-allegiance, a necessary duplicity. Design’s two-
faced behavior is a product of its middle position between the
elements it connects. Bridging two things means a bond with
both of them.
Our duplicity is no bad thing; in fact, it is necessary, simply
because things must move two ways at once for a full exchange.
We are molding a complex, multi-faceted setting, so our approach
to improving our conditions and shaping the world should be the
same way. Nothing is ever clear-cut when working in a shape-
shifting practice to negotiate complicated terrain. Some trickery
is necessary to get things moving once they are connected.
66 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
Untruths are what initiate change, because they describe an
imagined, better world, and oßer a way to attain it. Tantalizing
visions of the future are the lure that gets us to bite. The only
question is whether the fabrication improves our lot or buckles
under us.
The future is pliable, unknown, and weighty. On the other side
of today there is vagueness – a multitude of directions the world
could sway. The areas of uncertainty get ßlled up with specula-
tion. We’ve invented a suite of ways to grapple with the future
throughout the course of human history, from the perceived
ethereal wisdom in the entrails of ritual livestock in ancient Rome,
to the calculated metrics in the odds of a boxing match in Vegas.
We ßirt with the future and poke at it in order to believe we exert
some control over what’s to come. If this means divining some
imposed meaning from tea leaves, so be it.
Modern people, unlike the ancients, have a dißerent relation-
ship with the future, because we understand that it’s something
to be made rather than a destiny imposed by the gods or the
whims of fortune. Future arrangements begin in our mind as
images of things that don’t exist. Our interpretations of tomor-
row are productive ßctions that we tell one another to seduce
us into believing our ideas are possible. We speak beneßcial
untruths that act as hypotheses, forcing us to roll up our sleeves
and work with cleverness and dedication to bring them to frui-
tion. We work to change ßction into fact when we attempt to
better our condition.
An alluring, productive untruth is frequently what’s necessary
to get things going. Consider how we behave on New Year’s
Eve when we make our resolutions. We weave an illusion and
imagine ourselves ßfteen pounds lighter, giving more time to our
¡¡c1¡cR »Rb ¡¡¡bc¡s · 67
community, or phoning home more often. We fabricate ourselves
into better people to inspire the actions necessary to become the
ßtter husband, the more loving daughter, or the better citizen. We
use that image of ourselves as motivation as we work to close the
gap between what we’ve imagined and what is true. Molding the
world works the same way.
Every untruth forks reality and opens up a gap between what
is imagined to exist and what actually does. Each fabrication
creates a second version of the world where the untruth is
true. Consider an entrepreneur standing before a few investors
describing a technology she’s developing. She is speculating
about the potential applications of her research. The work, at
this point, hasn’t been applied in the market, and all she has are
promising lab tests. Her proposal forks reality: we live in a world
where the technology hasn’t been applied yet, but the vision that
the entrepreneur weaves about potential opportunity and proßt
determines whether or not the investors choose to risk their
money. They invest if they perceive she can close the gap between
the world as it is that day, and the world she wants it to be.
In an ideal situation, all ßction would improve our collective
condition, but as we know, not everyone is interested in making
good on their promises. Fiction can also be corrosive and dete-
riorate the foundations of what’s already been built, undermining
the stability of our arrangements rather than helping to build
new things or strengthen existing structures. Lies corrode our
understanding of reality by misrepresenting it, like a snake-oil
salesman that goes from town to town promising medicine, but
selling swill. Snake-oil salesmen fork reality just like the vision-
ary, but they have no intention of closing the gap that opens up
with their lie.
68 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
The salesman doesn’t tell an untruth in order to get us to work
towards it. Instead, he misrepresents what is in front of us so
that we buy into a mirage. It’s a messy distinction, and it’s why
design, rhetoric, and politics are so sticky and often mistrusted:
the language we use to build the world is so close to what can be
used to undermine it. Design and persuasion are manipulative,
and if we have the skills to seduce others toward green pastures,
we can also lead them oß a cliß.
But the threat of a cliß is the cost of the pasture. The world
swells, pivots, and grows when we close the gaps of our untruths.
A willingness to imagine things dißerently and suspend our dis-
belief for one another are the interfaces we create to shape the
world. Every time we tell an untruth, we confess that the world
is not yet done. We have a hunger for a better condition, and we
are, if nothing else, optimistic. The only way forward is through
something we’ve never done, so we run full speed into the great
imagined unknown to make this world for one another.
ccR1¡x1 »Rb ¡¡s¡cRs¡ · 71
c¡»¡1¡¡ s¡x
ccR1¡x1 »Rb ¡¡s¡cRs¡
“We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end
to end. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it,
it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past
us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us.”
¡¡»¡s¡ ¡»sc»¡
The tightrope walker ßnds his balance by keeping his momentum.
If he stands still, he will fall; if he locks up his limbs, he will
throw his balance oß. He stays on the wire by moving in response,
swinging his arms up and down, and steadily setting one foot
in front of the other. Like him, there are no ßxed points in our
design work, no opportunities to stop and hold still. We must
respond and move, simply because the work moves and the space
around design shifts as culture changes and the adjacent possible
grows. Design is always in motion; we either sway with it or we
get thrown oß the line.
The responsive creativity that design requires is similar to what
installation artist Robert Irwin started to do with his art in the
1970s. Irwin would make no formal plans before arriving at the
gallery where his work was to be shown. Instead, he’d walk into
72 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
the room and spend a great deal of time observing the qualities of
the space, assessing the shape of the room, and judging its light.
He would then devise a plan and conceptualize the art based on
his observations. The art he produced was a direct response to the
context of his work. The space became his material; each piece
was an ad hoc exploration.
Sometimes the space would suggest more grandiose pieces,
like his installation at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary
Art, where Irwin ßlled a large wall with ßuorescent lights orga-
nized into interlocking modules shaped like Tetris pieces. Other
rooms called for more minimal tactics, like his piece at the
Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he merely changed
the ßuorescent lighting by alternating cool and warm bulbs,
stretching a piece of scrim below the lights like a second ceiling,
and stringing wire across the length of the room at eye level to
prevent the viewer’s eyes from focusing.
In either case, Irwin’s process is to show up and let the context
speak what it requires to him. The relationship Irwin has with the
space reminds me of a few conversations I’ve had with portrait
photographers about their work. One of the points that frequently
comes up is that the majority of their job is to wait for the person
to reveal their true self so that they can make an accurate portrait
of their subject. The process is mostly waiting, more like listening
than speaking, and most photographers say that the best shots
come at the end of the session, because earlier exposures always
feel rigid and false. The subject’s guard is still up, but eventually,
their true face emerges for the camera.
The necessities and inßuence of subject and context, whether
in portraiture, installation, or design, take time to unfold. It is
the designer’s job to ßgure out a way to have a problem show its
actual self so that he can respond to the truth that has emerged.
ccR1¡x1 »Rb ¡¡s¡cRs¡ · 73
Getting to know a problem is a bit like getting to know a person:
it’s a gradual process that requires patience, and there is no state
of completion. You can never know the full of a problem, because
there is never comprehensive information available. You have to
simply draw the line somewhere and make up the rest as you go
along. Irwin describes his process, saying, “I took to waiting for
the world to tell me so that I could respond.… Intuition replaced
logic. I just attended to the circumstances, and after weeks and
weeks of observation, of hairline readjustments, the right solution
would presently announce itself.”
In other words, Irwin’s process begins by listening: to the room,
his intuition, and the work as he is making it. He then enters a
dialogue with the space, going near and far just like the painter in
the studio. Irwin’s gaze, however, also contains the space around
his work and how his piece relates to its context. His process
favors ßeld-testing on-site by improvising in response to the
context. He summons a more human metric to forecast decisions
by using instinct instead of logic. Logical thinking has a tendency
to break when all the parts are moving, so Irwin speculates with
his gut, makes a modißcation, then tests it with his eyes.
The physical forms of Irwin’s work are not the emphasis of
his practice. They are only meant to collaborate with the space
and not intended to have any sort of signißcance themselves. I
think this pattern also ßts with the way that design operates: the
products of design are just the means to an end. They are objects
whose existence is rooted in the need that they serve. The primary
purpose of the design is to have it do something particular, not
be any particular thing. All of this implies that design is a ßeld
of outcomes and consequences more than one of artifacts. The
forms that designers produce are ßexible, so long as the results
serve the need.
74 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
Let me give an example. Suppose I sent a design brief to a few
designers asking them to design a chair. What might I get back?
We have a multiplicity of chairs from three dißerent design-
ers: a tall rocking chair from the Shakers, a bent plywood seat
from the Eames Oßce, and a curved chair made of cardboard by
Frank Gehry. There are certain similarities and patterns in the
chairs, because the objectives of the work act as a constraint on
the process. They guide the designer to certain inevitable conclu-
sions which are necessary to have the design ßll the need it seeks
to serve. Each chair has a seat, all form a cradle for the sitter, and
all the chairs are of similar size that is based on the proportions
of the human body. The constants of the designs are determined
by the unavoidable logistical issues that must be addressed to
make the design useful. A chair, for instance, must follow certain
proportions to comfortably hold a human body.
ccR1¡x1 »Rb ¡¡s¡cRs¡ · 75
¡¡¡1
Traditional Shaker Chair
1so0s
c¡R1¡¡
Molded Plywood Lounge Chair,
The Eames Oßce, 1o4o
¡¡c¡1
Wiggle Chair
Frank Gehry, 1o:z
But the three chairs clearly have dißerences in structure and
style. Multiplicity will always crop up with design, even in spite
of constraints, because the work is subjective and without ßxed
solutions. The products of design are more negotiations of issues
and responses to problems than absolute, ßxed solutions, and
this provides plenty of space for dißerent takes and perspectives.
Grouping the chairs together makes it evident that each design
is an attempt to ßll the need of sitting seen through the lens of
each designer’s disposition. Their responses are a negotiation
of the problem with its context, and the designers are a part of
that context.
The success of one design, however, does not suggest that the
others are less useful or not as good. Design can have diversity
in its solutions to problems without compromising the success
of any of them. One approach does not negate the quality of
76 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
another, so the comfort of a Shaker chair does not imply that
the other two are uncomfortable simply because they are dif-
ferent. Gehry’s cardboard chair, for instance, has no legs, but
legs are only necessary to support the seat at a proper height.
Gehry was able to scrap them because he found a dißerent way to
lift the seat.
Our chairs dißer because of the dispositions of their makers,
but also because they were made at various times in dißerent
cultures. Time and place have a large impact on the products
of design, because they dictate what is possible. A Shaker, for
instance, could not have created the Eames’ chair, because ply-
wood did not exist, never mind the technology to bend the wood.
The adjacent possible had expanded in the one hundred years
between the ßrst Shaker chair and the Eames’ chair, which opened
up new opportunities to rethink how chairs were made.
Culture also has an eßect on the products of design. There is
no guarantee that the Shakers would have found the Eames’ chair
desirable to make, even if they had the technology needed to pro-
duce it. The relationship of design and culture presents another
two-way bridge where inßuence goes both ways: culture creates
design’s target by deßning what is desirable. Simultaneously,
the best design recalibrates what we think and how we feel
about what surrounds us. The two shine on one another: culture
changes what it expects from design after design changes culture,
meaning that when our work hits the target, that target moves
out from underneath it.
The shifting bullseye suggests that we should reconsider our
conception of design as a problem-solving endeavor. Hitting the
bullseye is only ever a temporary state, and rather than seeing
that as a problem, we should pull another arrow from our quiver
and celebrate the moving target as the way we inch toward better
ccR1¡x1 »Rb ¡¡s¡cRs¡ · 77
circumstances. We should embrace the subjective nature of what
we do and allow for the multiplicity of responses to thrive, because
the mixed pool represents the diversity of human perspective.
That diversity fortißes us, makes us strong. Most of all, we should
build movement into our deßnition of the craft and its successful
outcomes. The best design acts as a form of loosely composed,
responsive movement, and seeks to have all the adjacent elements
sway together.
This is a generous deßnition, much greater than just problem
solving, because the best design has to oßer much more than
making problems go away. Design can also build up good, desirable
artifacts, experiences, and situations that are additive forces in
this world. It helps us live well by producing and elevating new
kinds of value, such as engagement, participation, and happiness.
These are design’s true outcomes, because the practice, at its
root, is simply people making useful things for other people. It’s
life-enhancement, and we can make it for one another, so long
as we act responsively and keep our momentum moving forward,
just like the man on the tightrope.
¡»¡1 1¡¡¡¡
1¡¡ c¡¡R¡Rc
s1c¡¡¡s »Rb vc¡bs · 81
c¡»¡1¡¡ s¡v¡R
s1c¡¡¡s »Rb vc¡bs
“Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story.”
¡. scc11 ¡¡1zc¡¡»¡b
Great design moves. In the ßrst part of the book, the internal
movements of the maker were assessed as an opportunity for
improvisation by using the aßordances of formal structures
like the three levers as a framework. The next portion looked
at motion through the lens of the work’s cultural context. It
explained how the world advances by expanding the adjacent
possible and shifting culture, and how the motion that surrounds
the work should be incorporated into the designer’s decisions
through a responsiveness that sways with the work’s context.
The motion continues once the work leaves the hands of its
creator and moves to the audience. After publication, there is an
opportunity to achieve a resonance that emotionally moves the
audience, and if successful, the work continues its movement by
being passed around and shared. If we’re interested in having
the work resonate and propagate, narrative becomes an essential
component to design, because nothing moves as quickly and
spreads so far as a good story.
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Stories are a given – they permeate all cultures and interpreta-
tions of life. Narrative is such a fundamental way of thinking that
there are even theories that say that stories are how we construct
reality for ourselves. We use them to describe who we are, what
we believe, where we are going, and where we came from. We
create myths about our own origins, such as the Iroquois story
of how the earth came to be on the back of a turtle, or the ancient
Greek tale of Prometheus stealing ßre from Zeus and giving it
to man, or the Egyptian Hapi bringing fertility to the land by
ßooding the Nile.
The scope of these tales is daunting, but the stories we weave
need not be grand. A myth about how Helen of Troy’s face
launched a thousand ships is just as much a story as a coworker’s
tale about their shoelace snapping on their lunch break. A story is
simply change over time, and the scale and scope of that change
doesn’t matter so long as it has momentum. A story, in fact,
doesn’t even need to go anywhere, as long as it feels like it is about
to head somewhere good.
My favorite example of a dead-end story is Edward Hopper’s
painting Nighthawks. I have a print of it that sits in the drawer of
my desk. It’s become an object of habitual storytelling for me,
because it feels like it has an inert potential to go somewhere, but
it thwarts my eßorts to ßgure out exactly where. All Americans are
familiar with Nighthawks, whether they know the painting’s title
or not: it depicts a few people sitting in a nearly empty 1940s New
York diner at night. Few pieces of art have the level of recognition
that it enjoys, and even fewer achieve the painting’s cultural
resonance as to be able to be spoofed as often as it has since it
was made seventy years ago. Why has it risen to such stature in
our collective consciousness? What is it about this painting that
makes it so sticky?
s1c¡¡¡s »Rb vc¡bs · 83
We’re attracted to the painting because it is not ßnished. All of
the paint has been applied, but there’s a gap that frustrates the
viewer from deducing what is happening in the picture. Nighthawks
is a detective story, and like most of Hopper’s work, it concerns
a void. What is absent matters just as much as what is present,
creating a tension between what is said and what is implied. It’s a
framework for a story where everything has been established save
the plot itself. The painting is lacking; it requires us to contribute
something of ourselves in order to ßll the void and ßnish it.
Many have created their own stories about Nighthawks: Joyce
Carol Oates wrote monologues for each of the characters; the
magazine Der Spiegel commissioned ßve dißerent dramatizations
of the painting; and Tom Waits made a whole album about it. No
matter who is ßnishing the painting for Hopper, viewers project
themselves into Nighthawks and read the image depending on how
they see themselves. There are a few touchstones that guide our
stories, but so many details are up for grabs. The quality of the
painting pulls us in and requires us to complete it, and what we
say suggests something about us.
I think about how the painting was made shortly after the Pearl
Harbor attack. I see four individuals with the wind knocked out of
them by catastrophic events. I see eyes glazed by the uncertainty
of what the future holds. I see a woman whose relationship may
collapse and a group of men who may have to go to war. I imagine
mouths unable to develop their feelings into words. They all sit in
silence, staring oß into some void, lumbering into some unknown
future. I divine all of this from a painting, and I think to myself
how I would kill to have this sort of rapt attention on anything
that I’ve ever made.
Hopper’s lure is that the painting lacks a story. He sets the
table for us, but we must serve ourselves. The reason Nighthawks
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has such a compelling hook is because it raises an interesting
question with so many clues, but never answers it. Yet the qual-
ity of the painting makes us perceive the answer must lie within.
Those questions will be answered, even if we have to do it our-
selves. Narrative is a device we use to make sense of unfamiliar
or unresolved things.
In my ßrst few years teaching graphic design, I instructed a
class called Graphic Design Systems. Our tools were color, form,
and composition, and we practiced methods of using those build-
ing blocks to emotively communicate ideas. All work was to be
abstract and nonrepresentational, and students were forced to
explore the potential of purely visual communication without
the additional complications of meaning that come with typog-
raphy, photographs, and illustrations. How would one create a
composition to describe dissonance? How can color and line be
used to make something look joyful? After a few weeks, I began
noticing a pattern in how the students discussed the work. On
critique days, when we were all faced with a wall of red circles,
blue squiggles, and clusters of lines, students would provide
feedback through stories.
“This one seems to work really well. It makes me dizzy, because
it feels like I’m being sucked down into a vortex, like I’ve fallen
into a rabbit hole like Alice.”
“I’m not sure that this composition feels joyful, because it
seems that this triangle is too aggressive, almost like it’s angry
at the squares.”
“It’s like a middle school dance. Some shapes are dancing, but
the music doesn’t look like it’s very good.”
“That circle probably has bad breath.”
I was surprised by how eßective this mode of feedback became
to the students. They were having more meaningful conversations
s1c¡¡¡s »Rb vc¡bs · 85
about the work by telling stories rather than by describing the for-
mal qualities of the compositions. The students were personifying
and manipulating compositional elements in a kind of collabora-
tive storytelling exercise. The students had limited experience in
talking about the relationships of form on the page, but they were
well-versed in human relationships, so it made sense to discuss
the work through that lens. After a critique, the take-aways were
always vague in words, but wonderfully specißc in consequence.
Everyone always knew what was expected after the session, even
though the logistics of doing so weren’t captured in the words.
Make those shapes get on better. Let the dance be fun, so all the
shapes want to move. And somebody get that circle a mint.
Storytelling is one of the most eßcient communication
methods we’ve devised. Its eßectiveness is why so much of the
wisdom and insight about what it means to be human is wrapped
up in fables and parables. The lessons of a story are easy to deduce,
and they foster a sensitivity to specißcs and create empathy inside
of the listener. All stories, as stated earlier, are changes over time,
so if you pay attention to what changes, you’ll ßnd the point of
the story. This also implies that if we are looking for ways to use
narrative in our work as a design material, all we need to do is ask
where the time passes to ßnd the story’s proper place.
Telling a story with design in a magazine or book, for example,
is possible by using the passage of time as a reader goes down
the page or moves from spread to spread. Slowly decreasing or
increasing the line height of a block of text, for instance, tells a
story by suggesting urgency or relaxation as the lines expand or
contract. Similarly, magazine designers spend incredible amounts
of time ordering and pacing their publications spread by spread,
creating an experience for the reader as they ßip through. After a
series of quiet, typographic spreads, a publication might choose to
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run a splashy design with few words and a large photo to capture
the reader’s attention. In advertising, narrative can be created by
changing the design of the same billboard over the course of a
few months. In interaction design, the passing of time could be
implied by the user’s scroll, or maybe the application detects that
it has been a week since the user has last opened it, then responds
accordingly. Drip email campaigns can also be mechanisms for
storytelling. And narrative is, of course, obvious in areas like
ßlm, music, and comics, because time is already in the material’s
nature. There is an opportunity to tell a story whenever time can
be assumed and pace can be controlled.
In addition to conveying information and entertaining, narrative
is also a device that creates empathy, which allows us to better
understand one another and ourselves. I have fond memories,
from when I was young, of how my parents would sit at the kitchen
table before serving dinner and talk to one another about their day.
My sister and I weren’t terribly interested in the oßce politics at
my mother’s job, but my father was always there, listening and
nodding. Now that I’m older, I realize that the point of those
chats was to give my mother an opportunity to tell a story so that
my father could understand why she was a dißerent person that
night compared to when she left for work in the morning. She was
describing the change in her over time, bridging the void between
her and my father that developed throughout the day. There was
distance between them, and her story closed the gap.
Even now, I’m still learning about the use of these conversa-
tions. I catch myself telling similar stories about my day, and
realizing that while they may beneßt the other person and help
them to understand me, I’m also telling them to better understand
those events myself. We can ßll the gap between what we know of
ourselves and what is actually there by going through the motions
s1c¡¡¡s »Rb vc¡bs · 87
again. Stories become our gateway to understanding our own lives
as well as the lives of others.
In 2008, Pixar released its feature ßlm wall·L. The movie
concerns a robot living on Earth in the distant future where the
planet has been abandoned by humans, because it has been made
inhospitable by an exorbitant amount of garbage. It`s Wall·F`s job
to collect and compact that trash. Wall·F`s vocabulary is limited
(he’s only able to say his own name and a small set of chirps and
whistles), yet the narrative masterfully sustains momentum for
two hours. Wall·F meets another robot named Fve, discovers
life on Earth in a small sprout, and hitches a ride into space
to alert the humans that life can be supported on the planet
again. And I’ll admit it: in a moment of weakness, a robot
made me cry.
You might say, “That’s the point of movies – to entertain us,
to make us laugh, cry, feel.” I suppose these are all true, and that
does temper my shame a bit. But Wall·F is a testament to the
power of storytelling, because despite the limitations of a robot
as a lead character, the ßlm is able to tap into an emotional core.
Wall·F is anthropomorphized like many cartoon characters, but
he is not a ßsh, tiger, or anything else that has ever had any life
to it. He is a mute, animated hunk of metal with no life essence
that has somehow been given such an emotional depth that
he holds us – enraptured – for two hours. The audience is able
to achieve a certain sense of empathy with Wall·F through the
power and propulsion of excellent storytelling. His successes
are our successes, and his pains are our pains, even if he is just
a circuit board.
Story has the ability to humanize things that weren’t thought
to be alive before, and I have to wonder if the inverse is true. If you
take a robot and add a story, it becomes more human. If you took
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a person and removed their story, would they become something
less worthy of sympathy? There’s an old story about David Ogilvy,
one of the original mad men that established the dominance of
the advertising ßeld in the 50s and 60s, that seems to deal with
storytelling as an avenue to create empathy. One morning on his
walk to work, Ogilvy saw a beggar with a sign around his neck.
The poor man slouched in a corner and would occasionally hold
the cup up to his ear to give it a rattle, because he was unable to
tell how much money was in it by looking. Most days, the beggar
didn’t hear much. Ogilvy was in good spirits that day. It was
late April in New York, when the air is beginning to warm, and
there’s a peaceful pause before the city falls into the oppressive
heat of summer. He decided to help the beggar, and dropped a
contribution into the cup. Ogilvy explained what he did for a living
when the beggar thanked him, and he asked for permission to
modify the sign around the man’s neck. Upon receiving consent,
he took the sign and added a few words.
That night, on his way home, Ogilvy said hello to the beggar,
and was pleased to see his cup overßowing. The beggar, frazzled
with his success, and uncertain of what Ogilvy did to the sign,
asked what words were added.
Ogilvy was able to create empathy in the passersby, who would
have ignored the blind man, by adding a story.
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s1c¡¡¡s »Rb vc¡bs · 89
I love that story, because it speaks to the best of what we can
do for one another. It also suggests what we should seek to do with
the stories we tell. Roger Ebert described the specißcs eloquently
by calling the goal “elevation,” saying, “I would consciously look
for Elevation, remembering that it seems to come not through
messages or happy endings or sad ones, but in moments when
characters we believe in … achieve something good. … One human
life, closely observed, is everyone’s life. In the particular is the
universal. Empathy is the feeling that most makes us human.”
Stories with elevation let us empathize.
The tale of the blind man’s sign is also about storytelling. I
ßrst heard it from a friend over a cocktail at an airport bar, and
he had it told to him by a former coworker around a campßre
at a company retreat. Stories spread through a human network,
they branch and expand, to produce a hand-oß of understanding
between a group of people. Each story that’s remembered signißes
something noteworthy that has been comprehended, whether
it is exceptional or of the everyday. The stories we tell represent
bigger things, whether it is a take on the beginning of the world,
the bond between my parents, the feelings I project onto one of
my favorite paintings, or the connections between people once
they are given the language to empathize.
And I think that this gets us to the most important aspect of
narrative: the quality of the story is a second-rate concern so long
as we empathize with the person it is about and care for the one
telling it. A good story speaks to the experience of someone else,
but in its telling creates another shared experience for the speaker
and listener. The story moves, and with each telling, it keeps a
hint of the wisp of the last voice that told it, and retains a bit of
the luster of the last shared moment it made.
¡¡»m¡wc¡xs »Rb ¡1¡çu¡11¡ · 91
c¡»¡1¡¡ ¡¡c¡1
¡¡»m¡wc¡xs »Rb ¡1¡çu¡11¡
“The question, O me! so sad, recurring – What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer.
That you are here – that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”
w»¡1 w¡¡1m»R
There are two successful outcomes when a design focuses on its
audience: resonance and engagement. Stories speak to the ßrst
and frameworks to the latter. Frameworks are the structures that
allow for contributions to be made to the products of design,
and increasingly, it has become the work of the designer to
create these frameworks. One of the more central questions
that design must now address is how one produces an enticing
environment for conversation, community, and creativity.
A framework is the bridge that connects the designer to the
audience and goes both ways. It also nicely resolves a thought
that crosses my mind frequently while working: “What if the
audience is smarter than I am?” If the audience knows more
about what they need than the designer does, it seems silly to
not have a way to gather their thoughts, opinions, and proposed
92 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
solutions. Frameworks open up a valve of communication and
contribution; if eßective, they reap the rewards of an intelligent
and experienced audience. A good framework is an enticing
means of contribution and an invaluable feedback mechanism.
It gives designer and audience shared ownership of the products
of design, a true synthesis of requirements.
Largely, the practices that make for good improvisation pro-
duce good frameworks, because both are created to help initiate
creative work and encourage contributions from others. I’m
reminded of the Japanese renga mentioned earlier, where the poets
would contribute lines and daisy-chain them together to create
a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The framework wasn’t
the poem, but the structure and methods employed to help pro-
duce it. There were rules and limitations to the game, with social
etiquette layered on top, and these elements interacted to create
the materials for the poets’ interaction. I think all of these patterns
apply to contemporary frameworks as well: there is the action that
needs to be done, the tension of creating a worthwhile larger work,
and the social etiquette necessary to pull it all oß. The goal is the
same now as it was in the time of the renga – to build something
of quality, to have others contribute something of themselves in
the process, to have those individuals interact with one another as
a community of contributors. All frameworks are implicitly social
in that they are an environment where conversation, sharing, and
building occur. They’re collaborative.
Earlier I discussed improvisation as it applies to a personal
creative process, but more frequently, improv is a social act. The
results of the improvisation are built up through dialogue between
many individuals, whether it is a group of jazz musicians sharing
a stage and trading fours, or a troupe of improv comedians
feeding one another material to get laughs. And so all of the tenets
¡¡»m¡wc¡xs »Rb ¡1¡çu¡11¡ · 93
that inßuence improvisation on an individual level also need to
be applied collectively for frameworks. Contributions must be
accepted, and then appended by someone else, which brings
us back to “Yes, and....” Momentum also matters here, so the
materials need to trade hands frequently, with tight feedback
loops to quickly incorporate each contribution to the whole.
There’s a special satisfaction in contributing to something, and
it becomes even more rewarding when everyone can see how their
part has inßuenced other aspects of the creation.
Liz Danzico likes to frame up her experiences of contribution by
telling a story about a saltbox that hung beside her mother’s stove
while she was growing up. Occasionally, her mother would ask her
to add a bit of salt to the pot while the meal was on the stove sim-
mering. Salting was a way for her to participate in making dinner;
the salt was an agent of change that she could use to contribute
to the meal, and the saltbox was the structure that allowed her to
contribute. The saltbox, if you will, was the framework.
I think the process of salting is an apt analogy for a creative
oßering, because the soup in the pot isn’t Liz’s creation, but
she’s the one who imbues it with ßavor by adding salt. Salting
happens one pinch at a time – it is a gradual process – with
success determined by tasting afterwards. We judge what we’ve
done by testing the change we’ve created, and that’s how a good
framework should feel for the audience when they contribute. The
path is self-correcting, because they can observe the inßuence of
their actions and make changes if needed. Maybe the soup needs
more salt. The feedback loop is purposefully tight. That’s why you
can trust a child to help with dinner without ruining the meal: it’s
a small eßort with low risk, but big rewards.
Salt releases the food’s natural ßavors when applied judiciously,
and this speaks to the beneßts of a successful framework: it’s not
94 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
the main dish, but a meaningful addition to what the audience
already wants to achieve. It enhances what they already intend
to do and increases the quality of what they would have been
able to achieve on their own. But frameworks have a tendency to
disappear when they are intuitive and carefully planned, because
our attention is on the wonderful fruits of the process. We typically
only notice frameworks, like salt, when something is out of
balance. Consider salt in a cookie: we only taste it when there’s
too much or not enough, because when the balance is just right,
we hardly realize it’s there.
Frameworks have always existed, from game design to the
oßce suggestion box, but their importance has been amplißed
by the presence of the internet and the opportunities that the
web aßords. Designers must manage a new kind of conversation
around their work, because connectivity has created new opportu-
nities for audiences to contribute. We are no longer only design-
ing logos, brochures, and posters, but now also experiences and
interactions that provide the path for audience engagement. If
resonance and engagement are our goals, then improvisation
is the blueprint for creating these interactions. Improvisation’s
ability to manage the contributions of others and lead them to a
desirable outcome makes it a prime lens to view and understand
these new requirements.
The proximity of the audience to the work should be considered
an overlap of interest. The designer and audience are now wed
in co-authorship, with each of their contributions part of the
dialogue that establishes the characteristics of the project and
the direction it will take. Kind of Blue, for example, is credited as
an album by Miles Davis, but, in truth, it is an album made col-
laboratively with all the other musicians in the studio. The music
did indeed spring from the limitations Davis wrote on those slips
¡¡»m¡wc¡xs »Rb ¡1¡çu¡11¡ · 95
of paper, but once providing the framework, he wisely stepped
back and relinquished complete control and authorship.
Designers should do the same with the frameworks they
produce. They should begin by setting good restrictions that
act as suggestions, but then step out of the way to see where
the audience takes those purposeful limitations. Stepping out
of the way requires a new way of thinking, because the designer
can no longer command the whole ecosystem of the work if
others are contributing. The control that designers so often
desire is undermined through an unpredictable collaboration
with the audience.
Again, the solution is for the designer to sway responsively
to the shifting context of the work with the contributions of the
audience. The key is to understand when to surrender control
and let the audience drive, and when to exert authority to focus
everyone’s eßort to ensure a more meaningful outcome. A gentle
touch, more often than not, is all that’s needed to guide things
in the right direction. One could say that Davis’ genius with Kind
of Blue was introducing that gentle touch to jazz, favoring a few
simple scales over the elaborate scaßolding of Bebop.
A good set of well-chosen rules makes the contributor feel
like they are already halfway done: all that is left to do is to sort
out the details and execute their idea. A good example would be
the easy hand-holding of a MadLib – name a few words, drop
them in, and then read what funny nonsense results. The frame-
work limits what words go where; place an adjective here, a
verb there, then a name, and presto: you get a funny story. Bad
choices in frameworks, however, have a tendency to feel too
limiting; they are frustrating and unclear to the audience and
squelch any inkling of interest in participating. Imagine if the
MadLib asked for a present participle that modißes a noun as
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an adjective. The value proposition for contributing becomes
an unappealing one.
The contributions of the audience fortify the work, create
identißcation and ownership in them, and solidify the community
around the design. Frameworks are collaborative and social in
nature, so etiquette also becomes a concern for the designer. I
have a friend who collects etiquette books, and it’s only recently
that I think I’ve come to understand why she does this. The books
highlight the important points of our engagements with one
another. Manners underscore what we feel is proper. Etiquette is
composed of the rules of engagement, and how we interact when
we’re together. Designers need to think about setting these rules,
because they exist to grease and ease social interactions.
The start of the internet produced a lot of discussion about
“netiquette” to establish the social norms that would dictate our
interactions in this new and unfamiliar digital space. Those con-
versations have largely vanished in the past two decades, which is
a shame, because while the web has become increasingly social,
we haven’t developed many new social protocols to handle the glut
of demands created by socializing online. Our initial attempts at
netiquette translated our existing manners into the digital space.
We were correct, to a large extent, to bring along the behaviors
that come from kindness and politeness, but collective socializing
online is not a mirror image of doing so in physical space. Most
relationships are asynchronous and anonymous. Believing that
a simple one-to-one translation of the norms we have in physical
space should work in digital space underestimates the inßuence
that our new connectivity has over the way we socialize. The tools
we have shape how we use them, and the social web, frameworks,
and their design decisions establish how the audience contributes
and how they relate to one another as individuals.
¡¡»m¡wc¡xs »Rb ¡1¡çu¡11¡ · 97
The story about Ogilvy and the blind beggar speaks to the
consequences of when the personhood of an individual is ampli-
ßed or minimized. The human presence changes behavior. Ogilvy
created a space for empathy by telling a story, and I think that
the decisions of a designer can inßuence whether or not users
empathize with one another when huddled around a framework.
Empathy is crucial in these cases, because frameworks are the
means to build up things collaboratively. Let me give an example.
A few weeks ago, I was using an application on my phone that is
essentially a framework for sharing photos with friends. These
friends can comment on the photos and favorite them. There
is a screen in the application that lets you look at the updates
describing who has liked a photo that you have taken, or if new
people have shown up and subscribed to your stream of photos.
The interface looks, roughly, something like this:
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It’s a nice design, and it provides a concise digest of activity
around the photos that I’ve taken, but I think it’s a complete
failure in reinforcing the emotions that make the behaviors it
presents meaningful. I look at this screen often, but the one thing
I should feel – thankfulness for the kindness and recognition of
others – never materializes.
Except for the one time it did: I opened the application one day
to discover a rendering bug had enlarged the avatars on this screen.
That one simple change made me feel a part of this photography
framework and the community it sustains. Seeing the faces of
the ones who liked my photos made me part of a web of mutual
appreciation. The people snapped back into focus as individuals.
I began to think about the screen’s original design: it had
information density, but it wasn’t a suitable representation
of personhood. The design was optimized for consumption of
¡¡»m¡wc¡xs »Rb ¡1¡çu¡11¡ · 99
information rather than thankfulness for the interactions and
relationships it depicts. Appreciation is a signißcant aspect of
positive experiences; if the design choices have been optimized
for consumption instead, it turns an opportunity for nourishing
collective resonance into a gesture of empty snacking. All of which
begs the question: was the rendering mistake actually a mistake if
it ßxed the most fundamental problem of the original design? The
bug was eventually ßxed and the screen returned to the original
layout, but I want my big faces back.
b¡¡¡c¡1 »Rb »cccmmcb»1¡cR · 101
c¡»¡1¡¡ R¡R¡
b¡¡¡c¡1 »Rb »cccmmcb»1¡cR
“Who ever said that pleasure wasn’t functional?”
c¡»¡¡¡s ¡»m¡s
Design doesn’t need to be delightful for it to work, but that’s like
saying food doesn’t need to be tasty to keep us alive. The pedi-
gree of great design isn’t solely based on aesthetics or utility, but
also the sensation it creates when it is seen or used. It’s a bit like
food: plating a dish adds beauty to the experience, but the testa-
ment to the quality of the cooking is in its taste. It’s the same for
design, in that the source of a delightful experience comes from
the design’s use.
There is a tendency to think that to delight someone with design
is to make them happy. Indeed, the work may do that, but more
appropriately, the objective is to produce a memorable experience
because of its superior ßt. The times that design delights us are
memorable because we sense the empathy of the work’s creator.
We feel understood, almost as if by using the work, we are step-
ping into a space designed precisely for us.
Outside of design, the most delightful memories are some of
my strongest. They’re of the idyllic times where I felt like I ßt: the
102 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
world seemed to be orchestrating itself just for me. I was exactly
where I was supposed to be at the right time. Of course, these
situations weren’t constructed for me, but the experiences felt like
they were tailored. They were specißc and personal, empathetic
and warm. The experiences shine more in their remembrance,
turning into a kind of self-perpetuating myth whose importance
grows with each retelling. Why shouldn’t delightfully designed
experiences be like these memories? Now, it’s far outside of the
capabilities of anyone to maneuver the parts of the universe to
recreate the idyllic experiences to which I refer, but with each
project, designers are given a chance to align the specißcs in a
ßtting way to create that same sort of feeling. Empathy creates
an opportunity for skillful accommodation.
Again, design gets wrapped up with how the work feels while
being used. All design is experience design – whether it is visiting
a website, reading a book, referencing a brochure, interacting
with a brand, or interpreting a map. All of these interactions
and objects of attention produce experiences of use, and those
experiences can be made better and more memorable by skillfully
catering to the audience in an accommodating way.
Delight, unfortunately, can be painted as a quick ßx or a
gimmick that oßers a snazzy way to spit-shine a poor idea with
novelty. The intentions of creating accommodating work go
deeper than just a surface treatment, and are meant to build and
maintain meaningful, nourishing, and codependent relation-
ships between the designer and audience. The decisions that
make a design delightful are an expression of compassion for
the audience and care for the work being done. They should
attempt to build up long-term beneßts rather than temporary
gains. The gestures that make a design delightful can be small,
but their implications are meaningful: they are part of an attempt
b¡¡¡c¡1 »Rb »cccmmcb»1¡cR · 103
to engage an audience in a consequential, human way, and to
maximize the opportunity of the situation for everyone.
The correct choices feel much like an embrace. A space of
accommodation has been skillfully created by the designer
for the audience to occupy, and the audience need only to step
into the space for it to be completed. It’s an architected space
crafted through empathy based on the designer anticipating the
disposition and needs of the audience to achieve a good ßt. For
instance, there is a certain small satisfaction when our spell check
learns to automatically correct our frequent typos, or when the
handbasket appears in the grocery store right as we pick up the
extra item that makes it too dißcult to carry everything with our
bare hands. The ßt is the result of a successful decision made in
response to the desires and natural behaviors of the audience.
There’s room for a delightful approach in most design, even
in the most conventional of exchanges. In Grißn, Georgia, for
instance, there’s a road sign hung over the state highway a hun-
dred yards in front of a bridge. The sign warns oncoming traßc
of the low overpass ahead by saying:
There are many dißerent ways that the sign could have been
made, but this particular one is eßective because all three parts
of the design – the message, tone, and format – are treated in a
delightful way. The text gains clarity, immediacy, warmth, and
humor through the tone of the writing, and the format is manipu-
lated in a pleasing way because of the position of the sign. Placing
the sign over the road rather than next to it gives the warning a
¡¡ \cu ¡¡1 1¡¡s s¡cR,
\cu w¡¡¡ ¡¡1 1¡»1 ¡¡¡bc¡
104 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
more direct relationship with the hazard it warns against. It’s not
just a written warning, but also a feedback mechanism for the
real threat ahead. The sign provides a great example of how to
approach a design problem to create delight, and highlights what
makes a design delightful: it empathizes with the audience and
their circumstances, surprises in its delivery, and achieves a clarity
in what it is trying to say or accomplish. A delightful experience
is the overlap of these three things.
Surprise is a crucial component, because it is hard to delight
someone if they expect what they are being given. Delight fades
when there is entitlement or predictability, and that’s why so
many of the delightful experiences in commerce involve a cus-
tomer being under-promised then over-delivered. They get into
an engagement expecting a certain amount, and are delighted
when they get more than they bargained for.
The simplest form of delightful surprise is serendipity, when
we are presented with an unexpected relevancy. Serendipity in
design provides a new viewpoint that makes us look at what
we are doing in new ways. It is the opposite of purposefully
designing for delight, but like a scientist observing natural occur-
rences in the lab, understanding the natural patterns of things
allows us to reconstruct them in our work. One of my favorite
serendipitous occurrences is an error message that came up
one day while writing:
b¡¡¡c¡1 »Rb »cccmmcb»1¡cR · 105
Isn’t it pleasing to think that software has pathos, and that
writing is just as dißcult for it as it is for us? I admit, most error
messages create a large amount of grief because they signify lost
work, but when this particular one popped up, I had to laugh.
“Application cannot edit the Unknown” (capitalized, proper noun),
and all I could do is to accept it and say OK. The computer had
been personißed for a moment, and in its existential crisis, I felt
like it understood my writer’s block. It was comforting to have
company when lost in my words. This happy circumstance means
that one of the best opportunities to delight the audience is when
something goes wrong.
We can also be surprised by delight when the mundane is
rethought and elevated. At the Ace Hotel in New York, a required
exit sign over a door was an eyesore, and a stark contrast from
the considered, detailed wall where it was mounted. Rather than
accept the wart as it was, the sign was embraced as a chance to
create an experience for the hotel’s guests by integrating the exit
sign into the space. Now, surrounding the sign are other letters
painted on the wall in a similar condensed style:
Every requirement is an opportunity for delight, even the ugly
ones. Sometimes the creative treatment of these warts are the
most enjoyable parts of a design.
Delightful design also adds clarity by ßnding the balance
between adding details for resonance and taking them away for
simplicity. When the two are balanced correctly, we’re left with
EVERY EXIT IS AN
ENTRANCE SOMEWHERE ELSE
106 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
a design that shows up when it oßers something of value, and
then gets out of the way when it is not needed. Sometimes, more
must be added to give clarity to the work, such as how a map may
have added guidance along with street names to make it easier
to navigate; but usually value and delight are created by taking
things away and reducing friction.
It is a chore in most hotels and airports, for instance, to
get connected to the public WiFi. The process is wrought with
roadblocks and complications: login screens, user agreements,
registration pages. The web page used to access the WiFi at the
Ace Hotel, however, has a simpler approach to that interaction:
The internet button surprises and delights, because it under-
stands what the user wants to do, and eliminates everything
else that doesn’t pertain to that goal. Clarity emerges, and
delight shows up with it, because we feel like our intentions
are plainly understood.
b¡¡¡c¡1 »Rb »cccmmcb»1¡cR · 107
The most important element of delightful design is empathy.
Clarity and surprise are only achievable through empathy with
the audience. An intimate understanding of the audience means
that our designs can be warmer in their communication and
more appropriate. We can be friendly and good-natured with
the ones who imbue our work with its value. Projects that seem
cold or excessively composed are more indicative of a lack of
understanding than a mark of professionalism. One can speak
naturally and personally when they know someone well, and a
friendly, aßectionate, and hospitable tone is essential to cater to
audiences, encourage dialogue with platforms, and produce the
utility and resonance that great design seeks to achieve.
Delightful design attempts to make the work more pleasurable
for everyone involved in it, and in doing so, makes the designer
and the audience more aware of one another. This seems to be a
foolish thing to say, but without the empathy that delightfulness
requires, it’s quite easy for the designer to be short-sighted and
see the design work as a set of logistical problems to overcome or
creative challenges to master, rather than an opportunity to pro-
duce something that enhances someone else’s life. The warmth
and exuberance of communication and the accommodation to the
audience necessitated by delightful design also makes it easier
for the audience to spot the presence of the designer in the work.
The work becomes more humanized in its tone and eßect, so it
becomes easy to see that there are people behind it.
c¡¡1s »Rb c¡v¡Rc · 109
c¡»¡1¡¡ 1¡R
c¡¡1s »Rb c¡v¡Rc
“Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!”
b.¡. ¡»w¡¡Rc¡
There is an old Japanese tale about a poor student who was away
from home and living at an inn. One evening, as his stomach
grumbled, he smelled the briny scent of ßsh coming from the
inn’s kitchen as the innkeeper made his dinner. He wandered his
way outdoors to the kitchen’s window, and sat below the sill with
his meager meal of rice, hoping that the scent of the ßsh might
improve his paltry dish. The student did this for many weeks,
until one night the innkeeper spotted him and became furious.
He grabbed the youngster by the arm and dragged him to stand
before the local magistrate, demanding payment from the student
for the scent of the ßsh that he had stolen.
“This is most curious,” said the magistrate, who thought for a
moment and then came to a conclusion. “How much money do
you have with you?” he asked the student, who then produced
three gold coins from his pocket.
The student feared that he would be forced to pay the innkeeper
the last of his money, but the magistrate continued. “Please,”
110 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
he said, “put all the coins in one of your hands.” The student did
as he was asked. “Now, pour those coins into your other hand.”
The student dumped the coins. With that, the magistrate dis-
missed the innkeeper and student’s case.
The innkeeper yelped in confusion, “How can this be settled?
I’ve not been paid!”
“Yes, you have,” replied the magistrate. “The smell of your ßsh
has been repaid by the sound of his money.”
The Japanese have many tales about this eighteenth century
magistrate’s rulings, but the story of the stolen smell is the most
often told. The student, despite not paying for the ßsh, was able
to beneßt from its scent, enjoying what amounted to an accidental
gift from the innkeeper that added ßavor to his bowl of rice. I
feel similar to the student when enjoying the creative work that
most inspires me. I’m working on my own projects, eating my
humble bowl of rice, while reading, watching, and using the best
that humankind has to oßer. I’m awkwardly stringing together
words into sentences, and then I get to have the wind knocked
out of me by the ßrst paragraph of Moby Dick. I get to be in that
work’s presence, to sit under the window and steal the scent of
the things I love, in order to improve what I make.
Stop and look around you. How much of your environment is
created? How many things that surround you are designed by
someone? From the wheat-pasted posters on the street, to the
hexagonal stop signs on the road; the overstußed arms of the
sofa where you sit, to the milky consistency of the page on which
these words are printed, or maybe even the bezel of the device
on which you’re reading this. All of these choices are designed,
and they all coalesce into the experience of this moment. Most
designers realize that much of our lives are designed, but we
don’t often stop to think that the work’s widespread presence
c¡¡1s »Rb c¡v¡Rc · 111
turns our design choices into signißcant contributions to the
ambiance of life. The lesson of the innkeeper’s story is that the
things we make transcend commerce and ownership – they are
an experience to have rather than an object to own or a service
to access. There is an aspect to the work’s value that can not be
described in dollars and cents.
Typically, the success of a design is deßned by the economics
of the work. Good design is proßtable, because ßnances help
see that design endures. But as stated earlier, design is equal
parts art and commerce. The dual nature implies that there are
opportunities and values in the practice that transcend commerce
to enter into a space of collaboration and value creation that can’t
be captured on a ledger. Design seeks to create experiences in
addition to being proßtable, so the price and proßt of the work
represent only part of its value. I think the most ßtting way to
think about the best works of design are as gifts.
Lewis Hyde, in his landmark book The Gift, describes how art
simultaneously exists in both the market and gift economies, and
that the appropriate way to look at the work of a creative individual
is as a gift. Hyde uses the qualities of a gift economy to articulate
the attributes and value of the creative perspective and to assess
the resonance and worth of the creative work once it is shared
with others. There is value in a creative work to bond people
and engender cohesion in communities, and this worth can’t
be fully articulated in strictly commercial terms. Instead, Hyde
looks for lessons in gift economies to understand the patterns
and opportunities of an arrangement where value is exchanged
outside of ßnances.
The gift lives in the work, but also in the work’s creator. We typ-
ically describe someone’s talent by saying they have a gift for it, as
if their eye for color or perfect pitch were blessings imbued from
112 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
someone somewhere else. In our best, most creative moments,
it feels as if we are hardly doing the work ourselves, achieving
a sense of ßow where time disappears, improvising becomes
easy, and decisions seem instinctual, like some unknown force
is guiding our steps. The ancient Greeks believed that their art-
ists were guided by daemons – divine attendants who delivered
creativity and insight to the artists waiting for them. The Romans
later called their daemons geniuses. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert, in a
lecture for the 1¡b conference in 2009, said that the Greeks and
Romans thought their artists were not geniuses, but rather had
one – genius being something to be in the presence of, that could
come and go as it willed, and not something contained in the
artist themselves. The genius bestowed the gift of insight to the
artist, and it became the artist’s responsibility to use the material
provided by the genius.
Regardless of where our talents and tendencies come from,
the gift of the individual is an assignment: their talents must be
used to sing a song of their own. Their personal gift is made good
through their labor, and the gift is passed on to others through
the work they produce. We feel an obligation to use our natural
resources to build and make, to mold and shape the world around
us for the betterment of others.
This is hard work, though, because the obligation to one’s
gift forces us down a road where there is no logical end to the
amount of eßort, time, and attention we put into it. We have a
tendency to toil and sweat the details, even beyond the point of
clear ßnancial beneßt. David Chang, head chef at New York res-
taurant Momofuku, made a cameo on the television series Treme
and framed the gap between eßciency and the extra eßort extolled
by so many creative individuals in their practice by calling it the
“long, hard, stupid way.” In Chang’s case, the long, hard, stupid
c¡¡1s »Rb c¡v¡Rc · 113
way was exhibited all over the kitchen, from preparing one’s own
stock, to sweating out the details of the origins of the ingredients,
to properly plating dishes before sending them out to the table.
Commercial logic would suggest that Chang stop working once it
no longer made monetary sense, but the creative practitioner feels
the sway of pride in their craft. We are compelled to obsess. Every
project is an opportunity to create something of consequence by
digging deeper and going further, even if it makes life dißcult
for the one laboring.
The long, hard, stupid way makes the process of design look
like toiling, sweating over a drafting table, and producing piles
of rejected ideas and prototypes. It’s going longer, thinking
harder, working smarter, and staying up later. This opens up a
gap between the amount of these human resources that make
ßnancial sense and the exorbitant amount of care and attention
that is actually applied to the work because of the obligation to
the gift. The fruits of that labor can be sensed by the audience; in
fact, we seek it out.
It’s the extra essence that manifests as a well-plated dish when
it comes to the table, an articulately phrased sentence as it appears
on the page, or a daub of paint that sings of life in a portrait by
getting the light in the eyes just right. The long, hard, stupid way
is the path of creating special experiences for the individuals who
can notice the details, almost as if one were speaking a private
language to those attuned to listen. These careful details are what
make the scent from the kitchen at the inn worth smelling.
Hyde states that a necessary element of a gift is that it must be
bestowed. One can not ask for what they get, otherwise it is not a
true gift. Hyde’s deßnition mirrors the general structure of most
design jobs: one person (the client) hires another (the designer) to
create something for a third (the audience). It is hard to imagine
114 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
this situation as anything other than gift-giving when the work is
made out of kindness and consideration. Gifts – whether wedding
gifts, birthday presents, or the simple exchange of business cards
at a meeting – operate in a social layer to initiate a relationship
between people or to fortify an already existing connection. Gifts
are a form of social currency, and this is ßtting for design, because
it is a communicative endeavor that always exists in a social con-
text. The work has its movement initiated in its creation, and that
movement gains momentum when given to the audience as a gift.
The work continues its movement as it becomes distributed and
shared; becoming something that is passed on after the initial
hand-oß. This ßts nicely with another declaration Hyde makes
about gifts: that they must move, and the more movement, the
greater the value assigned to the creation.
In an episode of the television show The West Wing, there’s a
scene about heirlooms where President Bartlet asks his personal
aide, Charlie, to go on the hunt for a carving knife to use over the
holidays. Bartlet rejects each knife that Charlie brings back, citing
the important details that each blade lacks. This happens several
times, much to Charlie’s exasperation, until he ßnally brings
the President the best possible knife he can ßnd in Washington.
President Bartlet inspects the knife closely while Charlie describes
the ßner details of what makes this knife the best available: its
weight is properly distributed while in the hand, its edge is honed,
ßne, and sharp. President Bartlet refuses even this blade, but then
produces a knife of his own, one that has been in his family for
generations and was made by a silversmith named Paul Revere.
He gives it to Charlie as his Christmas present.
A family heirloom accrues more value with the greater number
of generations it has been passed down. It does not matter that
the object itself remains the same, because the space around
c¡¡1s »Rb c¡v¡Rc · 115
the object – its social context – is what makes us feel that the
item is more valuable. The connection to Paul Revere lent
Bartlet’s knife a high ßnancial value, but its social value was
a product of its tradition and shared experience. The knife tied
its possessor to a long line of others. I look at the obligations
of our talents as a similar situation. We are part of a long line
of people who have been tasked to shape this world in big and
small ways, and the longer that line runs, the more valuable our
opportunity becomes.
Bartlet’s knife also shows that we are introduced to the ßner
details of a good gift and educated to its nature so that we may
be able to appreciate it more fully. The context can produce
a feeling of gratitude, and whether it is a family heirloom or
a piece of design specially crafted for an audience, the space
around the object creates an experience that primes the receiver
for appreciation and thankfulness. Design gains the ability
to nourish when it acts as a gift rather than as something to
create yearning. We get to close loops of desire rather than
open new ones.
We manipulate the context around the work to create a better
experience for the one we’re giving it to, much like how President
Bartlet sent Charlie on a wild goose chase so that he would have
to teach himself about what makes a ßne knife. Gifts are wrapped
for a reason – it frames the exchange, creates a surprise, and
lengthens time to ensure an opportunity to have an experience.
A similar thing happens when reading an old-style book with
deckled edges. The edges don’t oßer any sort of utility in con-
temporary books, but they were a necessity in much older titles.
Readers would slice open pages with a knife, because the text
was printed on folded paper on both sides. The binding would
seal the pages shut on the right edge, and they would have to be
116 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
torn, like opening a letter, to unveil the next page of text. The
process turned the reading process into a literal page-by-page
unveiling of a story. Italo Calvino said in his novel, If On a Winter’s
Night a Traveler:
This volume’s pages are uncut: a rst obstacle opposing your impa-
tience. Armed with a good paper knife, you prepare to penetrate its
secrets. With a determined slash you cut your way between the title
page and the beginning of the rst chapter.
The cutting of bound pages transforms a simple page turn
into a treasure hunt, and while the obstacle doesn’t necessarily
scale well for someone who ravenously reads, it does make a
simple page ßip feel a bit like a child tearing through Christmas
gifts at a feverish pace. Ripping apart pages meters the pace
of reading, and frames it with a bit of nostalgia and romanticism.
If anything, it forces the reader to spend more time with the words.
Sometimes slowing down is a gift, because it lets the reader
more fully appreciate the skill and capabilities of the writer. The
design decisions of the format encouraged savoring for a better
reading experience. ·
The success of a gift is quantißed by the experience of its
recipient, and harkens back to the primacy of the listener or
audience. The qualities that make a great gift are the same char-
acteristics that have been used to mark good design in this book:
thoughtfulness in the choices that were made, understanding and
responding to the context, and using empathy to accommodate
and customize for ßt.
Design, like many gifts, gains its primary value through cus-
tomization to the one it is given to. “It’s the thought that counts,”
as the saying about gifts goes, and that thoughtfulness implies
c¡¡1s »Rb c¡v¡Rc · 117
an understanding of the individual receiving the gift. This is why
cash is thought to be an underclass of present: it may be the most
ßexible and valuable from an economic standpoint, but the ability
to spend it anywhere means that the gift was never personalized.
Good gifts must be tailored to their recipients, so the dißerence
between giving ßfty dollars in cash and thoughtfully spending
ßfty dollars on someone is immense. It suggests that the quality of
the gift is not just in its objective qualities like ßexibility or cost,
but in its subjective characteristics like intent and context. The
space around the gift and the environment in which it is given
sets up an excellent experience.
And perhaps the line between thoughtfully buying a gift and
just giving the money to someone relates to the reason why so
many creative individuals feel it necessary to do things the long,
hard, stupid way. To merely work within the boundaries of ßnan-
cial concerns and not maximize one’s creative capacity is to give
someone the cash. Singing a song of our own while we make
our work uses the full capacity of the creative person to create
new value and something of consequence. There is a contribu-
tion greater than just the commercial concern; there is a human
investment of talent, perspective, and perseverance.
These are the elements that resonate with the audience, because
the work becomes a link between two individuals. Both sides of
the equation are humanized, initiating a relationship between
them through publishing the work. A few years ago, my friend Rob
Giampietro was designing a business card for a client, and during a
presentation of design options, the client chose one, then asked if
the design was completed. In a moment of insight, Rob responded
that the design of the business card wouldn’t be ßnished until the
client gave it to someone else. The implied exchange was part of
the design, and Rob’s task was to create a framework for that gift
118 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
exchange to occur. The measure of a design is in its capacity to be
shared: something travels from one person to another, and in the
process, they both gain. Like a gift, design requires movement; the
work must be shared, the ideas must move. A business card that
stays in its owner’s pocket is no good.
The publication of each design project initiates an exchange
of gifts. On the one side, the designer and client oßer their work;
while on the other, the audience gives their attention, contributes
through platforms, and oßers their ßnancial support. We value
all these contributions, but the gift of attention is perhaps the
most valuable. Attention may seem like an easy gift to give, but it
is not; it is the scarcest resource available because its quantities
are limited and nonrenewable. We can’t produce more attention,
and there are ever more things vying for it each day. Attentive
audiences should be rewarded with high-quality work, and there
should be a symmetry to the quality of each.
In the 1970s, Robert Irwin explored the qualities of attention
as a gift. He called the experiment “being available in response.”
He would be available to other people who sought his presence,
attention, and time, just like his responsiveness to the rooms
where he installed his art. He explained:
I just sort of let it be known that I was available, in a way like I’m
saying it to you. I mean, I didn’t put out any ads or anything, but
word got around. And you could be, let’s say, up at , and you’d
say, “Well, let’s take advantage of that. We’ll have him come up
and talk to the students.” And that’s what I’d do. Or, “We’ll have
him come up and do a piece on the patio.” And I would just come
up and do that.
c¡¡1s »Rb c¡v¡Rc · 119
“There’s an important distinction to be made here,” [Irwin] con-
tinued, “between organizing and proselytizing, on the one hand,
and responding to interest, on the other. I was and continue to be
available in response. I mean, I don’t stand on a corner and hand out
leaets. I’m not an evangelist. I’m not trying to sell anything. But on
the other hand, if you ask me a question, you’re going to get a half-
hour answer.”
The experiment started slowly, but within a few months, Irwin
was almost continually on the road. The project lasted two years.
He’d show up at schools and talk to students, or visit institutions
and do an installation. Irwin himself said that he wasn’t
attempting to sell anything, implying that his availability existed
outside of commerce and so was a gift. While his gift was free in
commercial terms, it was terribly expensive in attention, making
it a truly signißcant oßering. The writer and media theorist Clay
Shirky recently said, “We systematically overestimate the value of
access to information and underestimate the value of access to
each other.” How inspiring for Irwin to devote so many years to
being fully available to those who were interested.
The relationship between quality work and quality attention,
however, is a bit of a chicken and egg paradox. Which comes
ßrst? Do people make good work to gain the rapt attention of
an audience, or do they not bother with reßned work until they
know others are listening? Inside of commerce, this is a problem,
because it doesn’t make much sense to make a ßnancial invest-
ment without a good hunch of reward. Luckily, for the creative
individual, it is of no concern. The desire to produce great work
will never leave the one making it, because of their sense of obli-
gation to their gift. The song must be sung.
120 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
The things that initiate the exchange of high quality attention
may start inside of the designer, but the products of the process
have a tendency to have authorship and ownership evaporate.
Sometimes the things we design lose the signature of the one
who creates them, because their application is so widespread that
their sway in culture dißuses to such an extent that it enters the
air like the scent of the innkeeper’s ßsh. They become a shared
experience molding our interpretation of the world, becoming
our points of reference, like the shape of a Coke bottle, the gait
of the illuminated man on a street’s crosswalk sign, the design of
a paper clip, or the recycling logo. Design can sometimes achieve
a state so fused with the culture, so widespread, distributed, and
engrained into the background, that it recedes in spite of its
up-front positioning. It can become easy to presume that these
things have always existed, and forget that they were designed
and originated with someone’s decisions.
One of the best examples of this in graphic design is Milton
Glaser’s I NY logo. It’s become something without an author, a
shared symbol that permeates across all the spoofs and iterations
it has inspired. Glaser’s mark has become a gift to the culture
that is shared, referenced, and celebrated. The mark became a
vessel for emotion, a platform ready for the contributions of the
audience to project their own aßliations onto to better articulate
their appreciation for the city. Now, the mark is a shorthand to
express aßection for anything.
The art critic John Berger said that great art creates a space and
gives it a face. In doing so, it’s almost as if the gift names these
hidden and formless experiences and enables us to more fully
realize them, like the release that happens when we’re searching
for a word that is on the tip of our tongue, and someone else
provides it for us. Empathy, understanding, and the codependency
c¡¡1s »Rb c¡v¡Rc · 121
created by making things for others allows us to describe the over-
laps between us by creating this shorthand language of complex
feelings and experiences. All we need to do is point at something
and treat it as a symbol for something more.
We are dependent on each other in this way – we ßnish each
other’s sentences, ßll one another’s needs, and help each other
to become better. A person is not a closed system, they can never
be fully self-sußcient. We need each other because we cannot
make everything ourselves. Everything was invented, but it was not
done alone, so we should revere the times we are able to ßll this
complementary role for others, and cherish when others do so for
us. It’s the words of others that teach us to speak, the expressions
of life by other people that teach us how to express ourselves. The
great opportunity of design is that we are frequently aßorded the
privilege to ßll another’s needs and desires.
I used to be a bit jaded about my work in an attempt to shield
myself from the responsibility of it. I’d say, it is just a logo, only
a promotional piece. It’s only a website, just an essay. But, the
things that we make are more than just objects. They’re the way
we paint pictures of what’s to come. They are the projects that give
us license to imagine a better future for ourselves and everyone
else. These objects represent the promises that we make to one
another and symbolize the connections between us. They come
from the friction between the world we live in and the one we want
to live in by building on top of our longings and exemplifying
our capabilities.
W. H. Auden said a culture is no better than its woods. I’d say
it’s also no more than the things that it makes. We understand
the lives of faded communities by the vesper trails they leave
behind as stories, objects, and votives that represented some-
thing more. Everything fades, and in the end, all we have are one
122 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
another and the things we make to put between us. As art historian
George Kubler said, “The moment just past is extinguished forever,
save for the things made during it.” All of these creations linger,
and they echo across the long line of time and speak to what those
people were able to build and what they believed.
And I believe in so much. I believe in the two-way bridges
we build that connect us to one another. I believe in the deep
interconnectedness of everything, in the beneßts of our code-
pendency, and in the opportunity of today when we believe in a
tomorrow. I believe in the gift that creative people are given and
in the obligation to use it. I believe that we have done well, but I
think we can do better. I believe we can do much, much better.
There is more making to be done. There are dreams out there
that must be made real.
And if you look closely, and ignore the things that do not matter,
what comes into focus is simply this: there is the world we live
in and one that we imagine. It is by our movement and invention
that we inch closer to the latter. The world shapes us, and we get
to shape the world.
¡RbRc1¡s · 125
“march backwards into the future”: McLuhan, Marshall, Quentin Fiore.
The Medium Is the Massage. New York, London, Toronto: Random
House, 1967.
“…a more beautiful question”: Cummings, E.E. Collected Poems [of ] E. E.
Cummings. Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1928.
Vermeer, Johannes. The Art of Painting. 1666. Kunsthistorisches
Museum, Vienna.
Van Rijn, Rembrandt. The Artist in His Studio. 1626–28. Museum of
Fine Arts, Boston.
“aired its nal episode of Reading Rainbow”: Calhoun, Ben. “Reading
Rainbow Reaches Its Final Chapter.” . R¡¡, 28 Aug. 2009.
Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.
php?storyId=112312561>.
“A sunower seed…”: Flanders, John. The Craftsman’s Way: Canadian
Expressions. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1981.
“pheromones of the master’s own breath.”: Watson, Lyall. The Nature
of Things: The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects. London: Hodder &
Stoughton, 1990.
“I'll play rst…”: Miles Davis Honda Scooter Ad. Perf. Miles Davis.
Commercial. YouTube. 1 Feb. 2008. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=R1CwXz8Xidc>.
x¡¡¡
19
22
22
26
29
34
37
¡RbRc1¡s
126 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
“Lighting one candle…”: Hass, Robert, Basho Matsuo, Buson Yosa,
and Issa Kobayashi. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and
Issa. Hopewell, R]: Ecco, 1994.
“…putting form and content together.”: Blumenthal, Saul. “Designer
Paul Rand Speaks at Media Lab.” The Tech. Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, 15 Nov. 1996. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://tech.mit.
edu/V116/N59/paulrand.59n.html>.
“A small bowl arrived…”: Achatz, Grant. “What Grant Achatz Saw
at El Bulli.” Diner’s Journal Blog. The New York Times, 16 Feb.
2010. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.
com/2010/02/16/what-grant-achatz-saw-at-el-bulli/>.
Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of
Innovation. New York: Riverhead, 2010.
“the world as it will be…”: Asimov, Isaac. Asimov on Science Fiction.
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.
“We sail within a vast sphere ”: Pascal, Blaise. Pascal's Pensées. Project
Gutenberg. 27 Apr. 2006. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.guten-
berg.org/ßles/18269/18269-h/18269-h.htm#p_72>.
“…the right solution would presently announce itself.”: Weschler,
Lawrence, and Robert Irwin. Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the
Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin. Berkeley:
University of California, 1982.
“Draw your chair up close…”: Fitzgerald, F. Scott, and Edmund
Wilson. The Crack-Up. New York: J. Laughlin, 1945.
“…you will contribute a verse.”: From the poem O Me! O Life! Whitman,
Walt. Leaves of Grass. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2000.
“Whoever said that pleasure…”: Design Q&A with Charles Eames. Perf.
Charles Eames. YouTube. Web. <http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=3xYi2rd1QCg>.
“Not I, not I…”: From the poem Song of a Man Who Has Come Through.
Lawrence, D. H. The Complete Poems. New York: Penguin, 1971.
37
47
53
54
61
71
73
81
91
101
109
¡RbRc1¡s · 127
Hyde, Lewis. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.
New York: Vintage, 2007.
“Elizabeth Gilbert, in a lecture…”: A New Way to Think About Creativity.
Perf. Elizabeth Gilbert. YouTube. 1¡b Talks. Web. <http://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA>.
“the long, hard, stupid way…”: Brion, Raphael. “Treme Watch: David
Chang Gets a Cameo.” Eater. Eater National, 13 June 2011. Web. 02
Apr. 2012. <http://eater.com/archives/2011/06/13/treme-watch-
david-chang-gets-a-cameo.php>.
“In an episode of…”: Sorkin, Aaron, and Patrick H. Caddell.
“Shibboleth.” The West Wing. NBC. 22 Nov. 2000. Television.
Calvino, Italo, and William Weaver. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.
London: Vintage, 1998.
“the design of the business card wouldn’t be nished until…”: Giampietro,
Rob. “Reßections on Recent Work.” Lined and Unlined. 5 Jan.
2009. Web. 2 Apr. 2012. <http://blog.linedandunlined.com/
post/403632689/reßections-on-recent-work>.
“I just sort of let it be known that I was available…”: Weschler, Lawrence,
and Robert Irwin. Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees:
A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin. Berkeley: University of
California, 1982.
“We systematically…”: Hochman, David. “Oßce Party? Let’s Tweet
It.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 4 May 2011. Web. 2 Apr.
2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/05/fashion/05Twitter.
html?pagewanted=all>.
“A culture is no better than its woods.”: Auden, W. H. The Shield of Achilles.
New York: Random House, 1955.
“The moment just past is extinguished forever…”: Kubler, George. The
Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1962.
111
112
112
114
116
117
118
119
121
121
»cxRcw¡¡bc¡m¡R1s · 129
»cxRcw¡¡bc¡m¡R1s
I began thinking seriously about this book in November of 2010,
shortly after completing a lecture of the same name at the Build
conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The talk was warmly
received, but I perceived there was more to the ideas I presented.
They required further investigation and thought. It took four
months to muster up the courage to begin writing, but a year
and a half later, I feel as if my search is concluding.
A sincere thank you goes to those who joined me in the search
party. David Cole, Liz Danzico, Rob Giampietro, Craig Mod, Jason
Santa Maria, and Andy McMillan all read early versions of the
manuscript and oßered instrumental feedback. The book is better
from their ideas, support, and friendship.
I especially owe a debt to Mandy Brown, whose steady eye and
deft pen guided my thoughts throughout the writing process. If
there is clarity to these words, Mandy’s editing is to credit.
My deepest gratitude and love go to my family and friends, who
have all allowed me the space to shake oß the everydayness of my
own life to write this book. I really don’t know how you put up
with all of this, but each day, I’m ever more grateful that you do.
Thanks to Kate Bingaman-Burt, Josh Brewer, Max Fenton, Jessica
Hische, Cameron Koczon, Tyler and Elsa Lang, Neven Mrgan, Josh
Stewart, Allen Tan, Trent Walton, Ian Whitmore, Doug Wilson,
and anyone else who has had to grin and bear me talking about
the book yet again. I will return the favor soon.
Special thank yous, apologies, and love letters are reserved for
Mom, Dad, and Laura. They have been anchors and kept me from
ßoating away, even during the hardest year of their lives. Their poise
is staggering and inspiring. I’m so glad to call them mine.
130 · 1¡¡ s¡»¡¡ c¡ b¡s¡cR
I am indebted to the generosity of the following patrons:
tltis 8aul:t · mailtlimµ · Slaµi[ç
8taa Smirl 8 mçtan \:a¡:t · tltis Ltitksan
uami:n i:uman · uaria 6. wlal:ç, }t.
}:ssita ¨tar Laaç¨ listl: · 1t:nr walran
Alasrait 1açlat · Allisan 8atn¡:ss:t · Anat:u tatn:rr · tatl laç:t · ttai¡ maa
uatt:n 6:ta¡lrç · uar: Stla:[¡:n · uaria laƧman · u::µlatal · uiana limlall
uat latsans · l:tainana Salis-Samaa:n · l:l:n mitlaua · l:l:n walr:ts
lan }. wlirmat: · }. A. 8aluti · }ami: 6. ma¡:au · }an: A. uatn · }asan lti:a
}u 6taƧam · }:Ƨ 1tiµl:rr · }:nni L:a:t · }im kaç · }aln l. l:ll:ç
}aln 1. Ln¡:t · }aln w:a¡uaaa · }asl taran: · }usrin latra · larltçn kartliƧ:-L::
li:tan Lçnn · Liam mtmuttaç · Lauis, lar:, ana wilsan · matk 8ar:ç
mital Lani:t · mitl:l vtana · mik: 8i:r: · iar: 1latµ
iarlan u. lir:simmans · laul Srtau · laula Zaam · k:ina tasr:llanas
Sanata l. Llkina · Skçlat tlallana · 1atal la¡ut: · 1im tlaml:ts
viratia miliana · walk:t talall
Aatan tat4mlula · Aatan kaçlutn · Al:\ }atqu: · Al:\ lni¡lr · Al:\ lnaµitk
Ali Lkani · Alan:a l:li\ · Ana m. l:tnana:: · Anat: 1att:: · Anat:s Laµ:: }as:n¡:
Anaç 8aia · Anaç mtmillan · An¡i: uaris, lçta 8 l:ll: · Anni: tlatk
Anrania Sarat:lli · Aut:li:n lauraç:r · 8:njamin ltir:, 6:tmanç
8:njamin l:ç:t · 8:tni: 6talam, lnr:nrat, laalirar · 8ill l:a¡¡ç
8allç Salaman · 8tanaan 6aaauin · 8tian kas:nƩ:la · 8tçan }. Sui[r
8tçan lulla · talrin lurta · tam:tan lat:an · tas:ç 8tirr · tas:ç Zumualr
tar: ualan · tlatl:s Anat:rra II · tl:ls:a lataauaç · tltis taçi:t · tltis Sliƪ:rr
ttai¡ Suansan · ual: ka¡:ts · uan 6t:ll · uan latrnaç · uan win:man
uani:l uitksan · uani:l ln:[ · uani:l matina · uani:l kam:ta · uar: Sara¡:
»cxRcw¡¡bc¡m¡R1s · 131
uaria tal: · uaria ltç · uaria luçtk · uaria 1aµia · u:: Aaams · u:t:k lanr:
uimirti 8aunial · uan StlaƧn:t · uau¡las 8tull · ut:u 8:ll · ut:u }alnsran
Lamuna 1:l · Llsa + 1çl:t + Za: · Lmatç All:n · Ltin Sµatlin¡ · Lrlan mattarr:
Lran Latkuaaa · laaais u:si¡n Sruaia · llatian StltaiƧ · 6att:rr muttaç
6arin lar:n:a 8 Li: m:ç:t · 6:tala lull:t · ¡¡[:rans · 6tanr lurtlinsan
6usrara l:tt:çta 0lai: · lans r:tstlaar:n · lallç L:atl · luç uinl · }. u. lallis
}atal Saura · }aim: kaaas · }am:s uanalasan · }an L:lnatar · }an watlr:t
}at:a taµani · }asan Sanra matia · }aç lallçuaaa · }açta u:si¡n
}:t:mç tant:ka · }:t:mç tatt · }im 8 m:i lilllaus: · }im luls · }ina 8alran
}aai L:a · }a: Ana:tsan · }aln Silra · }an iarlansan · }an Stllassl:t¡
}asl tlatk · }asl li¡¡ins · }asl Smirl · jasu: sala:at · }ulian }. Stltaa:t
lal::m llan · lar: 8in¡aman 8utr · l::¡an }an:s · l:irl lalj:ntin
lirr laasa:n · L:i¡l 1açlat · L:s la:a:na · mq 0lin · manaç 8taun
matta Atm:nr · marr taçn: · marr lau¡l:ç · marr lumµ · marr iu::ata
marr Saur:t · marrl:u 8utlanan · mitla:l tl:an¡ · i:il L:: · i:r:n mt¡an
iian mtLraç · cmiccc · 0stat lalm:t · lar utçlut¡l · l:r: mill:t · lak:ra
kaj:sl lantlali, v:;.cvca¡ivcias · k:[tç:a · kal uullin · kal:tr 8açt:
kaç Anrlanç 8taun · kçan 8tunsrala · kçan 8uak: · kçan lt:iras
kçan muatçk · kçan Sims · Sam:t tl:lal · Starr 8ams · Starr 8tartl:t
Starr maunr · S:t¡ia jim:n:: · Siman 8 An¡i: L:uin · Skçl:t vana:t mal:n
Sr:r: t:l:srin · Sruatr 6ilsan · 1aa tatµ:nr:t · 1l:tan 1taultia¡:
1lamas 1:lkamµ · 1im van uamm: · 1aaa Zaki wat[:l · 1am taar:s
1am mtLau¡llan · 1atç lalsan · w:mina · william tautl
william k. l:atsr lll · winn:k: a: 6taar · \rann: \:l
Zatlatç lannin · qallarr
Thank you.

.

Wales Brighton.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.com Editor: Mandy Brown Copyeditor: Allen Tan Designer: Frank Chimero Printed and bound by .- .- Shapco Printing. Share and remix the text. Minnesota Written on the road: New York. England . California Los Angeles. Texas San Francisco.Copyright © 2012 by Frank Chimero http://www. Oregon Austin. It should continue that way. New York Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3. California Phoenix.shapeofdesignbook. Portland. Arizona Spring eld.0/ The Shape of Design was born of a spirit of generosity in those who backed the book on Kickstarter.frankchimero. Thank you. Missouri Wellington. England Belfast.0 Unported License http://creativecommons. Northern Ireland Cardigan.com http://www. New Zealand Nottingham. so long as the resulting work is non-commercial and attribution is provided.

Foreword Introduction 1: How and Why Craft and Beauty Improvisation and Limitations Form and Magic : Fiction and Bridges Context and Response : Stories and Voids Frameworks and Etiquette Delight and Accommodation Gifts and Giving Endnotes Acknowledgements 19 1 1 1 1 101 109 125 1 .

introducing himself: You know what I love about jazz and improvisation? It’s all process. We inspect their work. We wrote like this alongside one another without ever meeting or speaking directly – much like many of us: we never meet the people we admire from afar. Every jazz club or improv comedy theater is a temple to the process of production. I would improvise one of his hunches. We emulated the form. We read their stories. He would write a blog post.Frank Chimero and I came together over a shared commitment to jazz. This book is. and to truly partake in it. The essence of it is the process. and using them to help us live well. partly. 100 . and the art is the . Frank’s stories became my stories. We watch their videos. We improvise. But not only exchanges of music. every time is di erent. about making things out of stories. Without warning one day. He would iterate one of my posts. I would respond. A calland-response approach to a developing friendship. a mail from Frank appeared in my inbox. It’s a factory. you have to visit a place to see it in progress. We make up the in-between parts. our stories.

but its numbering system at one point had to be designed. Art. corresponding to individual dirt trails across the country. nodding to the gap between e ciency and the extra e ort that compels us to make things with pride and compassion. mostly. James and committee were asked to come up with a more expandable system as roads were growing in the 1920s. Prior to that. And in a world riddled with a feeling of inertia. Jazz. Deciphering and designing these systems is hard work. A verb! The adjacent process. Pizza. we take it for granted. stupid way. My conversations with Frank began to draw a line between the adjacent systems in the world and our own design process. W. this book is not unlike a more ubiquitous tool and platform. Interstate Highway System. not the product. North / south highways would be numbered . the U. but steeling ourselves to persist is what Frank gives us the tools to do. At a time when telephone poles lined dirt trails. Jazz is more verb than noun. Today. As trails expanded. telephone poles became painted from the ground up. Done well. E.S. Bureau of Public Roads employee Edwin W. and Frank helps trace its mutable shape to something more active. Tools. They designed what we know today as the Interstate Numbering System. Telephone poles ringed with color bands lined highways. Announce a noun. Our process will vary. He decided that motorists would be able to gure out where they were at any time given the intersection of any two highways. James changed that.assembly. and one gets there “the long. In that way. hard. I want to nd a verb and hold on to it for dear life. so trying to distinguish among colors became dangerous. people relied on color codes for direction.” as Frank frames it in the pages to come. sometimes fteen feet high.

Start improvising. Consider Frank’s call your opportunity to respond. consider the book as a platform and musical score: respond to a passage. the world is not done. And it’s still not done nearly 100 years later. by all means. anticipating the future contributions of people. You will nd your way back as the intersection of two points will serve as your guide. Leave the road. It’s a tool. and each sentence your opportunity to create. Or. It’s a platform. cities. If you wish to use this book as a tool. If I want to believe anything. put it down at any time. The Interstate Numbering System was designed for expansion.with odd numbers. east / west with even numbers. it’s that. Second. Wow. other people’s contributions are important. Later: I see a platform and it tells me two things: rst. Then wander back. and numbers would increase as you go east and north. unexpectedness. That is the reason they were written. This is the point of any road or system after all: to take you to a destination in a time in need. there have been many Frank mails in my inbox. to a chapter. . I’m honored to say that since that original mail.

The world often subverts our . use. and intensi es as the audience passes it on to others. the work gains a life of its own. The story of a successful piece of design begins with the movement of its maker while it is being made. and design is the road we follow to reach it. and turns into a shared experience that enhances life and inches the world closer to its full potential. because marching is no way to go into the future. and ampli es by its publishing. Marshall McLuhan said that. It then continues in the feeling the work stirs in the audience when they see. “we look at the present through a rear-view mirror. Design gains value as it moves from hand to hand. or contribute to the work.” Invention becomes our lens to imagine what is possible.” and we “march backwards into the future. She is the one who works to ensure this motion is pointed in a direction that leads us toward a desirable future. there is a snag in McLuhan’s view. If all of this movement harmonizes. It is too methodical and restricted. context to context. The designer is tasked to loosely organize and arrange this movement.What is the marker of good design? It moves. need to need. moving the work out and around. But.

Each song is the origin of the individual’s creativity. and feel obligated to do so in a way speci c to ourselves. it is a personal tune that compels us to make things. It is a product of our lines of inquiry about the work that we do. What can be done if we speak truly and honestly to the audience of our work? Perhaps this changes the . so one can begin to strategize how to make this movement sway together and respond accordingly as things change. The rst portion of this book concerns itself with these inner movements. These songs are the culmination of our individual dispositions. and a demonstration of the lens we use to see the world. the song that emerges is composed of the questions that we ask while working. more responsive. and the expected outcomes of the designer’s e orts. those groups’ relationships to one another.best laid plans. the methods we choose to employ in our practice. Design has a tendency to live between things to connect them. Dancing requires music. The last part of the book focuses on the primacy of the audience in design. the parties involved in its making. so this is analyzed in more detail to nd patterns. It looks to weigh the value of ction. the mutability of artifacts. The lightness and joy a orded by creating suggests that we instead dance. We each carry our own tune. It assesses methods to create more meaningful connections with them to unlock the great opportunity of this fortuitous arrangement. and the bias we show by favoring certain responses over others. and the multiplicity of responses available in design. and we each have our own song. bolder. and if we listen to ourselves. so our road calls for a way to move that is messier. The purpose of all of these assessments is to look at the space around design to identify the moving parts. The second part of the book looks at the milieu of design: the cultural context of the work we create.

success metrics of design to more soft, meaningful qualities, like enthusiasm, engagement, and resonance. Reframing the practice as something more than commerce and problem-solving lets us focus on fundamental issues about utility. It requires us to raise simple, di cult questions about our work, such as, “Does this help us to live well?” The Shape of Design is a map of the road where we dance rather than a blueprint of it. It strives to investigate the opportunities of exploring the terrain, and it values stepping back from the everyday concerns of designing. It attempts to impose a meaningful distance in order to nd patterns in the work and assess the practice as a whole. One can observe, from this distance, two very fundamental things about design that are easy to miss in the midst of all of this movement. First, design is imagining a future and working toward it with intelligence and cleverness. We use design to close the gap between the situation we have and the one we desire. Second, design is a practice built upon making things for other people. We are all on the road together. These two things dictate our relationship to the world and our bond to one another. They form the foundations of the design practice, so our work should revolve around these truths. The practice, simply, is a way of thinking and moving that we use to enhance life. It is available to anyone. We listen to our song, watch how things move, imagine the arrangement, then act. We dance together backwards into the future, giving in uence and taking it, forming and being formed. This is dance of eternity, and the shape of design. I hope to see you singing on the road.

to devise a plan to fake my death for forty-eight hours while my deadline whooshed past. four in the morning is both too early and too late. he would nd a light ablaze on the second oor. He would see me in pro le. we would nod knowingly at one another.“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question. I remember one speci c night where I found myself on the tail end of a long. kneading my face like a thick pile of dough. It seemed misplaced. fruitless stretch. as if to say. seated at my drafting table. .” . Anyone awake must be up to no good. so let’s not ask any questions. I’d go back to kneading my face. weaving between the rows of parked cars and the sweetgum trees that bordered the sidewalk. I looked at the tree before my window and heard a sound rise from the leaves. 19 . As I looked out the window. If in the spring of 2003 a nightwalker found himself passing by North Spaulding Road. “Yes. to rest my eyes. and – despite the hour – had the presence of mind to look up. more likely to come from the cars than one of the trees next to them. I took to gazing out the window to search for inspiration.” The nightwalker would continue down the street.

He mimicked the medley of sounds with skill. eventually getting caught in the tiny crevasse between two blocks of cement. wooop. mine were too. have a reputation for stealing the songs of other birds. Our mistake was the same as that of the creative person who places too much focus on How to create her work. He was plump in stature. wooop. and rolled downhill on the sidewalk. lining themselves up neatly like little spiked soldiers. always pausing for just the right amount of time to be in sync with the familiar tempo of the alarms that occasionally sounded on the block.“Weee-oooh. Weee-oooh. and to a large extent. and my feathered friend was doing so quite convincingly. but the sound of a car alarm. Then. as their name would suggest. which I took as a reminder of the potential e ects of my own poor posture. thwapped the ground. his call: “Weee-oooh. clothed in brown and white feathers with black eyes that jumped from place to place. wwwrrrlll. Weee-oooh. Finally. We both held our breath. Mockingbirds. wooop!” You don’t expect to hear the din of the city coming from the leaves of a sweetgum tree. But the bird didn’t understand the purpose of the sounds he imitated. Burrs fell from the tree. a brief little glimmer of insight came to me from the bird’s song: his e orts were futile. but not like this. and found myself trading glances with a mockingbird. wooop!” This was not the song of a bird. He had an almost indistinguishable neck to separate his head from his body. And in that moment. despite his poor choice of source material. I scoured the leaves. We were blindly imitating rather than singing a song of our own. I remember distinctly saying to myself that a bird’s gotta sing. each of us sizing the other up from our perches. a suspenseful pause. while ignoring 20 . but there it was. wwwrrrlll. The leaves on the branch rustled as he leaned back to belt his chirps and chimes.

can assess and analyze the whole of the work from this vantage. when at a distance from the easel.Why she is creating it. he enters a mode of criticism where he 21 . he steps back again to see what he’s done in relation to the whole. It is a dance of switching contexts. You may see him judging the light. or loading his brush with a slated green to block in the leaves in his muse’s hair. you know that this image is not a full picture of the process. But. You probably see him at his easel. He steps back to let the work speak to him. or speaking to his model. diligently mixing colors on his palette or gingerly applying paint to the canvas. Questions about How to do things improves craft and elevates form. then approaches the canvas to do it. The creative process. We need to do more than hit the right note. maulstick in hand. chooses the next stroke to make. This is a classical way to imagine a painter at work. There is a second part where the artist steps back from the easel to gain a new perspective on the work. The artist. the artist works to make his mark. He scrutinizes and listens. The second part of painting is captured in Rembrandt’s The Artist in His Studio (overleaf ). in essence. beret on head. when far. Imagine an artist working on a painting in his studio. working from dark to light to recreate what is before him. and it’s ttingly represented by Vermeer in The Art of Painting (overleaf ). when far. is an individual in dialogue with themselves and the work. is concerned with production. Painting is equal parts near and far: when near. he assesses the work in order to analyze its qualities. when near. but asking Why unearths a purpose and develops a point of view. if you have ever painted. a pitter-patter pacing across the studio oor that produces a tight feedback loop between mark-making and mark-assessing. The painter. Then.

.The Art of Painting Johannes Vermeer. 1 The Artist in His Studio Rembrandt van Rijn.

he raises Why questions concerned with the whole of the work and its purpose. If an artist or designer understands the objective. when close to the canvas. he can move in the right direction. and simpler to ask “How do I paint this tree?” than to answer “Why does this painting need a tree in it?” The How question is about a task. 23 . is asking How questions related to craft. Why is usually neglected. he may nd himself chasing his own tail. even if the craft of the nal work is extraordinary. Near and Far may be rephrased as Craft and Analysis. It is easier to recognize failures of technique than those of strategy or purpose. Painting’s near and far states are akin to How and Why: the artist. which describe the kinds of questions the artist asks while in each mode. but their application is stunted. This relationship can be restated in many di erent ways. even if there are missteps along the way.judges the degree of bene t (or detriment) the previous choice has had on the full arrangement. But if those objectives are left unaddressed. while the Why question regards the objective of the work. when he steps back. How do you work? How do you choose typefaces for each project? How do you use this particular software? These questions may have valuable answers. each addressing a necessary balance: The relationship between form and purpose – How and Why – is symbiotic. But despite this link. because How is more easily framed.

The allure of the veneer hides many of the choices (good and bad) that were a part of the construction. but also because ability and tendency vary from individual to individual. and to know which methods work in which contexts.” Experience is to understand the importance of context. can’t be answered fully. “It’s more complicated than that. The nished piece on its own. we each have a store of songs we can sing well. Moreover. And how can you blame us? Beauty is palpable. frequently acts as a seductive screen that distracts us from this higher level of investigation. while intentions and objectives are largely invisible. This leads us to ask How more frequently. We are tempted by the quality of the work to ask how to reproduce its beauty. both because requirements vary from job to job. This is a higher level of research. Many How questions. one that follows the brush up the hand and to the mind to investigate the motivations and thought processes used so that they can be applied in our own situations. 24 . These contexts are always shifting. Variation in context implies that it is just as important to discuss Why decisions are being made as to How they are executed. If we wish to learn from the experience of others. however. Ask an experienced designer about How they work and you may hear. and similarly. much to the frustration of novices. every individual is in a di erent situation.because each project has di erent objectives. A process includes all of the reasons behind the decisions that are made while the brush or ngers move. the seams are sanded out and all the lines made smooth.” or “It depends. We each have our own song to sing. but Why they were made. We can get closer to the wisdom of other people by having them explain their decisions – not just in How they were executed. we should acknowledge that making something is more than how the brush meets the canvas or the ngers sit on the fret.

who constantly ruminates about the ner details of drama and performance. Many of our conversations about creative work are made lame because they concern only the top rung of the ladder – the nished piece. about the potential of juxtaposing images and words. And the designer from the poet.as if the tangibility of these characteristics were to somehow make them superior. The actor can learn from the painter about the emotive power of facial expressions. the artist climbs the ladder by making a series of choices and executing them. who can create warmth through 25 . We must talk about those middle rungs. understanding that each step up the ladder is equal parts Why and How. The creative process could be said to resemble a ladder. a balanced conversation about these middle rungs leads to a transfer of knowledge that can spread past the lines that divide the many creative disciplines. Moreover. but it is a precarious task. where the bottom rung is the blank page and the top rung the nal piece. The musician may learn from the actor. To only entertain one is to attempt to climb a ladder with one foot: it may be possible. In between. But asking Why unlocks a new form of beauty by making choices observable so they can be discussed and considered. The painter from the designer.

Blocks spring from the imbalanced relationship of How and Why: either we have an idea. but are also the foundation for inspiring ourselves and others to continue to do so. We so quickly forget that people. If we wish painters to paint. The most despised and common examples of creative block are the latter. Why questions not only form the bedrock for learning and improving. especially children. must be balanced between How and Why. or purpose for the work. but lack the skills to execute. well-placed word.the sparseness of a carefully chosen.” perpetually stuck and unable to produce work when necessary. rather than Reading Rainbow’s objective. Unfortunately. but lack a message. lasting twenty-three years. they must know why as well. which was to teach kids about why they should read. or we have skills. In 2009. the program met its end because the show’s approach opposed the contemporary standard format of children’s television: teaching kids how to read. because the 26 . but Why motivates. and the space between the two could be described by the gap of enthusiasm between simply understanding phonics and reading a book that one identi es with and loves. if we wish children to read. Education. will not willingly do what we teach them unless they are shown the joys of doing so. a half-hour show devoted to nurturing a love for reading in kids. designers to design. Each episode of Reading Rainbow highlighted one book. the Public Broadcasting System aired its nal episode of Reading Rainbow. but its cancellation feels like a symbolic blow. just like climbing the ladder. poets to write. Creative people commonly lament about being “blocked. Levar Burton. How enables. and the story inspired an adventure with the show’s host. idea. they must know why. The things we don’t do out of necessity or responsibility we do for pleasure or love. Reading Rainbow had a long run. We climb our ladders together when we ask Why.

solution to a lack of purpose is so elusive. with just a dash of luck. Often in situations like these. because craft needs objectives. we seek relief in the work of others. lest we give up too much of ourselves. If we are attentive. But when we are left without something to say. and better understand the inner methods of what we produce ourselves. begin to see what gives the work of others their vitality. 27 . the answer is to practice and seek outside guidance from those more able until we improve. we may even discover where the soul of our own work lies by having it mirrored back to us in the work of others. we have no choice but to either go for a walk or continue su ering in front of a blank page. we’re not truly designing. e ort needs purpose. Forfeiting our perspective squanders the opportunity to let the work take its own special form and wastes our chance to leave our ngerprints on it. We must remember Why we are working. But we must be careful not to gaze too long. We can. by dissecting these pieces. We’re just imitating car alarms from sweetgum trees. because they remind us that there is a way out of the cul-de-sac we have driven into by mistake. we look for solace in creations that seem to have both high craft and resounding purpose. If we stay on the surface and do not dig deep by asking Why. and we need an outlet for our song. If we are short on skill.

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That. But no bang. I should believe this. but you can put an awful lot into it. I’m skeptical of showmanship. “Better.“A sun ower seed and a solar system are the same thing. is why I’m a craftsman. so unhurried that it was hardly noticeable. They say all things began as nothing. It’s a small discipline. The romantic in me wants to imagine there was no ash. no bang. I tell myself a story to draw back the darkness and ll the void. No grand gestures or swipes of God.” it whispered. they both are whole systems. but even that is something. as much as anything. a voice slowly approached from afar. In the beginning. I nd it easier to pay attention to the complexities of the smaller than to pay attention to the complexities of the larger. We are told that there was a big bang at the beginning of time that created the universe. but it is di cult to conceive of nothing in the middle of a world that is so full. Perhaps instead there was a quiet dignity to the spurring of matter from nothingness. The 29 . no reworks. I close my eyes and try to picture a darkness. but this turns creation into a spectacle.” .

was by design. No bang. Walk into any proper house of curiosities and ask to see their hand axes. life showed up. design is a eld of transformations concerned with the steps we take to mold our situations. We gained hearts and eyes. are estimated to be about two-and-a-half million years old. and after an unimaginable number of attempts. The cocktail thickened and congealed. to envision a better condition. To be human is to tinker. the oldest specimens. discovered in Ethiopia. and the atoms collided and combined in uncountable ways over billions of years. then pushed on. In this way. I hold a token of the second bang in my hands. legs and hands. like how a hushed. Hand axes are frequently cited as the rst humanmade objects. The second boom. We have been molding this world for a very long time. We crawled out of the muck. familiar voice in the dark can create a pocket of warmth around it. one of the mind and making. and we can initiate those transformations ourselves. the recipe that produced the universe and life. The rst boom. and eventually came back down. It will be close to the size of a deck of cards and t comfortably into the hand. and decide to work toward it by shaping the world around us. was born of circumstance. climbed into the trees. I picture how the loose gases rmed to make the planets. The maker of this hand axe transformed a rock into a tool which allowed him to turn a sealed nut into an open platter. no show – most would say what I’m holding is just a rock. The hand axes record the rst moment that we understood that the world was malleable – that things can change and move. sprawled out. The spheres spun. They will show you something similar to what I hold: a stone resembling an arrowhead with a tip that is honed and sharp. it allowed him to turn beasts on 30 .secret closed in and contained the void.

someone long ago had an eye similar to my own. Despite the axe’s utilitarian origin. “Do not make something unless it is both necessary and useful. but their presence implies that we’ve cared about craft ever since our minds rst opened up to the idea of invention. because the stone’s waned usefulness lets us consider its aesthetic appeal on its own. This overlap connects me to the past. No matter how rational our thinking. And yet. in some cases. our hearts say otherwise. for millions of years. A polished axe does not chop better. The Shakers have a proverb that says. just as the re ned design of a lamp does not necessarily light a room more fully. and cared enough about the tool’s beauty to choose 31 . The products of our endeavors sprawl out behind us in a wake of repercussions and remain.” We all believe that design’s primary job is to be useful. the work’s appearance does not necessarily matter. There is often a diligence in construction to these axes. The hand axe is a prime specimen to consider beauty’s role in this tangle of concerns. the experience of buying my particular hand axe was more like purchasing a piece of jewelry than something kept in the toolbox. we hear a voice whisper that beauty has an important role to play. but if it is both. The aesthetic details I found desirable were the same to the person who made the hand axe. The same making instinct was at play when the Wrights ew their rst airplane or when Greek architects sat down to mastermind the Parthenon. The determinate factor was how pleasing each hand axe was to my eye. Beauty is a special form of craft that goes beyond making something work better. an elegant symmetry to their form. These details don’t necessarily contribute to the utility of the tool. do not hesitate to make it beautiful.the plain into dinner. Our minds say that so long as the design works well.

I was preparing to go to a design conference to show o my portfolio in an attempt to land a summer internship. I am in awe of the brushwork of Van Dyck even though the paintings were made four hundred years ago.” Craft is a love letter from the work’s maker. We all bask in the presence of beauty. Craft links us to a larger tradition of makers by folding the long line that connects us across the vast expanse of time. then mold it into a pleasing symmetry. I stepped into my favorite professor’s o ce with my portfolio to give him a second look at everything. The day before I left. I’m reminded of a piece of advice I received during my third year at university. but I thought one 32 . My jaw drops at the attention to detail in Gutenberg’s original forty-two line Bible.a rock with an even nish. because there is a magical aura to high craft. and here in my hands is that note enveloped in stone. That care remains intact inside the stone. and can’t help but be impressed by the ornamental patterns of Arabic mosques and their dizzying complexity. with every ounce of care and attention wrung out into what’s before you. I had done most of the projects in his classes. “Here is all we’ve got. This is what humankind is capable of doing. It says.

Stradivari’s secret recipe has long been lost. He held the phone to his chest. but he still waved me in. and shooed me out of his o ce. and what exactly he might have meant when he said my work needed more love. and pointed to a empty spot on his desk so he could browse my book while on his call. saying the occasional “Yes” and “Okay.” He pushed the portfolio back across his desk. and those still remaining are coveted by players around the world.” The words were most likely to the woman on the line. I still think about this advice. “Needs more love. He produced about ve hundred violins in his life. because it was missing the spark that comes from creating something you believe in for someone you care about. for example. but modern science has given a bit of insight into his methods through the 33 . He ipped through the pages quickly. looked at me. but I’ve come to realize that he was speaking of something more fundamental and vital. Finally. meticulously ne-tuning the details to create the most divine sound. he got to the last page and asked the woman on the line to hold for a moment. and simply said. Antonio Stradivari achieved what many consider to be the pinnacle of craft in the instruments that he made. It’s said that their sound is lush and transcendent. This kind of a ection has a way of making itself known by enabling those who come in contact with the work. In the seventeenth century. I took it to mean that I should improve my craft. This is the source of the highest craft. because an a ection for the audience produces the care necessary to make the work well. smiled warmly. and one can imagine Stradivari hunched over the body of one of his violins.last bit of feedback might be helpful. My work was at. At the time. but I sat on the other side of his desk imagining that they were in approval of my work. He was on the phone.

is still warm from the hands of the one who made it.” Secret recipe. which is believed to contain volcanic ash. rather than letting it sit on the mantle. because the violinist would unlock the instrument’s full potential by playing it. The products of design. The work has enough love when enthusiasm transfers from the maker to the audience and bonds them. so it feels more appropriate to hold than display. There is no way to describe Stradivari’s work other than as a labor of love. In truth. The stone.” sense how the line that connects me to the past folds. sweat. and it’s by holding the hand axe that it begins to unfold its true magic. shrimp shells. and “tantalizing traces of organic compounds that could be bedroom residues. 34 . The stone is pleasing to the eye. I can imagine the excitement in the room when Stradivari would hand his newest violin to a skilled musician. or pheromones of the master’s own breath. and feel a love inside that rock. but it was made for the hand. in spite of all these years. It is why I’m always compelled to pick up my hand axe and roll it around in my hand. where the maker was himself a material used in the construction. insect wings. there are two sets of hands on this stone. like Stradivari’s violins. possess an aspect that can only be revealed through their use. Some experts believe the secret to his violins lies in their ller and varnish. indeed: each instrument was a beautiful union. Both are enthusiastic about the design. And it’s when I hold the hand axe that I can hear the voice that whispers “better.analysis of his instruments.

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diverse material to the pool to be used by others. and I’ll tell you about it later. while a large number are shaped by the disposition and instincts of the work’s creator. he wrote: Lighting one candle with another candle — spring evening. we take bits of others’ work and fuse them to our own choices to see if alchemy occurs. Translated from Japanese.“I’ll play rst. Their properties are eloquently explained by eighteenth century haiku master Yosa Buson. Maybe. because they continue the give-and-take of in uence by adding new.” When we build. these materials do not behave like physical materials when they are shared. others are guided by the decisions of the work cited as inspiration. because they do not run out. Some of those choices are informed by best practices and accrued wisdom. These fresh contributions and transformations are the most crucial. Happily. 37 .

We must sing in our own way. and then building atop previous parts with their own contributions. should be to put those objectives in a drawer. Perhaps Buson’s haiku and the methods of renga o er a way to curb the ruthlessness of the blank page. The poem went on and on. Renga required the acceptance of old contributions as the basis for new additions. and then pass his work to another poet to write the last two. They imply that starting from zero may be elegantly side-stepped through the contributions of others. however. The second step. Buson’s haiku is also instructive in how to work with the contributions of others. 38 . two – three – two – three. Haikus come from an older Japanese poetic tradition called renga. but they don’t do much to help one get going. Objectives guide the process toward an e ective end. give-and-take poetry. a form of collaborative. with each new contribution linking into the previous portion like a daisy-chain. The rst step of any process should be to de ne the objectives of the work with Why-based questions. In fact. From there. They also show that imposing some sort of structure can help us begin and gain momentum. the weight of the objectives can crush the seeds of thought necessary to begin down an adventurous path. but with the contributions and in uence of others. we need not sing alone. and then another two lines from a fourth. the last two lines would be used as the basis to begin three new lines from a third poet. The poets were able to get to work by using what was already there as a material. One poet would write the rst three lines of a ve-line poem. One candle can light another. and the light may spread without its source being diminished. and this arrangement ensured the poem’s strength and provided a structure that guided the poets during the poem’s creation.Buson is saying that we accept the light contained in the work of others without darkening their e orts.

If the project is a business card for an optician. absurdity is ne. (This is in the spirit. To begin. The objectives shouldn’t be ignored forever. imagine otters on the cover and deranged handwriting on the inside for the copy. needs to start with a great leap of lightness. and that is only attainable through a suspension of disbelief. maybe even desired. perhaps you imagine it is illegible. but they should be de ned ahead of time. we must build momentum and then reintroduce the objectives to steer the motion. like a good story. (Further!) If it is design for an 39 . but you can do better. Quality may be elusive. I nd the best way to gain momentum is to think of the worst possible way to tackle the project.) If it is a brochure for an insurance agency. but stupidity is always easily accessible. set aside.The creative process. and then deployed at the appropriate moment so that we may be audacious with our ideas.

The way one creatively wanders is through improvisation. New and better ideas will certainly come as well. Your ideas must improve. but I suspect that while you are ri ng. 40 . (Yes!) The important realization to have from this fun – though fruitless – exercise is that every idea you have after these will be better. because it ensures that one can respond to the moment in artful and tting ways before it fades. but mixing the two speaks to the cumulative nature of improvising and the special sort of presence it requires. because progress at this point is going in any direction. we can use them as a way to guide our ambling and ri on ideas. you’ll nd yourself reusing parts of the awful ideas you created earlier.exhibition of Ming Dynasty vases. We must steer our ideas. It sounds strange. because there is no conceivable way that you could come up with anything worse. but we can be less discerning than if we were starting from scratch. Any step is guaranteed to bring you closer to the border that marks the end of bad ideas and the start of good ones. which turns them into a resource that can be mined in the process. Even wandering is productive. actively poking at the current situation to use its opportunities as material for construction. so that is precisely what should be done. and to do so well. We’ve created the momentum necessary to slingshot us toward a desirable outcome by stretching our muscles and playing in the intellectual mud. and put the vases on precariously balanced pedestals made of a shiny metal that asks to be touched. Now that the objectives are in front of us again. Formalizing the properties of improvising is valuable. one must be in the moment. Ideas build on top of one another. Now is the time to take the objectives out of their drawer and use them as the rudder to this momentum. brand it as an interactive show for kids. The bad ideas have been documented and captured in some way.

The renga master Basho described the spirit of collaborative poetry as transformation: the poem achieves a newness when it changes hands. and you say something I wasn’t expecting. selfcriticism and evaluation from others must be avoided in order to 41 . and indeed our own. The rst maxim of improv is “Yes and….” To steal from our old analogy of stepping back from the easel as a way to analyze the work. It’s the same whether we are working collaboratively in a group. the whims of others. if you and I are improvising a scene on stage. but when improvising. Momentum is the most important aspect of starting. The “and” part of the “Yes. it is much more di cult to execute than to grasp. by “refraining from stepping back. judgment is an important part of the creative process. preserve momentum and keep us from self-editing too early. The back-and-forth dialog that happens from these contributions in jazz and improvisational theater resembles the structure of renga. so I must accept what you o er. but like most cardinal virtues. and then build on top of it. The rules of the game. That newness only worked. and…” maxim dictates that improvising is an additive process that builds itself up with each choice like a snowball rolling downhill. For instance.” This rule is easy to understand. The continuity would be broken. and cumulatively builds up. has new words added. I can’t pull you aside and ask you to change your line.We should look to jazz and improvisational theater – the two formalized creative pursuits that use improvisation – for guidance. in Basho’s words. “Yes” dictates that each contribution is valid and accepted. and rejecting and editing too soon has a tendency to sti e that movement. or if I am simply in dialogue with the work like the painter at his easel. Both have developed common rules that are meant to ensure a fruitful process.

called Bebop. because we no longer need to know precisely where we are going – just choose a direction and trust the momentum. and Cannonball Adderley packed into a recording studio in New York in March of 1959 without any songs pre-written. This delicacy requires acceptance. The promise of a smaller scope makes us forget our fear. John Coltrane. A framework for improvisation allows us to get into the process of making things more easily. but had a tendency to overstu songs with notes. both good and bad. and the limitations become a starting point for ideas. These limitations are the fuel for improvisation. because they made their living by winging it. but its rigor should match the heartiness of the ideas. but rules need to be set before starting so the work has a more focused direction to travel. which become stronger as they develop. But it’s unlikely that any of them predicted that jazz would be reinvented that day. Bill Evans. But all ideas. Wynton Kelly.let ideas develop from their delicate state. becoming the barriers that hold the sand in the sandbox so that we can play. Kind of Blue. Jazz musicians routinely tolerated this sort of ambiguity. Saying no beforehand allows yes to be said unequivocally while working. Bebop has been 42 . start young and fragile. Criticism has a crucial role in the creative process. Perhaps the most famous example of an imposed framework was created by jazz musician Miles Davis during the recording of his album. All we need to know are the rules of the game. Paul Chambers. The predominant style of jazz at the time. and the more criticism it should withstand. The abundance sometimes hindered the musicians’ melodic expression by occupying all the space in the song. the less suspension of disbelief is required. Jimmy Cobb. The more real an idea becomes. An improvisational structure allows us to get to work. was frenetic and lively. Davis.

There’s always a signi cant amount of waste when mining for gold. None of them had seen any of the songs before coming to the studio. Davis wanted to let the air back into the songs. he knew they would wander with skill and play beyond themselves. however. it can become too large a load to carry. wasteful in its output. Improvisation is a messy ordeal. (Unless you’re Miles Davis. and try to recognize their potential.) Limitations and frameworks.described as musical gymnastics. apparently. Kind of Blue is unequivocally a masterpiece. but with the guidance of the slips of paper. Don’t be concerned if you improvise and don’t use most of the ideas. After two sessions. Davis’ example is a bit misleading though. and ventured out into a new frontier. and with a loose framework of limitations to focus them but plenty of space for exploration. Davis amassed a stellar group of musicians. The musicians accepted the contributions of one another. they can also be a self-initiated set of 43 . They were asked to improvise with simple scales and modes rather than Bebop’s chord progressions. The key is to generate many ideas. The recording session began with Davis handing each of the seven men a small slip of paper where he had written down a description of their part. and it should be accepted as such. In spite of the artistry necessary to maneuver in the Bebop style. the album was nished. if only for its e ciency. need not be given to us only by someone else. because the style’s ourishes and showmanship forced musicians to negotiate complex structures. and booked a second day a few weeks later. to give the musicians more space to play. a cornerstone to jazz music created in just a few short hours by altering the structure of the performance. they recorded the whole day. It’s hard to swing if there’s no room to move. lay them out. using their intuitions as their guides.

Shakespeare’s sonnets follow a speci c rhyming scheme and are always fourteen lines. They may be conceptual and based on the content. Picasso. during his Blue Period. one for each season. where the in ection of communication is deliberately restricted: Paint monochromatically. Instead. where the limitations determine the subject matter of the work: Write a song for each one of the muses. Write a sonnet or a haiku. the motion of making carries us forward. Restrictions can also be structural and create compositional limitations: Paint on surfaces that are three inches wide and twenty inches tall. the process and the limitations suggest the rst few steps. Write a short story inspired by each of the astrological signs. painted only monochromatically. after that. Self-imposed limitations might also be related to the tone of the work. 44 . Choreograph a dance contained in a six-foot square. Many of the greats have used limitations to encourage their work: Vivaldi wrote four violin concertos. Create a song using a mistuned guitar. Create an illustration for each letter of the alphabet.rules that open the door to improvisation. The restrictions of a framework take many shapes. Draw with your opposite hand. Limitations allow us to get to work without having to wait for a muse to show up.

and spur o into unexpected places. Limitations narrow a big process into a smaller. Those limitations also become the basis for the crucial rst steps in improvisation. But like driving a car at night. so the process imposes a bene cial near-sightedness. 45 . an inability to see anything clearly other than the next step. For instance. It’s the di erence between swimming in a pool and being dropped o in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. more understandable space to explore. it’s helpful to take a step back and assess how the qualities of the limitations are interrelated. Each decision is a response to the last and an opportunity to pivot in a new direction. the momentum of making accelerates as ideas are quickly generated without judgment. After those. a restriction in the tone of the work can provide guidance for deciding what sort of content is best. a little bit at a time is enough to nish the trip. because they may o er some suggestions about where to begin. like how only painting in blue might suggest sad scenes or places bathed in cavernous light. New ideas interact with the old.Once some restrictions are set.

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furrow my brow. If my mind needed to wander to think about a project. I’d typically sit in a chair. their purpose is movement. just as a good walk has no destination. but for the longest time. mindless marks. This is hardly a ground-breaking discovery. it was a bit of knowledge that never changed my behavior. though: if the mind needs to wander. I make the sorts of drawings people produce on the backs of envelopes while on hold with the gas company. If I can’t get out of the studio and into the city. loopy. and scribble a few things into my sketchbook. There is no subject. best let the body do the same.“Design is the method of putting form and content together. skipping. I’ve taken to letting my hand wander on a pad of paper by drawing spindly. A short walk is more e ective in coming up with an idea than pouring all the co ee in the world down your gullet. My pencil cuts across the paper like a gure skater zipping around her rink. overlapping. sip my co ee. and 47 .” My body and mind are linked. That’s no good.

mindless task which looks like work. A few months ago. My pen zipped back. so I imagined the other parts. because it is the minimum amount of e ort and thought I can put into working. The skater ignores the mark that comes in the wake of her movement. it is kinetic – more like dancing than drawing. I could see through my window how the terrain t together and how the crops were planted. Scribbling’s e ciency is a golden ticket for someone prone to creative block. This drawing isn’t aesthetic. The drawn knots are no consequential thing themselves. as far as the eye could see. and a circularly tilled plot interrupted the quilted arrangement. My mark doubled over itself. I lled in the gaps by remembering my drives to Chicago. but they do seem to eventually lead to something else that is useful.spinning. So. I spent most of the ight looking out the oval window instead of working. I’ve noticed that as I draw these knots on the page. and pretended that the plane cabin had the smell of soy and corn permeating through as my car had when I took road trips along -55 years ago. I imagined the names of the streets in an imagined sleepy Illinois town with a biblical name. the hitches in my mind begin to unravel. I had a pressing project that needed attention. I couldn’t see everything from up here. obviously. the scrawl is an easy. a tight grid of wheat browns and cornstalk greens. I love my trick in spite of its spotty rate of success. and I wanted to have a clear direction by the time the ight landed. and I do the same. My pen continued gliding over the napkin. and can sometimes turn productive. four merged to make a square. I could see Illinois in all of its at. Two plots merged to make a rectangle. tiled splendor: farm after farm. I pictured how the blocks shrunk in size as 48 . I found myself drawing my tangles onto tiny napkins while on a ight from the west coast to Chicago.

the arrangement the message takes and the in ection with which it is said. and decided that the best way to see the work’s larger patterns was with a vantage similar to my seat in the sky. I thought about how there must be a Lincoln High somewhere down there. the kernel of information to be communicated. and ri our way to a bunch of kids in Cardinal uniforms running through a banner at a pep rally. My pen gained momentum. We could see some elds and a few roads. All design work seems to have three common traits: there is a message to the work.they approached the center of town. The tone is the domain of design. or the idea trying to be expressed through the work. The value of the work is de ned by the usefulness of that promise. It is often mistaken for style. My pen whipped back around and ripped the napkin. the tone of that message. How nice it would be to get into a plane and y over our work. but the two should not be confused: style is a formal device 49 . The message is what is being said. and is the promise that the work makes. the message is the utility of the tool. Maybe we’d see some patterns and be able to deduce a structure that would let us improvise. I spent the rest of the ight thinking about how helpful it is to have an understanding of the work’s structure. Tone expresses sentiment and endears the audience to the work. with its champion Cardinals that won the state football title this past year. and the work’s ability to make good on it. now thin from the ood of ink it had absorbed. then looped around the city square. and the format that the work takes. The message speaks to the objectives of the work. If the work of design is to be a tool. Successful design has all three elements working in co-dependence to achieve a whole greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Increasingly. and cost to attend. Consider the typical promotional poster for a concert. website. In this example. such as a poster. painting. brochure. It is often a physical form. however. these “artifacts” are becoming less physical. The promotional poster is a standard. For instance. or even an experience. We frequently return to these settings because of their e ectiveness. and may take the form of an application. through trial and error. Speci c settings have emerged by imitating the success of others. time and date. and the designer works to produce a t between the two. venue. The work’s message is “attend this event. what will be the size of the poster and where will it hang? No matter what the settings for the levers are. much like food and wine. produce well-established couplings. Creative breakthroughs often occur when fresh con gurations are explored 50 . Successful projects choose a tone that ts the message appropriately. such as the performing artists. tried-and-true setting for the three levers. and. or sonnet. but also includes the choices that alter a work’s context and placement.” and it provides relevant information. the thing being produced. The format. The tone for the design would be dictated by the sound of the music being performed. still has variables. The format is the artifact. pottery. Posters for metal bands should look di erent than those for classical performances. but we must be willing to consider new opportunities and di erent settings for the levers.used on the surface to establish the tone of the work. all choices are subservient to the objective. all possible aesthetic outcomes are uni ed by the format: ink on paper as a poster. The relationship between the three characteristics could be thought of as levers on a machine: di erent settings can be chosen and adjusted to yield di erent outcomes.

and the tone of the promotion can directly relate to the sound of the music. Perhaps the design could have videos of the musicians discussing certain parts of the symphony to be performed. The interplay of the three levers becomes a framework for improvisation by providing enough structure to guide exploration. We ignore the new opportunities before us when we take the common settings of the levers as givens. She could use the potential of screens. Questioning convention can lead to new opportunities by making good on the potential of fresh con gurations of the three levers. she could produce something native to the web and build motion and sound into the solution. and format. rather than spending time on ideas limited by the restrictions of printing. A new format has di erent a ordances and opportunities. because tickets were being sold through their website. working as an educational resource that connects the musicians to the audience in addition to promoting the show. should come from 51 . however. Instead. reevaluate circumstances. tone. and the information could spread more easily between friends on the web. These explorations.in the message. and maximize the opportunities of the current situation. but enough freedom to end up in unexpected and fresh places. It’s wise to step back and reassess all of the assumptions being made at the start of each project in order to de ne the root objective of the work. A change of format opens new doors. This example isn’t intended to imply a superiority of screens to paper. so rather than recreating a static design that works on paper. it’s meant to show that our assumptions can easily fall out of step with the context of our work. Suppose the designer realized that most of the promotion for a classical concert should occur online. Escaping paper means that the music could be closer to the message.

Molecular gastronomy has been used to serve hardboiled eggs with the yolk on the outside and white on the inside. unprecedented outcomes that teach us how to reconsider our world in a di erent and novel ways. but Adrià’s work provided an 52 . then put through a “spheri cation” process to turn it to a kind of caviar.a designer’s experience in manipulating content and format. necessities. a kind of cooking that merges the kitchen with the chemistry lab. New con gurations are judged by the designer’s knowledge of the qualities. Perhaps you have heard of his invention: molecular gastronomy. skilled designers frequently have an understanding of the whole machine from their experiences. Fortunately. and opportunities of all three levers and an appreciation for how they are interrelated. and avocado turned to puree. Maybe you know something of the restaurant elBulli and its former chef Ferran Adrià. champagne solidi ed into a gelatinous cube. One such laboratory that experimented in recon guring our expectations was nestled into the craggy coast of Catalonia. elBulli was the laboratory of a mad man who undermined the foundations of traditional cuisine. meringue made from rose petals. and that knowledge can lead to interesting.

I know cooking. polenta with olive oil. and to introduce fresh material into the making process. It presented a unique reassessment of the cooking process for a time when technological advances in equipment and various natural gums. creativity doesn’t just serve and respond to the world around it. Sometimes the results of graceful rethinking can be thought of as magic. either 53 . and invent is a orded to any creative individual who understands the full system in which they operate. question. Instead. Sometimes. and additives produced by the commercial food industry could be used in the kitchen. and instead favoring the title “deconstructivist. this food isn’t that out there. because it produces something we previously thought to be impossible. Adrià’s desire to question everything can even be seen in how he describes his craft.interesting contribution to the food world.” The same opportunity to analyze. What the hell is going on back there. those results can be confounding. See. Grant Achatz. In these cases. wrote about his time staging at the restaurant and of his rst meal there: A small bowl arrived: Ah. it actively pushes the world forward into unimaginable directions through experimentation. much like the dishes served at elBulli. It subverts the established ways of working. extracts. But as soon as the spoon entered my mouth an explosion of yellow corn avor burst. but this is the stu of magic. They can use their knowledge to nd new con gurations for the three levers. I calmly laid my spoon down on the edge of the bowl after one bite – astonished. rejecting the name molecular gastronomy. I thought. and then all the texture associated with polenta vanished. I thought. an impressive chef in his own right.

because the maker is exploring a terrain no one else has been able to realize. describes the idea of the adjacent possible as a model for explaining how ideas develop and new inventions are envisioned. produce paper and ink. how they serve as an example of a new possibility. but where do the sparks for those combinations come from? What instigates that magic to make hybrids. and construct a winemaking press. and to inspire new settings for the three levers? Certain advancements seem logical and inevitable – smaller cellphones. in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. to use them for unimagined purposes. in order to invent something like the printing press. and these new methods only appear from intense analysis of the assumptions about their work. Most inventions are recombinations of existing things. Johnson extends Kau man’s concept to the development of ideas themselves.through sheer talent or brute force. 54 . The products of the process are contrarian by nature as a result. master metallurgy to cast letters. Laid bare in his work is an example of how craft and art grow. For instance. There are prerequisites for us to reach what we desire as we pursue better circumstances and new inventions. they invent new ways of doing so. we must rst invent language and an alphabet. The adjacent possible originated with scientist Stuart Kau man as a label  for the fundamental atomic combinations required for biological development. Evolution occurs one step at a time. There had to be many contributions and breakthroughs before I could sit down and write this book. Magicians don’t just create new things. Steven Johnson. and the size of each step is limited: nature must rst create the cells in leaves that can capture the energy of the sun before it can produce a ower. saying that our collective ideas advance with the same limitations. and questions the standard settings of the three levers.

but I’d suggest that it’s more representational of not reassessing the objectives of the work in light of new opportunities. because our reaction. Henry Ford famously said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted. We should be iterating on how we answer our needs. is always disbelief. Turning avocado into caviar. the already established format of transportation. Our 55 . more reliable medical technology – while others seem to come out of nowhere. not the form that it takes. for example. not pushing from the inside of  it. That choice is an inspired one. This type of question is speci c enough to be observable.faster computers. The most important advancements. and not necessarily on the way our old solutions have taken shape. The faster horse is a recombination of the three levers in a predictable way: the customer’s answer is staunchly loyal to the horse. the “magical” innovations we produce. is not a logical conclusion in the kitchen. we know that the faster horse is a testament to the limited imagination of customers. The root of our practice is located in the usefulness of the work. You can always spot these brilliant inventions as instances of magic. but exible enough to be approached in a variety of di erent ways. much like Achatz’s rst meal at elBulli. happen by a visionary pulling from the outside of the adjacent possible. It’s easy to think that the way to improve life is to iterate on the things that we already have. they would have said a faster horse. and ask a How question: How can horses be better? Asking a Why question leads us to a di erent conclusion: Why are horses important? Because they quickly and reliably get us from one place to another. A Why question de nes our need and uses an objective to create a satisfactory outcome for the work. but that is a trap of limited imagination. Of course. They are inside of the adjacent possible.

and Marie Curies – do not stand on the inside of what is possible and push. our Billie Holidays. one can ri on how the elements interplay and come to exceptional ends. It begins with the proper mindset. The work of these individuals is lauded and momentous. like the a ordances of a screen in the 56 . Disneys. The designer can then make decisions that use the de ned function as guidance. An understanding of the three levers provides a structure to conceive of fresh con gurations. our Gutenbergs. We should look around us to see what available resources are not being fully used. Similar questioning should also be directed towards the form of the work. The inquiry emphasizes the project’s true purpose and sheds any false presumptions about how to do the work or what it should be. but a similar e ect is not out of our reach. Part of the exploration for novel design is using the materials at our disposal. especially those whose full potential have not been realized. tone. Using the structure and a ordances of content. It ensures the design’s relevancy by forcing one to ask about its consequence in the world. they imagine what is just outside of what we deem possible and pull us towards their vision of what is better. The same ways of thinking and working are available for us to mold our own processes and shape our craft. established by asking Why questions to de ne the true objectives of the work. They can see through the fog of the unexplored spaces and notice a way forward.magicians – our Henry Fords. and format. The fruits of this questioning de ne and emphasize the cornerstone of successful design: the work rst must be useful before it can transcend utility into something visionary. and the successes of the past suggest a method for how to continue. There’s a pattern to seizing latent opportunity to produce unprecedented outcomes.

Walt Disney. There’s a desire for an honest assessment. The mis t creative individual is stubbornly unwilling to abide by anyone else’s vision of the world without rst testing those assumptions. or the new ingredients Adrià used at elBulli. The true purpose of the process is to create an accurate picture of the world. It is a simple thought. Often. This gap creates the opportunity for people like Henry Ford. and conclude that there is enough room for a great leap forward. allows us to perform the most important magic: to make the world grow by revealing what was right before our eyes. but one way to have a creative process come to di erent ends is by beginning with new materials. what we perceive to be possible dims in comparison to what we can actually do. which alters the tone’s qualities as it negotiates those modi cations. and the imagination it inspires. and all the other magicians who have expanded what we think of the world. 57 . Our questioning. This method modi es either the content or the format. because we can only create what we want by understanding what is achievable. The creative mis ts ask their questions to realize the line’s true location.promotional materials for the concert. The rest of us believe the line that de nes what is possible is much closer to our feet than it actually may be. We must know the edges of the adjacent possible before we can begin to imagine making the world better.

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our businessmen. I try to nd a chair to hide behind. Perhaps my embarrassment comes from a private activity made public by its discovery. the speaker and listener are bonded. even if only to oneself. Speaking to ourselves is a crude tool to hack our way toward clearer thinking. I cover my eyes. but the world as it will be…. I’ve just disappeared. The man you saw talking to himself was only a part of your imagination. The Russian polymath Mikhail Bakhtin declared that the primary 61 . in turn. our everyman must take on a science ctional way of thinking. that makes the mind work. Our verbal cowpaths are paved through conversation. pull my cap down. But in spite of its obvious bene ts. I freeze. Speaking requires an audience. means that our statesmen. they won’t see me. I become self-conscious when I’m caught talking to myself. and pretend that if I can’t see them. Or it could be that to be caught speaking without a listener is suspicious and embarrassing.“No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is.” There’s something about speaking.This. I’m not here.

The needs and desires of the audience are bonded to the capabilities of the client under the auspicious hope that they compliment and enable one another. who commissions the work. the audience. who sees or uses it. similarly. who produces the artifact that will join the client and audience to one another in a relationship. and perhaps this is a clue as to why we talk to ourselves: we monologue to listen. It should move like a provocative word: out. The point of speaking. it is never just the designer’s hands doing the shaping.position in conversation is the one listening rather than the speaker. but also works to establish the vocabulary we use to de ne the terms of our engagements with one another. then it passes to another to use. One must have an audience to begin to speak. The results of our e orts must move toward others. As such. The presence of the audience is what imbues the designer’s work with its worth. design must move to be e ective. and likewise creating. All design springs from a complex social ecosystem created by multiple parties’ interests weaving together to produce the design. The design of a book connects the author and her ideas to the reader by complimenting her writing. The players in the arrangement are familiar: the client. is to have someone there to receive. One set of hands makes the work. The design of a restaurant is meant to fuse with the chef ’s culinary approach to create a more provocative and full 62 . whether by lling needs or communicating with an audience. In this guise. and the designer in the middle. The best way to describe design is that it seeks to connect things by acting as a bridge between them. design not only becomes a way to push toward a desirable future. and then around.

The practice’s hybrid quality breeds di erent opportunities than either practice can alone. like all shape-shifters. The work’s qualities are de ned by the characteristics of what surrounds it. The eld is in ux. As described earlier. always being neither this nor that. allowing for a special sort of 63 . but rather than acting as an obstruction. As the elements connected by design change. One way that design nds itself in the middle is by its ability to establish the tone of the work. does the design. A wise design choice nds the tone that can slip between the content and format. like how the negative space between two closely placed parallel lines creates a third line. because there is a wide variety of characteristics in what design connects. which makes it frustrating to try to pin down. evasive and slippery. design seeks to negotiate the qualities of the content with the a ordances of the format to produce a cohesive whole greater than the sum of the parts. We’re that third line. but it does not anchor. It means that design lives in the borderlands – it connects. The design is always the middle position. It is. Design’s ability to connect requires it to be in the middle position. The work must provide a path without having a speci c way of its own.dining experience for the eater. Web design connects the user to the site’s owner and o ers a venue for the connection to develop and grow. so. it should be the mortar that holds the arrangement together. snap into place. and bond one to another. The qualities of design consistently change. Design also nds itself in the middle of art and commerce. frequently shifting in order to serve and respond to the elements around us. too. This situation largely describes many of the formal challenges faced by designers in their work.

The most useful bridges. rather than the halls of a museum where they must be visitors. The content and the format. If value is expected to be mutually exchanged. because they have been built out of our desire to go somewhere else. Design’s middle position requires it to aid movement in both directions. for instance. both mold the appropriate choices for the tone. allow tra c to go both ways. because they seek to connect the physical world with the spiritual realm. The products of design maneuver in the streets of the city where people live. after all. it means that in uence on the design will come in both directions from the things the design connects. Design can speak the tongue of art with the force of commerce. but are creations that bridge in-between spaces to provide a way toward an intended outcome. Even cathedrals could be considered spaces of transit. Airports and train stations are other examples of non-autonomous creations that exist as in-between spaces. just as a cathedral that doesn’t inspire awe is a failure.in uence on culture. It means that the products of design are not autonomous objects. and make money in a way that has more soul and spill-over bene ts than straight commerce. A train station that doesn’t create a lust for exploration is awed. which means that the work of the designer can go further in shaping culture than a traditional piece of art. The design must be transformative for it to be successful. It must take us somewhere. Design is akin to these places in that their usefulness is de ned by the consequences of the connections they facilitate. Art and commerce each push and pull on the design. There needn’t be the pressure of artistic credibility or commercial pro tability always present. 64 . Design’s connective role is meant to support the movement of value from one place to another for a full exchange.

because the designer adds a third in uence to the mix. that the requirements of each individual in this tangle of interest will be the same. simply because things must move two ways at once for a full exchange. There is no guarantee. She is trying to satiate her own creative needs in the work as well. From a social perspective. One point of complication is that these negotiations frequently happen during production. so the audience is not yet present. Nothing is ever clear-cut when working in a shapeshifting practice to negotiate complicated terrain. The parties’ values don’t have to be in parity. Bridging two things means a bond with both of them. because it means that the designer is being paid by the client. a necessary duplicity. 65 . therefore. This makes the whole arrangement precarious. as many experienced designers can attest. for it is the audience’s presence that imbues the work with its value. acts as a proxy for the audience’s needs while arguing for her own creative concerns. their desires simply have to be compatible for the work to have a chance at success. Design’s twofaced behavior is a product of its middle position between the elements it connects. in fact. the client and the audience both have a say in the design decisions. The designer. Each comes to the design requiring something di erent. We are molding a complex. so our approach to improving our conditions and shaping the world should be the same way. Some trickery is necessary to get things moving once they are connected. Our duplicity is no bad thing. The last is perhaps the most complicated. multi-faceted setting. it is necessary. but is obligated to the audience. Those di erences mean it is design’s job to negotiate the problem space – to create a way for the connection to be built. It is a double-allegiance.because the work must be artful as well as pro table.

We speak bene cial untruths that act as hypotheses. We weave an illusion and imagine ourselves fteen pounds lighter. Consider how we behave on New Year’s Eve when we make our resolutions. An alluring. Modern people. giving more time to our 66 . and o er a way to attain it.Untruths are what initiate change. from the perceived ethereal wisdom in the entrails of ritual livestock in ancient Rome. The only question is whether the fabrication improves our lot or buckles under us. because we understand that it’s something to be made rather than a destiny imposed by the gods or the whims of fortune. Our interpretations of tomorrow are productive ctions that we tell one another to seduce us into believing our ideas are possible. better world. unlike the ancients. The future is pliable. unknown. We’ve invented a suite of ways to grapple with the future throughout the course of human history. We irt with the future and poke at it in order to believe we exert some control over what’s to come. because they describe an imagined. On the other side of today there is vagueness – a multitude of directions the world could sway. We work to change ction into fact when we attempt to better our condition. to the calculated metrics in the odds of a boxing match in Vegas. have a di erent relationship with the future. forcing us to roll up our sleeves and work with cleverness and dedication to bring them to fruition. productive untruth is frequently what’s necessary to get things going. so be it. The areas of uncertainty get lled up with speculation. and weighty. If this means divining some imposed meaning from tea leaves. Future arrangements begin in our mind as images of things that don’t exist. Tantalizing visions of the future are the lure that gets us to bite.

Each fabrication creates a second version of the world where the untruth is true. Consider an entrepreneur standing before a few investors describing a technology she’s developing. or phoning home more often. Every untruth forks reality and opens up a gap between what is imagined to exist and what actually does. 67 . or the better citizen. like a snake-oil salesman that goes from town to town promising medicine. undermining the stability of our arrangements rather than helping to build new things or strengthen existing structures. The work. Her proposal forks reality: we live in a world where the technology hasn’t been applied yet. at this point. and the world she wants it to be. but as we know. and all she has are promising lab tests. all ction would improve our collective condition. but selling swill. but the vision that the entrepreneur weaves about potential opportunity and pro t determines whether or not the investors choose to risk their money.community. She is speculating about the potential applications of her research. Snake-oil salesmen fork reality just like the visionary. Molding the world works the same way. but they have no intention of closing the gap that opens up with their lie. We use that image of ourselves as motivation as we work to close the gap between what we’ve imagined and what is true. They invest if they perceive she can close the gap between the world as it is that day. We fabricate ourselves into better people to inspire the actions necessary to become the tter husband. Fiction can also be corrosive and deteriorate the foundations of what’s already been built. not everyone is interested in making good on their promises. hasn’t been applied in the market. In an ideal situation. Lies corrode our understanding of reality by misrepresenting it. the more loving daughter.

we can also lead them o a cli . optimistic. We have a hunger for a better condition. Instead. The only way forward is through something we’ve never done. pivots. 68 .The salesman doesn’t tell an untruth in order to get us to work towards it. Every time we tell an untruth. if nothing else. he misrepresents what is in front of us so that we buy into a mirage. It’s a messy distinction. and politics are so sticky and often mistrusted: the language we use to build the world is so close to what can be used to undermine it. But the threat of a cli is the cost of the pasture. and we are. and grows when we close the gaps of our untruths. and it’s why design. we confess that the world is not yet done. so we run full speed into the great imagined unknown to make this world for one another. A willingness to imagine things di erently and suspend our disbelief for one another are the interfaces we create to shape the world. The world swells. Design and persuasion are manipulative. and if we have the skills to seduce others toward green pastures. rhetoric.

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The responsive creativity that design requires is similar to what installation artist Robert Irwin started to do with his art in the 1970s. he will fall.“We sail within a vast sphere. Design is always in motion. and vanishes for ever. slips past us.” The tightrope walker nds his balance by keeping his momentum. Irwin would make no formal plans before arriving at the gallery where his work was to be shown. he will throw his balance o . there are no xed points in our design work. If he stands still. swinging his arms up and down. Like him. if he locks up his limbs. He stays on the wire by moving in response. We must respond and move. it eludes our grasp. and steadily setting one foot in front of the other. we either sway with it or we get thrown o the line. driven from end to end. ever drifting in uncertainty. simply because the work moves and the space around design shifts as culture changes and the adjacent possible grows. no opportunities to stop and hold still. he’d walk into 71 . Instead. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it. it wavers and leaves us. Nothing stays for us. and if we follow it.

more like listening than speaking. assessing the shape of the room. where he merely changed the uorescent lighting by alternating cool and warm bulbs. The process is mostly waiting. like his installation at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. It is the designer’s job to gure out a way to have a problem show its actual self so that he can respond to the truth that has emerged. like his piece at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. their true face emerges for the camera. stretching a piece of scrim below the lights like a second ceiling. One of the points that frequently comes up is that the majority of their job is to wait for the person to reveal their true self so that they can make an accurate portrait of their subject. installation. where Irwin lled a large wall with uorescent lights organized into interlocking modules shaped like Tetris pieces. In either case. or design. He would then devise a plan and conceptualize the art based on his observations. whether in portraiture. Irwin’s process is to show up and let the context speak what it requires to him. The space became his material. The relationship Irwin has with the space reminds me of a few conversations I’ve had with portrait photographers about their work. The subject’s guard is still up. and stringing wire across the length of the room at eye level to prevent the viewer’s eyes from focusing. because earlier exposures always feel rigid and false.the room and spend a great deal of time observing the qualities of the space. and most photographers say that the best shots come at the end of the session. The necessities and in uence of subject and context. and judging its light. each piece was an ad hoc exploration. The art he produced was a direct response to the context of his work. take time to unfold. Other rooms called for more minimal tactics. Sometimes the space would suggest more grandiose pieces. 72 . but eventually.

… Intuition replaced logic. then tests it with his eyes. 73 . Logical thinking has a tendency to break when all the parts are moving. Irwin’s gaze.” In other words. the right solution would presently announce itself. makes a modi cation. You can never know the full of a problem. His process favors eld-testing on-site by improvising in response to the context. Irwin’s process begins by listening: to the room. and the work as he is making it. so Irwin speculates with his gut. because there is never comprehensive information available. They are objects whose existence is rooted in the need that they serve. I just attended to the circumstances. You have to simply draw the line somewhere and make up the rest as you go along. not be any particular thing. of hairline readjustments. The forms that designers produce are exible. his intuition. and there is no state of completion.Getting to know a problem is a bit like getting to know a person: it’s a gradual process that requires patience. The physical forms of Irwin’s work are not the emphasis of his practice. also contains the space around his work and how his piece relates to its context. Irwin describes his process. saying. going near and far just like the painter in the studio. so long as the results serve the need. I think this pattern also ts with the way that design operates: the products of design are just the means to an end. The primary purpose of the design is to have it do something particular. however. He summons a more human metric to forecast decisions by using instinct instead of logic. All of this implies that design is a eld of outcomes and consequences more than one of artifacts. They are only meant to collaborate with the space and not intended to have any sort of signi cance themselves. He then enters a dialogue with the space. “I took to waiting for the world to tell me so that I could respond. and after weeks and weeks of observation.

and a curved chair made of cardboard by Frank Gehry. A chair. 74 . and all the chairs are of similar size that is based on the proportions of the human body. They guide the designer to certain inevitable conclusions which are necessary to have the design ll the need it seeks to serve. What might I get back? We have a multiplicity of chairs from three di erent designers: a tall rocking chair from the Shakers. must follow certain proportions to comfortably hold a human body. There are certain similarities and patterns in the chairs. Suppose I sent a design brief to a few designers asking them to design a chair. all form a cradle for the sitter. because the objectives of the work act as a constraint on the process. Each chair has a seat. for instance.Let me give an example. a bent plywood seat from the Eames O ce. The constants of the designs are determined by the unavoidable logistical issues that must be addressed to make the design useful.

and this provides plenty of space for di erent takes and perspectives.Traditional Shaker Chair 1 0s Molded Plywood Lounge Chair. Their responses are a negotiation of the problem with its context. 1 But the three chairs clearly have di erences in structure and style. The Eames O ce. The success of one design. Multiplicity will always crop up with design. even in spite of constraints. xed solutions. and the designers are a part of that context. because the work is subjective and without xed solutions. Grouping the chairs together makes it evident that each design is an attempt to ll the need of sitting seen through the lens of each designer’s disposition. Design can have diversity in its solutions to problems without compromising the success of any of them. The products of design are more negotiations of issues and responses to problems than absolute. One approach does not negate the quality of 75 . 1 Wiggle Chair Frank Gehry. does not suggest that the others are less useful or not as good. however.

Simultaneously. for instance. Hitting the bullseye is only ever a temporary state.another. because plywood did not exist. which opened up new opportunities to rethink how chairs were made. that target moves out from underneath it. but also because they were made at various times in di erent cultures. never mind the technology to bend the wood. Gehry’s cardboard chair. even if they had the technology needed to produce it. the best design recalibrates what we think and how we feel about what surrounds us. but legs are only necessary to support the seat at a proper height. has no legs. we should pull another arrow from our quiver and celebrate the moving target as the way we inch toward better 76 . Our chairs di er because of the dispositions of their makers. meaning that when our work hits the target. A Shaker. The adjacent possible had expanded in the one hundred years between the rst Shaker chair and the Eames’ chair. Gehry was able to scrap them because he found a di erent way to lift the seat. The shifting bullseye suggests that we should reconsider our conception of design as a problem-solving endeavor. could not have created the Eames’ chair. Time and place have a large impact on the products of design. There is no guarantee that the Shakers would have found the Eames’ chair desirable to make. because they dictate what is possible. and rather than seeing that as a problem. The two shine on one another: culture changes what it expects from design after design changes culture. so the comfort of a Shaker chair does not imply that the other two are uncomfortable simply because they are different. Culture also has an e ect on the products of design. The relationship of design and culture presents another two-way bridge where in uence goes both ways: culture creates design’s target by de ning what is desirable. for instance.

circumstances. We should embrace the subjective nature of what we do and allow for the multiplicity of responses to thrive, because the mixed pool represents the diversity of human perspective. That diversity forti es us, makes us strong. Most of all, we should build movement into our de nition of the craft and its successful outcomes. The best design acts as a form of loosely composed, responsive movement, and seeks to have all the adjacent elements sway together. This is a generous de nition, much greater than just problem solving, because the best design has to o er much more than making problems go away. Design can also build up good, desirable artifacts, experiences, and situations that are additive forces in this world. It helps us live well by producing and elevating new kinds of value, such as engagement, participation, and happiness. These are design’s true outcomes, because the practice, at its root, is simply people making useful things for other people. It’s life-enhancement, and we can make it for one another, so long as we act responsively and keep our momentum moving forward, just like the man on the tightrope.

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” . The next portion looked at motion through the lens of the work’s cultural context. and how the motion that surrounds the work should be incorporated into the designer’s decisions through a responsiveness that sways with the work’s context. narrative becomes an essential component to design. because nothing moves as quickly and spreads so far as a good story. 81 . there is an opportunity to achieve a resonance that emotionally moves the audience. the work continues its movement by being passed around and shared. It explained how the world advances by expanding the adjacent possible and shifting culture. Great design moves. If we’re interested in having the work resonate and propagate. In the rst part of the book. After publication. and if successful. The motion continues once the work leaves the hands of its creator and moves to the audience.“Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story. the internal movements of the maker were assessed as an opportunity for improvisation by using the a ordances of formal structures like the three levers as a framework.

We use them to describe who we are. in fact. because it feels like it has an inert potential to go somewhere. such as the Iroquois story of how the earth came to be on the back of a turtle. and even fewer achieve the painting’s cultural resonance as to be able to be spoofed as often as it has since it was made seventy years ago. where we are going. A myth about how Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships is just as much a story as a coworker’s tale about their shoelace snapping on their lunch break. A story. whether they know the painting’s title or not: it depicts a few people sitting in a nearly empty 1940s New York diner at night. as long as it feels like it is about to head somewhere good. All Americans are familiar with Nighthawks. what we believe. The scope of these tales is daunting. It’s become an object of habitual storytelling for me.Stories are a given – they permeate all cultures and interpretations of life. I have a print of it that sits in the drawer of my desk. and where we came from. and the scale and scope of that change doesn’t matter so long as it has momentum. but it thwarts my e orts to gure out exactly where. but the stories we weave need not be grand. or the ancient Greek tale of Prometheus stealing re from Zeus and giving it to man. My favorite example of a dead-end story is Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks. doesn’t even need to go anywhere. Few pieces of art have the level of recognition that it enjoys. We create myths about our own origins. A story is simply change over time. Narrative is such a fundamental way of thinking that there are even theories that say that stories are how we construct reality for ourselves. or the Egyptian Hapi bringing fertility to the land by ooding the Nile. Why has it risen to such stature in our collective consciousness? What is it about this painting that makes it so sticky? 82 .

Many have created their own stories about Nighthawks: Joyce Carol Oates wrote monologues for each of the characters. lumbering into some unknown future. and like most of Hopper’s work. All of the paint has been applied. What is absent matters just as much as what is present. staring o into some void. Hopper’s lure is that the painting lacks a story. and Tom Waits made a whole album about it. but so many details are up for grabs. but we must serve ourselves. creating a tension between what is said and what is implied. Nighthawks is a detective story. I think about how the painting was made shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. No matter who is nishing the painting for Hopper. It’s a framework for a story where everything has been established save the plot itself. The painting is lacking. and I think to myself how I would kill to have this sort of rapt attention on anything that I’ve ever made.We’re attracted to the painting because it is not nished. I see eyes glazed by the uncertainty of what the future holds. The quality of the painting pulls us in and requires us to complete it. I imagine mouths unable to develop their feelings into words. it concerns a void. viewers project themselves into Nighthawks and read the image depending on how they see themselves. He sets the table for us. but there’s a gap that frustrates the viewer from deducing what is happening in the picture. the magazine Der Spiegel commissioned ve di erent dramatizations of the painting. I see a woman whose relationship may collapse and a group of men who may have to go to war. it requires us to contribute something of ourselves in order to ll the void and nish it. They all sit in silence. There are a few touchstones that guide our stories. I divine all of this from a painting. I see four individuals with the wind knocked out of them by catastrophic events. and what we say suggests something about us. The reason Nighthawks 83 .

but the music doesn’t look like it’s very good. On critique days. “This one seems to work really well. and illustrations. and students were forced to explore the potential of purely visual communication without the additional complications of meaning that come with typography. Our tools were color. because it feels like I’m being sucked down into a vortex. Those questions will be answered. How would one create a composition to describe dissonance? How can color and line be used to make something look joyful? After a few weeks. I began noticing a pattern in how the students discussed the work. and we practiced methods of using those building blocks to emotively communicate ideas.has such a compelling hook is because it raises an interesting question with so many clues. photographs.” “It’s like a middle school dance. It makes me dizzy. form. Some shapes are dancing. even if we have to do it ourselves. students would provide feedback through stories.” I was surprised by how e ective this mode of feedback became to the students. because it seems that this triangle is too aggressive. I instructed a class called Graphic Design Systems.” “That circle probably has bad breath. Yet the quality of the painting makes us perceive the answer must lie within. almost like it’s angry at the squares. blue squiggles. and clusters of lines. and composition. Narrative is a device we use to make sense of unfamiliar or unresolved things. like I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole like Alice. In my rst few years teaching graphic design.” “I’m not sure that this composition feels joyful. when we were all faced with a wall of red circles. They were having more meaningful conversations 84 . All work was to be abstract and nonrepresentational. but never answers it.

tells a story by suggesting urgency or relaxation as the lines expand or contract. Storytelling is one of the most e cient communication methods we’ve devised. Everyone always knew what was expected after the session. but they were well-versed in human relationships. After a series of quiet. but wonderfully speci c in consequence. the take-aways were always vague in words. are changes over time. so all the shapes want to move. Slowly decreasing or increasing the line height of a block of text. a publication might choose to 85 . as stated earlier. is possible by using the passage of time as a reader goes down the page or moves from spread to spread. and they foster a sensitivity to speci cs and create empathy inside of the listener. Make those shapes get on better. The lessons of a story are easy to deduce. you’ll nd the point of the story. After a critique.about the work by telling stories rather than by describing the formal qualities of the compositions. so it made sense to discuss the work through that lens. typographic spreads. Similarly. so if you pay attention to what changes. And somebody get that circle a mint. Its e ectiveness is why so much of the wisdom and insight about what it means to be human is wrapped up in fables and parables. This also implies that if we are looking for ways to use narrative in our work as a design material. The students had limited experience in talking about the relationships of form on the page. for instance. even though the logistics of doing so weren’t captured in the words. The students were personifying and manipulating compositional elements in a kind of collaborative storytelling exercise. all we need to do is ask where the time passes to nd the story’s proper place. magazine designers spend incredible amounts of time ordering and pacing their publications spread by spread. Telling a story with design in a magazine or book. Let the dance be fun. for example. creating an experience for the reader as they ip through. All stories.

and comics. and her story closed the gap. I’m still learning about the use of these conversations. of course. or maybe the application detects that it has been a week since the user has last opened it. the passing of time could be implied by the user’s scroll. She was describing the change in her over time. listening and nodding. I have fond memories. of how my parents would sit at the kitchen table before serving dinner and talk to one another about their day. music. narrative is also a device that creates empathy. but my father was always there. There is an opportunity to tell a story whenever time can be assumed and pace can be controlled. because time is already in the material’s nature. I’m also telling them to better understand those events myself. Even now. Drip email campaigns can also be mechanisms for storytelling. narrative can be created by changing the design of the same billboard over the course of a few months. In advertising. obvious in areas like lm. which allows us to better understand one another and ourselves.run a splashy design with few words and a large photo to capture the reader’s attention. And narrative is. bridging the void between her and my father that developed throughout the day. and realizing that while they may bene t the other person and help them to understand me. from when I was young. I catch myself telling similar stories about my day. In addition to conveying information and entertaining. We can ll the gap between what we know of ourselves and what is actually there by going through the motions 86 . There was distance between them. My sister and I weren’t terribly interested in the o ce politics at my mother’s job. In interaction design. then responds accordingly. Now that I’m older. I realize that the point of those chats was to give my mother an opportunity to tell a story so that my father could understand why she was a di erent person that night compared to when she left for work in the morning.

The movie concerns a robot living on Earth in the distant future where the planet has been abandoned by humans. And I’ll admit it: in a moment of weakness. because it has been made (he’s only able to say his own name and a small set of chirps and whistles). or anything else that has ever had any life to it. a robot made me cry. tiger. and hitches a ride into space to alert the humans that life can be supported on the planet again. and I have to wonder if the inverse is true. it becomes more human. Story has the ability to humanize things that weren’t thought to be alive before. the lm is able to tap into an emotional core. to make us laugh. His successes are our successes. “That’s the point of movies – to entertain us. The audience is able power and propulsion of excellent storytelling. and that power of storytelling. Stories become our gateway to understanding our own lives as well as the lives of others.again. because despite the limitations of a robot as a lead character. cry. If you take a robot and add a story. even if he is just a circuit board. he is not a sh. In 2008. Pixar released its feature lm . He is a mute. yet the narrative masterfully sustains momentum for life on Earth in a small sprout. and his pains are our pains. feel. If you took 87 .” I suppose these are all true. You might say. animated hunk of metal with no life essence that has somehow been given such an emotional depth that he holds us – enraptured – for two hours.

Ogilvy was able to create empathy in the passersby. It was late April in New York. by adding a story. the beggar didn’t hear much. and he asked for permission to modify the sign around the man’s neck. and uncertain of what Ogilvy did to the sign. would they become something less worthy of sympathy? There’s an old story about David Ogilvy. because he was unable to tell how much money was in it by looking. 88 . The poor man slouched in a corner and would occasionally hold the cup up to his ear to give it a rattle. asked what words were added. Ogilvy said hello to the beggar. on his way home. Ogilvy was in good spirits that day. Upon receiving consent. That night. One morning on his walk to work. The beggar. that seems to deal with storytelling as an avenue to create empathy. Ogilvy explained what he did for a living when the beggar thanked him. when the air is beginning to warm. who would have ignored the blind man.a person and removed their story. he took the sign and added a few words. one of the original mad men that established the dominance of the advertising eld in the 50s and 60s. and dropped a contribution into the cup. and was pleased to see his cup over owing. Most days. frazzled with his success. and there’s a peaceful pause before the city falls into the oppressive heat of summer. He decided to help the beggar. Ogilvy saw a beggar with a sign around his neck.

The story moves. the feelings I project onto one of my favorite paintings. but in its telling creates another shared experience for the speaker and listener. or the connections between people once they are given the language to empathize.” Stories with elevation let us empathize. it keeps a hint of the wisp of the last voice that told it. Empathy is the feeling that most makes us human. is everyone’s life. The stories we tell represent bigger things. to produce a hand-o of understanding between a group of people. Each story that’s remembered signi es something noteworthy that has been comprehended. remembering that it seems to come not through messages or happy endings or sad ones. A good story speaks to the experience of someone else. the bond between my parents. and he had it told to him by a former coworker around a camp re at a company retreat. 89 . Stories spread through a human network. whether it is exceptional or of the everyday. And I think that this gets us to the most important aspect of narrative: the quality of the story is a second-rate concern so long as we empathize with the person it is about and care for the one telling it. Roger Ebert described the speci cs eloquently by calling the goal “elevation. whether it is a take on the beginning of the world. but in moments when characters we believe in … achieve something good. and retains a bit of the luster of the last shared moment it made. The tale of the blind man’s sign is also about storytelling. closely observed. It also suggests what we should seek to do with the stories we tell.I love that story. In the particular is the universal. they branch and expand. “I would consciously look for Elevation. and with each telling. I rst heard it from a friend over a cocktail at an airport bar. because it speaks to the best of what we can do for one another.” saying. … One human life.

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Stories speak to the rst and frameworks to the latter.“The question. One of the more central questions that design must now address is how one produces an enticing environment for conversation. and creativity. and you will contribute a verse. opinions. community. That you are here – that life exists. it seems silly to not have a way to gather their thoughts. A framework is the bridge that connects the designer to the audience and goes both ways. recurring – What good amid these. It also nicely resolves a thought that crosses my mind frequently while working: “What if the audience is smarter than I am?” If the audience knows more about what they need than the designer does. O life? Answer. Frameworks are the structures that allow for contributions to be made to the products of design. and increasingly. O me. it has become the work of the designer to create  these frameworks. and proposed 91 . and identity. That the powerful play goes on.” There are two successful outcomes when a design focuses on its audience: resonance and engagement. O me! so sad.

Largely. The framework wasn’t the poem. It gives designer and audience shared ownership of the products of design.solutions. The results of the improvisation are built up through dialogue between many individuals. if e ective. Earlier I discussed improvisation as it applies to a personal creative process. improv is a social act. And so all of the tenets 92 . A good framework is an enticing means of contribution and an invaluable feedback mechanism. to have those individuals interact with one another as a community of contributors. I’m reminded of the Japanese renga mentioned earlier. but the structure and methods employed to help produce it. I think all of these patterns apply to contemporary frameworks as well: there is the action that needs to be done. the tension of creating a worthwhile larger work. All frameworks are implicitly social in that they are an environment where conversation. a true synthesis of requirements. whether it is a group of jazz musicians sharing a stage and trading fours. with social etiquette layered on top. they reap the rewards of an intelligent and experienced audience. but more frequently. and building occur. The goal is the same now as it was in the time of the renga – to build something of quality. the practices that make for good improvisation produce good frameworks. to have others contribute something of themselves in the process. or a troupe of improv comedians feeding one another material to get laughs. because both are created to help initiate creative work and encourage contributions from others. sharing. and the social etiquette necessary to pull it all o . They’re collaborative. and these elements interacted to create the materials for the poets’ interaction. There were rules and limitations to the game. where the poets would contribute lines and daisy-chain them together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Frameworks open up a valve of communication and contribution.

the salt was an agent of change that she could use to contribute to the meal. was the framework. which brings us back to “Yes. so the materials need to trade hands frequently. and the saltbox was the structure that allowed her to contribute. and then appended by someone else. The saltbox. her mother would ask her to add a bit of salt to the pot while the meal was on the stove simmering..” Momentum also matters here. That’s why you can trust a child to help with dinner without ruining the meal: it’s a small e ort with low risk. and this speaks to the bene ts of a successful framework: it’s not 93 . and it becomes even more rewarding when everyone can see how their part has in uenced other aspects of the creation. Maybe the soup needs more salt. Contributions must be accepted. but she’s the one who imbues it with avor by adding salt. I think the process of salting is an apt analogy for a creative o ering. Liz Danzico likes to frame up her experiences of contribution by telling a story about a saltbox that hung beside her mother’s stove while she was growing up.. because the soup in the pot isn’t Liz’s creation. The feedback loop is purposefully tight. Occasionally. because they can observe the in uence of their actions and make changes if needed. Salting happens one pinch at a time – it is a gradual process – with success determined by tasting afterwards. We judge what we’ve done by testing the change we’ve created. Salt releases the food’s natural avors when applied judiciously..that in uence improvisation on an individual level also need to be applied collectively for frameworks. with tight feedback loops to quickly incorporate each contribution to the whole. if you will. and. Salting was a way for her to participate in making dinner. but big rewards. and that’s how a good framework should feel for the audience when they contribute. There’s a special satisfaction in contributing to something. The path is self-correcting.

then improvisation is the blueprint for creating these interactions. The music did indeed spring from the limitations Davis wrote on those slips 94 . when something is out of balance. with each of their contributions part of the dialogue that establishes the characteristics of the project and the direction it will take. Frameworks have always existed. The designer and audience are now wed in co-authorship. The proximity of the audience to the work should be considered an overlap of interest. Improvisation’s ability to manage the contributions of others and lead them to a desirable outcome makes it a prime lens to view and understand these new requirements. If resonance and engagement are our goals. Consider salt in a cookie: we only taste it when there’s too much or not enough. But frameworks have a tendency to disappear when they are intuitive and carefully planned. because when the balance is just right. like salt. is credited as an album by Miles Davis. but now also experiences and interactions that provide the path for audience engagement. it is an album made collaboratively with all the other musicians in the studio. and posters. for example. but. We are no longer only designing logos. in truth. Kind of Blue. brochures. It enhances what they already intend to do and increases the quality of what they would have been able to achieve on their own. Designers must manage a new kind of conversation around their work. we hardly realize it’s there. We typically only notice frameworks. but their importance has been ampli ed by the presence of the internet and the opportunities that the web a ords. because connectivity has created new opportunities for audiences to contribute.the main dish. from game design to the o ce suggestion box. because our attention is on the wonderful fruits of the process. but a meaningful addition to what the audience already wants to achieve.

One could say that Davis’ genius with Kind of Blue was introducing that gentle touch to jazz. but once providing the framework. then a name. a verb there. they are frustrating and unclear to the audience and squelch any inkling of interest in participating. and presto: you get a funny story. Again. Bad choices in frameworks. the solution is for the designer to sway responsively to the shifting context of the work with the contributions of the audience.of paper. A gentle touch. have a tendency to feel too limiting. place an adjective here. is all that’s needed to guide things in the right direction. Stepping out of the way requires a new way of thinking. but then step out of the way to see where the audience takes those purposeful limitations. The key is to understand when to surrender control and let the audience drive. The framework limits what words go where. A good set of well-chosen rules makes the contributor feel like they are already halfway done: all that is left to do is to sort out the details and execute their idea. drop them in. because the designer can no longer command the whole ecosystem of the work if others are contributing. Imagine if the MadLib asked for a present participle that modi es a noun as 95 . and when to exert authority to focus everyone’s e ort to ensure a more meaningful outcome. more often than not. he wisely stepped back and relinquished complete control and authorship. The control that designers so often desire is undermined through an unpredictable collaboration with the audience. however. and then read what funny nonsense results. Designers should do the same with the frameworks they produce. They should begin by setting good restrictions that act as suggestions. A good example would be the easy hand-holding of a MadLib – name a few words. favoring a few simple scales over the elaborate sca olding of Bebop.

frameworks. to a large extent. and their design decisions establish how the audience contributes and how they relate to one another as individuals. which is a shame. The contributions of the audience fortify the work. and the social web. Most relationships are asynchronous and anonymous. The start of the internet produced a lot of discussion about “netiquette” to establish the social norms that would dictate our interactions in this new and unfamiliar digital space. The tools we have shape how we use them. Believing that a simple one-to-one translation of the norms we have in physical space should work in digital space underestimates the in uence that our new connectivity has over the way we socialize. Manners underscore what we feel is proper. 96 . Designers need to think about setting these rules. because they exist to grease and ease social interactions. I have a friend who collects etiquette books. Our initial attempts at netiquette translated our existing manners into the digital space. We were correct. so etiquette also becomes a concern for the designer. Etiquette is composed of the rules of engagement.an adjective. and it’s only recently that I think I’ve come to understand why she does this. because while the web has become increasingly social. we haven’t developed many new social protocols to handle the glut of demands created by socializing online. and how we interact when we’re together. Frameworks are collaborative and social in nature. to bring along the behaviors that come from kindness and politeness. The value proposition for contributing becomes an unappealing one. The books highlight the important points of our engagements with one another. but collective socializing online is not a mirror image of doing so in physical space. and solidify the community around the design. Those conversations have largely vanished in the past two decades. create identi cation and ownership in them.

The story about Ogilvy and the blind beggar speaks to the consequences of when the personhood of an individual is amplied or minimized. The human presence changes behavior. Ogilvy created a space for empathy by telling a story, and I think that the decisions of a designer can in uence whether or not users empathize with one another when huddled around a framework. Empathy is crucial in these cases, because frameworks are the means to build up things collaboratively. Let me give an example. A few weeks ago, I was using an application on my phone that is essentially a framework for sharing photos with friends. These friends can comment on the photos and favorite them. There is a screen in the application that lets you look at the updates describing who has liked a photo that you have taken, or if new people have shown up and subscribed to your stream of photos. The interface looks, roughly, something like this:

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It’s a nice design, and it provides a concise digest of activity around the photos that I’ve taken, but I think it’s a complete failure in reinforcing the emotions that make the behaviors it presents meaningful. I look at this screen often, but the one thing I should feel – thankfulness for the kindness and recognition of others – never materializes. Except for the one time it did: I opened the application one day to discover a rendering bug had enlarged the avatars on this screen. That one simple change made me feel a part of this photography framework and the community it sustains. Seeing the faces of the ones who liked my photos made me part of a web of mutual appreciation. The people snapped back into focus as individuals.

I began to think about the screen’s original design: it had information density, but it wasn’t a suitable representation of personhood. The design was optimized for consumption of
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information rather than thankfulness for the interactions and relationships it depicts. Appreciation is a signi cant aspect of positive experiences; if the design choices have been optimized for consumption instead, it turns an opportunity for nourishing collective resonance into a gesture of empty snacking. All of which begs the question: was the rendering mistake actually a mistake if it xed the most fundamental problem of the original design? The bug was eventually xed and the screen returned to the original layout, but I want my big faces back.

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the work may do that. We feel understood. the most delightful memories are some of my strongest. but the testament to the quality of the cooking is in its taste. the objective is to produce a memorable experience because of its superior t. but also the sensation it creates when it is seen or used.“Who ever said that pleasure wasn’t functional?” Design doesn’t need to be delightful for it to work. It’s a bit like food: plating a dish adds beauty to the experience. we are stepping into a space designed precisely for us. Indeed. It’s the same for design. but more appropriately. Outside of design. in that the source of a delightful experience comes from the design’s use. almost as if by using the work. but that’s like saying food doesn’t need to be tasty to keep us alive. They’re of the idyllic times where I felt like I t: the 101 . The pedigree of great design isn’t solely based on aesthetics or utility. The times that design delights us are memorable because we sense the empathy of the work’s creator. There is a tendency to think that to delight someone with design is to make them happy.

All of these interactions and objects of attention produce experiences of use. They should attempt to build up long-term bene ts rather than temporary gains. Again. design gets wrapped up with how the work feels while being used. these situations weren’t constructed for me. All design is experience design – whether it is visiting a website. nourishing. turning into a kind of self-perpetuating myth whose importance grows with each retelling. Why shouldn’t delightfully designed experiences be like these memories? Now. Of course. Delight. They were speci c and personal. it’s far outside of the capabilities of anyone to maneuver the parts of the universe to recreate the idyllic experiences to which I refer. The decisions that make a design delightful are an expression of compassion for the audience and care for the work being done. reading a book. and codependent relationships between the designer and audience. can be painted as a quick x or a gimmick that o ers a snazzy way to spit-shine a poor idea with novelty. empathetic and warm. Empathy creates an opportunity for skillful accommodation. and are meant to build and maintain meaningful. I was exactly where I was supposed to be at the right time. unfortunately. and those experiences can be made better and more memorable by skillfully catering to the audience in an accommodating way. but with each project. The gestures that make a design delightful can be small. designers are given a chance to align the speci cs in a tting way to create that same sort of feeling. referencing a brochure. but the experiences felt like they were tailored. interacting with a brand. but their implications are meaningful: they are part of an attempt 102 . The intentions of creating accommodating work go deeper than just a surface treatment. or interpreting a map.world seemed to be orchestrating itself just for me. The experiences shine more in their remembrance.

and to maximize the opportunity of the situation for everyone. and humor through the tone of the writing. there is a certain small satisfaction when our spell check learns to automatically correct our frequent typos. There are many di erent ways that the sign could have been made. warmth. The correct choices feel much like an embrace. immediacy. A space of accommodation has been skillfully created by the designer for the audience to occupy. even in the most conventional of exchanges. Placing the sign over the road rather than next to it gives the warning a 103 . or when the handbasket appears in the grocery store right as we pick up the extra item that makes it too di cult to carry everything with our bare hands. and the format is manipulated in a pleasing way because of the position of the sign. and the audience need only to step into the space for it to be completed. tone. The text gains clarity. In Gri n. The t is the result of a successful decision made in response to the desires and natural behaviors of the audience. human way. and format – are treated in a delightful way. there’s a road sign hung over the state highway a hundred yards in front of a bridge. Georgia. There’s room for a delightful approach in most design. For instance. The sign warns oncoming tra c of the low overpass ahead by saying: .to engage an audience in a consequential. It’s an architected space crafted through empathy based on the designer anticipating the disposition and needs of the audience to achieve a good t. for instance. but this particular one is e ective because all three parts of the design – the message.

when we are presented with an unexpected relevancy. Surprise is a crucial component. and that’s why so many of the delightful experiences in commerce involve a customer being under-promised then over-delivered. They get into an engagement expecting a certain amount. Delight fades when there is entitlement or predictability. One of my favorite serendipitous occurrences is an error message that came up one day while writing: 104 . It is the opposite of purposefully designing for delight. The simplest form of delightful surprise is serendipity. and highlights what makes a design delightful: it empathizes with the audience and their circumstances. Serendipity in design provides a new viewpoint that makes us look at what we are doing in new ways. A delightful experience is the overlap of these three things. It’s not just a written warning. because it is hard to delight someone if they expect what they are being given. but like a scientist observing natural occurrences in the lab. The sign provides a great example of how to approach a design problem to create delight.more direct relationship with the hazard it warns against. surprises in its delivery. understanding the natural patterns of things allows us to reconstruct them in our work. but also a feedback mechanism for the real threat ahead. and are delighted when they get more than they bargained for. and achieves a clarity in what it is trying to say or accomplish.

and a stark contrast from the considered. and in its existential crisis. When the two are balanced correctly. Delightful design also adds clarity by nding the balance between adding details for resonance and taking them away for simplicity. but when this particular one popped up.Isn’t it pleasing to think that software has pathos. We can also be surprised by delight when the mundane is rethought and elevated. even the ugly ones. “Application cannot edit the Unknown” (capitalized. surrounding the sign are other letters painted on the wall in a similar condensed style: EVERY EXIT IS AN ENTRANCE SOMEWHERE ELSE Every requirement is an opportunity for delight. I had to laugh. The computer had been personi ed for a moment. the sign was embraced as a chance to create an experience for the hotel’s guests by integrating the exit sign into the space. we’re left with 105 . detailed wall where it was mounted. most error messages create a large amount of grief because they signify lost work. At the Ace Hotel in New York. proper noun). This happy circumstance means that one of the best opportunities to delight the audience is when something goes wrong. and that writing is just as di cult for it as it is for us? I admit. Rather than accept the wart as it was. Now. It was comforting to have company when lost in my words. a required exit sign over a door was an eyesore. Sometimes the creative treatment of these warts are the most enjoyable parts of a design. and all I could do is to accept it and say OK. I felt like it understood my writer’s block.

because it understands what the user wants to do. and delight shows up with it. 106 . It is a chore in most hotels and airports. The process is wrought with roadblocks and complications: login screens. to get connected to the public WiFi. however. has a simpler approach to that interaction: The internet button surprises and delights. more must be added to give clarity to the work. Clarity emerges. user agreements. for instance. Sometimes. registration pages. because we feel like our intentions are plainly understood. The web page used to access the WiFi at the Ace Hotel. but usually value and delight are created by taking things away and reducing friction.a design that shows up when it o ers something of value. and eliminates everything else that doesn’t pertain to that goal. and then gets out of the way when it is not needed. such as how a map may have added guidance along with street names to make it easier to navigate.

We can be friendly and good-natured with the ones who imbue our work with its value. encourage dialogue with platforms. and a friendly. The warmth and exuberance of communication and the accommodation to the audience necessitated by delightful design also makes it easier for the audience to spot the presence of the designer in the work. and in doing so. it’s quite easy for the designer to be short-sighted and see the design work as a set of logistical problems to overcome or creative challenges to master. The work becomes more humanized in its tone and e ect. An intimate understanding of the audience means that our designs can be warmer in their communication and more appropriate. This seems to be a foolish thing to say. One can speak naturally and personally when they know someone well. but without the empathy that delightfulness requires. rather than an opportunity to produce something that enhances someone else’s life. a ectionate. and produce the utility and resonance that great design seeks to achieve. Delightful design attempts to make the work more pleasurable for everyone involved in it. Projects that seem cold or excessively composed are more indicative of a lack of understanding than a mark of professionalism. Clarity and surprise are only achievable through empathy with the audience.The most important element of delightful design is empathy. makes the designer and the audience more aware of one another. 107 . and hospitable tone is essential to cater to audiences. so it becomes easy to see that there are people behind it.

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not I. “This is most curious. but the magistrate continued. as his stomach grumbled. until one night the innkeeper spotted him and became furious. “How much money do you have with you?” he asked the student. he smelled the briny scent of sh coming from the inn’s kitchen as the innkeeper made his dinner. He wandered his way outdoors to the kitchen’s window. who thought for a moment and then came to a conclusion. There is an old Japanese tale about a poor student who was away from home and living at an inn. One evening. . The student feared that he would be forced to pay the innkeeper the last of his money. but the wind that blows through me!” . He grabbed the youngster by the arm and dragged him to stand before the local magistrate.” 109 . who then produced three gold coins from his pocket. hoping that the scent of the sh might improve his paltry dish. “Please. The student did this for many weeks. and sat below the sill with his meager meal of rice. demanding payment from the student for the scent of the sh that he had stolen.“Not I.” said the magistrate.

in order to improve what I make. while reading. “How can this be settled? I’ve not been paid!” “Yes. you have. was able to bene t from its scent. or maybe even the bezel of the device on which you’re reading this. “put all the coins in one of your hands. Most designers realize that much of our lives are designed. The innkeeper yelped in confusion. I feel similar to the student when enjoying the creative work that most inspires me.” The student did as he was asked. I’m working on my own projects. enjoying what amounted to an accidental gift from the innkeeper that added avor to his bowl of rice.he said. Stop and look around you. but we don’t often stop to think that the work’s widespread presence 110 . and then I get to have the wind knocked out of me by the rst paragraph of Moby Dick. I’m awkwardly stringing together words into sentences.” The student dumped the coins. pour those coins into your other hand. but the story of the stolen smell is the most often told. “The smell of your sh has been repaid by the sound of his money. “Now. With that. All of these choices are designed. The student. How much of your environment is created? How many things that surround you are designed by someone? From the wheat-pasted posters on the street.” The Japanese have many tales about this eighteenth century magistrate’s rulings. watching. and using the best that humankind has to o er. the overstu ed arms of the sofa where you sit. despite not paying for the sh. eating my humble bowl of rice.” replied the magistrate. I get to be in that work’s presence. the magistrate dismissed the innkeeper and student’s case. to the milky consistency of the page on which these words are printed. and they all coalesce into the experience of this moment. to sit under the window and steal the scent of the things I love. to the hexagonal stop signs on the road.

I think the most tting way to think about the best works of design are as gifts. We typically describe someone’s talent by saying they have a gift for it. But as stated earlier. Design seeks to create experiences in addition to being pro table.turns our design choices into signi cant contributions to the ambiance of life. but also in the work’s creator. Lewis Hyde. The lesson of the innkeeper’s story is that the things we make transcend commerce and ownership – they are an experience to have rather than an object to own or a service to access. Hyde looks for lessons in gift economies to understand the patterns and opportunities of an arrangement where value is exchanged outside of nances. the success of a design is de ned by the economics of the work. describes how art simultaneously exists in both the market and gift economies. so the price and pro t of the work represent only part of its value. Instead. There is an aspect to the work’s value that can not be described in dollars and cents. and this worth can’t be fully articulated in strictly commercial terms. The gift lives in the work. Good design is pro table. Typically. because nances help see that design endures. design is equal parts art and commerce. There is value in a creative work to bond people and engender cohesion in communities. and that the appropriate way to look at the work of a creative individual is as a gift. in his landmark book The Gift. as if their eye for color or perfect pitch were blessings imbued from 111 . The dual nature implies that there are opportunities and values in the practice that transcend commerce to enter into a space of collaboration and value creation that can’t be captured on a ledger. Hyde uses the qualities of a gift economy to articulate the attributes and value of the creative perspective and to assess the resonance and worth of the creative work once it is shared with others.

but rather had one – genius being something to be in the presence of. David Chang. like some unknown force is guiding our steps. and not something contained in the artist themselves. stupid way. hard.someone somewhere else. though. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert. made a cameo on the television series Treme and framed the gap between e ciency and the extra e ort extolled by so many creative individuals in their practice by calling it the “long. In our best. improvising becomes easy. it feels as if we are hardly doing the work ourselves. hard. Their personal gift is made good through their labor. the gift of the individual is an assignment: their talents must be used to sing a song of their own. The genius bestowed the gift of insight to the artist. We feel an obligation to use our natural resources to build and make. The Romans later called their daemons geniuses. head chef at New York restaurant Momofuku. and decisions seem instinctual. in a lecture for the conference in 2009. time. even beyond the point of clear nancial bene t. most creative moments.” In Chang’s case. This is hard work. Regardless of where our talents and tendencies come from. achieving a sense of ow where time disappears. and it became the artist’s responsibility to use the material provided by the genius. We have a tendency to toil and sweat the details. said that the Greeks and Romans thought their artists were not geniuses. and the gift is passed on to others through the work they produce. and attention we put into it. to mold and shape the world around us for the betterment of others. because the obligation to one’s gift forces us down a road where there is no logical end to the amount of e ort. stupid 112 . that could come and go as it willed. the long. The ancient Greeks believed that their artists were guided by daemons – divine attendants who delivered creativity and insight to the artists waiting for them.

Every project is an opportunity to create something of consequence by digging deeper and going further. from preparing one’s own stock. One can not ask for what they get. stupid way is the path of creating special experiences for the individuals who can notice the details. or a daub of paint that sings of life in a portrait by getting the light in the eyes just right. hard. Hyde states that a necessary element of a gift is that it must be bestowed. to sweating out the details of the origins of the ingredients. It is hard to imagine 113 . stupid way makes the process of design look like toiling. sweating over a drafting table. even if it makes life di cult for the one laboring. It’s going longer. The long. but the creative practitioner feels the sway of pride in their craft. and staying up later. and producing piles of rejected ideas and prototypes. otherwise it is not a true gift. thinking harder. The fruits of that labor can be sensed by the audience. It’s the extra essence that manifests as a well-plated dish when it comes to the table. hard. almost as if one were speaking a private language to those attuned to listen. These careful details are what make the scent from the kitchen at the inn worth smelling. working smarter. Hyde’s de nition mirrors the general structure of most design jobs: one person (the client) hires another (the designer) to create something for a third (the audience). This opens up a gap between the amount of these human resources that make nancial sense and the exorbitant amount of care and attention that is actually applied to the work because of the obligation to the gift. We are compelled to obsess. Commercial logic would suggest that Chang stop working once it no longer made monetary sense. in fact.way was exhibited all over the kitchen. we seek it out. The long. an articulately phrased sentence as it appears on the page. to properly plating dishes before sending them out to the table.

because it is a communicative endeavor that always exists in a social context. ne. much to Charlie’s exasperation. because the space around 114 . to go on the hunt for a carving knife to use over the holidays. citing the important details that each blade lacks. The work has its movement initiated in its creation. and the more movement. A family heirloom accrues more value with the greater number of generations it has been passed down. and that movement gains momentum when given to the audience as a gift. Gifts – whether wedding gifts. Gifts are a form of social currency. The work continues its movement as it becomes distributed and shared. or the simple exchange of business cards at a meeting – operate in a social layer to initiate a relationship between people or to fortify an already existing connection.this situation as anything other than gift-giving when the work is made out of kindness and consideration. In an episode of the television show The West Wing. This happens several times. It does not matter that the object itself remains the same. but then produces a knife of his own. Charlie. and this is tting for design. there’s a scene about heirlooms where President Bartlet asks his personal aide. becoming something that is passed on after the initial hand-o . This ts nicely with another declaration Hyde makes about gifts: that they must move. the greater the value assigned to the creation. its edge is honed. one that has been in his family for generations and was made by a silversmith named Paul Revere. President Bartlet inspects the knife closely while Charlie describes the ner details of what makes this knife the best available: its weight is properly distributed while in the hand. He gives it to Charlie as his Christmas present. Bartlet rejects each knife that Charlie brings back. until he nally brings the President the best possible knife he can nd in Washington. birthday presents. and sharp. President Bartlet refuses even this blade.

because the text was printed on folded paper on both sides. and the longer that line runs. I look at the obligations of our talents as a similar situation. the more valuable our opportunity becomes. the space around the object creates an experience that primes the receiver for appreciation and thankfulness. The connection to Paul Revere lent Bartlet’s knife a high nancial value.the object – its social context – is what makes us feel that the item is more valuable. We get to close loops of desire rather than open new ones. The context can produce a feeling of gratitude. A similar thing happens when reading an old-style book with deckled edges. but they were a necessity in much older titles. The knife tied its possessor to a long line of others. but its social value was a product of its tradition and shared experience. Gifts are wrapped for a reason – it frames the exchange. creates a surprise. The binding would seal the pages shut on the right edge. and whether it is a family heirloom or a piece of design specially crafted for an audience. The edges don’t o er any sort of utility in contemporary books. Readers would slice open pages with a knife. We are part of a long line of people who have been tasked to shape this world in big and small ways. and lengthens time to ensure an opportunity to have an experience. Bartlet’s knife also shows that we are introduced to the ner details of a good gift and educated to its nature so that we may be able to appreciate it more fully. Design gains the ability to nourish when it acts as a gift rather than as something to create yearning. and they would have to be 115 . much like how President Bartlet sent Charlie on a wild goose chase so that he would have to teach himself about what makes a ne knife. We manipulate the context around the work to create a better experience for the one we’re giving it to.

The success of a gift is quanti ed by the experience of its recipient. you prepare to penetrate its secrets. The cutting of bound pages transforms a simple page turn into a treasure hunt. and using empathy to accommodate and customize for t. Ripping apart pages meters the pace of reading. Armed with a good paper knife. understanding and responding to the context. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler: This volume’s pages are uncut: a rst obstacle opposing your impatience.torn. The process turned the reading process into a literal page-by-page unveiling of a story. If anything. The qualities that make a great gift are the same characteristics that have been used to mark good design in this book: thoughtfulness in the choices that were made. like many gifts. and that thoughtfulness implies 116 . it does make a simple page ip feel a bit like a child tearing through Christmas gifts at a feverish pace. With a determined slash you cut your way between the title page and the beginning of the rst chapter. gains its primary value through customization to the one it is given to. Design. it forces the reader to spend more time with the words.” as the saying about gifts goes. and harkens back to the primacy of the listener  or audience. like opening a letter. The design decisions of the format encouraged savoring for a better reading experience. “It’s the thought that counts. Sometimes slowing down is a gift. and frames it with a bit of nostalgia and romanticism. and while the obstacle doesn’t necessarily scale well for someone who ravenously reads. to unveil the next page of text. Italo Calvino said in his novel. because it lets the reader more fully appreciate the skill and capabilities of the writer.

These are the elements that resonate with the audience. so the di erence between giving fty dollars in cash and thoughtfully spending fty dollars on someone is immense. The implied exchange was part of the design. The space around the gift and the environment in which it is given sets up an excellent experience. my friend Rob Giampietro was designing a business card for a client. In a moment of insight. Both sides of the equation are humanized. and perseverance. And perhaps the line between thoughtfully buying a gift and just giving the money to someone relates to the reason why so many creative individuals feel it necessary to do things the long. then asked if the design was completed. but the ability to spend it anywhere means that the gift was never personalized. and during a presentation of design options. the client chose one. A few years ago. there is a human investment of talent. Good gifts must be tailored to their recipients. Rob responded that the design of the business card wouldn’t be nished until the client gave it to someone else. because the work becomes a link between two individuals. and Rob’s task was to create a framework for that gift 117 . This is why cash is thought to be an underclass of present: it may be the most exible and valuable from an economic standpoint. Singing a song of our own while we make our work uses the full capacity of the creative person to create new value and something of consequence. To merely work within the boundaries of nancial concerns and not maximize one’s creative capacity is to give someone the cash. hard. It suggests that the quality of the gift is not just in its objective qualities like exibility or cost. stupid way. perspective. initiating a relationship between them through publishing the work.an understanding of the individual receiving the gift. There is a contribution greater than just the commercial concern. but in its subjective characteristics like intent and context.

The measure of a design is in its capacity to be shared: something travels from one person to another. but the gift of attention is perhaps the most valuable. On the one side. In the 1970s. they both gain. I didn’t put out any ads or anything. it is the scarcest resource available because its quantities are limited and nonrenewable.exchange to occur. let’s take advantage of that. but word got around. We value all these contributions. in a way like I’m saying it to you. Attention may seem like an easy gift to give. He explained: I just sort of let it be known that I was available. and o ers their nancial support. attention. while on the other. but it is not. Robert Irwin explored the qualities of attention as a gift. contributes through platforms. And you could be. the work must be shared. The publication of each design project initiates an exchange of gifts. let’s say. and there should be a symmetry to the quality of each.” And I would just come up and do that.” He would be available to other people who sought his presence. the audience gives their attention. “We’ll have him come up and do a piece on the patio. and in the process.” And that’s what I’d do. Like a gift. A business card that stays in its owner’s pocket is no good. We’ll have him come up and talk to the students. Or. and there are ever more things vying for it each day. “Well. 118 . the designer and client o er their work. just like his responsiveness to the rooms where he installed his art. and you’d say. Attentive audiences should be rewarded with high-quality work. We can’t produce more attention. and time. up at . design requires movement. the ideas must move. I mean. He called the experiment “being available in response.

implying that his availability existed outside of commerce and so was a gift. on the one hand. The writer and media theorist Clay Shirky recently said. making it a truly signi cant o ering. He’d show up at schools and talk to students. I was and continue to be available in response. The desire to produce great work will never leave the one making it. it was terribly expensive in attention. because it doesn’t make much sense to make a nancial investment without a good hunch of reward. While his gift was free in commercial terms. for the creative individual. is a bit of a chicken and egg paradox.“There’s an important distinction to be made here. Irwin himself said that he wasn’t attempting to sell anything. I mean. on the other. you’re going to get a halfhour answer. or visit institutions and do an installation.” The experiment started slowly. if you ask me a question. or do they not bother with re ned work until they know others are listening? Inside of commerce. because of their sense of obligation to their gift. The project lasted two years. I’m not an evangelist. Luckily. it is of no concern. The song must be sung. however. Irwin was almost continually on the road. I don’t stand on a corner and hand out lea ets. 119 .” [Irwin] continued. The relationship between quality work and quality attention. “between organizing and proselytizing. Which comes rst? Do people make good work to gain the rapt attention of an audience. But on the other hand.” How inspiring for Irwin to devote so many years to being fully available to those who were interested. “We systematically overestimate the value of access to information and underestimate the value of access to each other. and responding to interest. this is a problem. I’m not trying to sell anything. but within a few months.

like the shape of a Coke bottle. The mark became a vessel for emotion. They become a shared experience molding our interpretation of the world. a shared symbol that permeates across all the spoofs and iterations it has inspired. a platform ready for the contributions of the audience to project their own a liations onto to better articulate their appreciation for the city. It’s become something without an author. the design of a paper clip. Empathy. or the recycling logo. becoming our points of reference. and engrained into the background. and the codependency 120 . distributed. but the products of the process have a tendency to have authorship and ownership evaporate.The things that initiate the exchange of high quality attention may start inside of the designer. Now. Glaser’s mark has become a gift to the culture that is shared. Design can sometimes achieve a state so fused with the culture. The art critic John Berger said that great art creates a space and gives it a face. One of the best examples of this in graphic design is Milton Glaser’s I NY logo. the mark is a shorthand to express a ection for anything. In doing so. It can become easy to presume that these things have always existed. so widespread. and forget that they were designed and originated with someone’s decisions. because their application is so widespread that their sway in culture di uses to such an extent that it enters the air like the scent of the innkeeper’s sh. and someone else provides it for us. that it recedes in spite of its up-front positioning. and celebrated. understanding. it’s almost as if the gift names these hidden and formless experiences and enables us to more fully realize them. like the release that happens when we’re searching for a word that is on the tip of our tongue. referenced. Sometimes the things we design lose the signature of the one who creates them. the gait of the illuminated man on a street’s crosswalk sign.

Everything fades.created by making things for others allows us to describe the overlaps between us by creating this shorthand language of complex feelings and experiences. I used to be a bit jaded about my work in an attempt to shield myself from the responsibility of it. and votives that represented something more. and help each other to become better. the expressions of life by other people that teach us how to express ourselves. We understand the lives of faded communities by the vesper trails they leave behind as stories. and in the end. only a promotional piece. so we should revere the times we are able to ll this complementary role for others. These objects represent the promises that we make to one another and symbolize the connections between us. It’s the words of others that teach us to speak. They’re the way we paint pictures of what’s to come. but it was not done alone. They are the projects that give us license to imagine a better future for ourselves and everyone else. all we have are one 121 . and cherish when others do so for us. ll one another’s needs. All we need to do is point at something and treat it as a symbol for something more. it is just a logo. We are dependent on each other in this way – we nish each other’s sentences. I’d say it’s also no more than the things that it makes. just an essay. objects. They come from the friction between the world we live in and the one we want to live in by building on top of our longings and exemplifying our capabilities. W. The great opportunity of design is that we are frequently a orded the privilege to ll another’s needs and desires. But. It’s only a website. We need each other because we cannot make everything ourselves. they can never be fully self-su cient. I’d say. H. Everything was invented. the things that we make are more than just objects. Auden said a culture is no better than its woods. A person is not a closed system.

in the bene ts of our codependency. I believe in the deep interconnectedness of everything. There are dreams out there that must be made real. I believe that we have done well. and we get to shape the world. As art historian George Kubler said. much better. 122 . And I believe in so much. The world shapes us. save for the things made during it. “The moment just past is extinguished forever. but I think we can do better. And if you look closely. It is by our movement and invention that we inch closer to the latter. There is more making to be done. and they echo across the long line of time and speak to what those people were able to build and what they believed.another and the things we make to put between us. I believe we can do much. I believe in the two-way bridges we build that connect us to one another. and ignore the things that do not matter. and in the opportunity of today when we believe in a tomorrow. what comes into focus is simply this: there is the world we live in and one that we imagine.” All of these creations linger. I believe in the gift that creative people are given and in the obligation to use it.

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Josh Stewart. and love letters are reserved for Mom. The book is better from their ideas. They required further investigation and thought. 129 . I especially owe a debt to Mandy Brown.I began thinking seriously about this book in November of 2010. Rob Giampietro. apologies. Allen Tan. but each day. They have been anchors and kept me from oating away. I’m ever more grateful that you do. Cameron Koczon. Northern Ireland. and Andy McMillan all read early versions of the manuscript and o ered instrumental feedback. Mandy’s editing is to credit. My deepest gratitude and love go to my family and friends. Liz Danzico. Special thank yous. Max Fenton. If there is clarity to these words. even during the hardest year of their lives. Jessica Hische. Ian Whitmore. Dad. shortly after completing a lecture of the same name at the Build conference in Belfast. but a year and a half later. Jason Santa Maria. I will return the favor soon. Thanks to Kate Bingaman-Burt. and friendship. The talk was warmly received. I feel as if my search is concluding. but I perceived there was more to the ideas I presented. Tyler and Elsa Lang. Josh Brewer. It took four months to muster up the courage to begin writing. support. Neven Mrgan. who have all allowed me the space to shake o the everydayness of my own life to write this book. I really don’t know how you put up with all of this. and Laura. I’m so glad to call them mine. Doug Wilson. Trent Walton. David Cole. whose steady eye and deft pen guided my thoughts throughout the writing process. and anyone else who has had to grin and bear me talking about the book yet again. A sincere thank you goes to those who joined me in the search party. Their poise is staggering and inspiring. Craig Mod.

I am indebted to the generosity of the following patrons: II 130 .

131 .Thank you.

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