Okay I noticed that it’s been about 6 weeks since I posted so I probably should do a end-of-year wrap-up while it still is 2013.
On the University front, things went well. Of the 7 subjects, I got x1 Credit, x3 Distinctions and x3 High Distinctions. Acceptable for an old dog learning new tricks, I feel. Not that it’s about marks, because I’m sure nobody cares and really for me it was about learning for it’s own sake and stepping outside your comfort zone, which are actually the hard parts. My brainpower wasn’t really as stretched as I thought it would be (although at times it did take me a while to get my head around things), it was more a case of both my ability to accept learning about things that don’t have any immediate relevance to my life or career, dealing with academia and all it’s weird disconnects from reality, and having to read and write more in 12 months than I have in my entire adult life. It was a challenge, but I coped pretty well, so kudos to myself for that, I guess.
There were three real joys from the whole experience that I’d like to talk about. The first is definitely the people. Because it’s a real ‘catalyst’ course, you get people from many walks of life that have all come to this one point from different directions. That diversity but also empathy is very enriching and rewarding. I realised that I don’t get to talk about design as much as I would like to. Sometimes having a ‘job’ in a particular field makes you somewhat institutionalised or reluctant to discuss broader contexts, or to examine aspects not directly related to (or funded by) said job. The University environment and especially the fantastic people that I met this year has just been awesome in that respect. It’s a strange mix of introspection and self-referential institutionalism, but also a great environment to let your mind wander.
The second areas that I really enjoyed this year, was to investigate, research, and justify some of the ideas I’ve had ratting around for many years. I always maintain that there is no shortage of ideas, just them means to implement them, and being able to attach ideas to research or projects for my course has allowed me a depth of investigation I wouldn’t normally be able to apply to them. Which is great for dinner-table arguments because I can now back up my opinions with the opinions of others!
The final aspect about University life that I enjoyed was the way in which peripheral/co-curricular learning was just as or if not more beneficial than the course itself.
Designers know that they spend about 10% of their time designing and the rest of the time doing the boring stuff, so the question for me now is how to make that fun 10% better, or even better again, turn that 10% into as close to 100% as possible. Learning about design research (or perhaps more accurately ‘research for design’) and lean entrepreneurship – as well as the positive principles of design anthropology – have had a dramatic effect on how I view design, and how I’m now enacting design.
As a pleasure seeking human (aren’t we all) I’ve pretty much spent my design career on the 10% and doing everything to avoid the other 90%. This has both been an active and a passive mechanism though, as probably from 1995 to 2005 I was actively employed as an ‘ideas guy’ where I could indulge my love of ideas and creativity (‘concepting’) and leave the annoying stuff like bringing ideas to market or designing a roadmap of how those ideas could turn into a product range up to someone else.
The problem with that is, of course, is that management may not know what to do with these ideas. They might not even understand them. Marketing people can be reactionary – they can be reactive: ‘we need to do something like that too, fast’ – and if your concept or idea doesn’t fit into an existing framework it could be overlooked. Perhaps no one person or department can recognise an opportunity when it’s presented to them, or perhaps the fear of picking the wrong idea leads to a sort of ‘analysis paralysis’. What I’m trying to illustrate is that ideas don’t have an easy road to fruition, and these days it’s not so much the idea as the ‘road to fruition’ that’s interesting me, whereas in the past I was of the attitude that if I was having fun to dream up stuff and getting paid for it, then if the ‘powers that be’ didn’t ‘get it’ then that was their problem.
Unfortunately however I’ve got the ‘double whammy’ to contend with (designer AND entrepreneur) where that kind of thinking just doesn’t apply any more, and to be frank I wish I had recognised that back in 2002-4 when my bike project Thylacine Cycles got off to a less than ideal start. As with most things I guess, with the tools that I have now, I probably would’ve stopped doing Thylacine by 2005 or so, even though the best years were still to come. The issue is, is that there is a real balancing act between having the drive and the passion to make an idea happen, and being over-invested in that idea to the point where you can’t be objective regarding it’s viability. Even by 2007, Thylacine wasn’t even really close to being a full-time business, yet it was taking up the vast majority of my time and resources. Problems with freight and unruly suppliers were making life very difficult, and local support aside from about 5 people was virtually non-existent. Attempts to fix issues weren’t working, but I was too vested in the project to pull the plug and concentrate on other things and things didn’t improve despite my best efforts. By 2012 I had landed myself a very reliable and professional builder but it was too little, too late.
So what are the lessons learned of the past 10 years or so, culminating in my return to Uni this year and me sitting here writing this?
Well, the big one is attempting now to shift my thinking away from ‘the idea’ towards the ‘validation of the idea’ itself. It’s just not enough to think that as a designer your idea is ‘cool’ and that’s enough evidence you need to pursue an idea either commercially or mentally for that matter. Remember….there’s no shortage of good ideas – right? But what there is a shortage of, is knowing the difference between a cool idea, and a cool idea that’s something more.
Of course, you can only do that for so long before you start getting annoyed. As a designer, if you’re interested in making something for production, you want others to enjoy it as much as you do. Otherwise it’s called ‘a hobby’. (However, you shouldn’t discount the hobby, because often it’s the commercialisation of hobbies that leads to great businesses and products, and hobbies that involve actually making stuff is good for your design soul.)
Okay, so then, what’s the plan for this year?
Well, I wish I knew! I’m still interested in pursuing employment possibilities, and still interested in taking White Label Badminton somewhere, and using it as a driver to test lean entrepreneurship (god I hate that word) ideas. This is going to be a bit of a battle because the market is super conservative and collectivist, which I find in equal measures both fascinating and annoying.
By the end of the year I’d like to say I can make a pair of traditional brogue shoes from scratch, by hand (even though it’s not really a style I’m interested in. But it’s nice sometimes to do something just so that you can say you can). I want to explore my idea of ‘post-industrial’ minimalist shoemaking by making a few of the designs I have kicking around, as well as make some Summer orientated sandal type things before it gets too cold to wear them.
I’d really like to get more interested in photography. I’d like to get a camera solely dedicated to sports shooting so I can take some shots of badminton and cycling, and whatever else tickles my fancy.
My friend Brett and I have convinced eachother we’re going to make a lugged road frame or two, so we’ll see how that goes. His wife is due in 6 months or so so we’re under a bit of a time crunch there!
In September we’re planning on going to the US for a month or so, and after that we’re going to start planning the extension to our house. I’ve been sketching ideas and collecting information for about 5 years now, but this year I’ll step that up. I did a project at University about modular architecture and the Australian vernacular and some of that will inform what we do with the house. I’m interested specifically in what I like to call ‘raw architecture’ – architecture that is raw and unfinished, with an honesty in materials and processes and a real sense of story-telling and of placemaking. I think the future of architecture is not one of either living in some sort of machine or something resembling a hospital, but something that reconnects us with nature and our social needs. Architecture has been fetishised to the point where we’re being lead to believe we need to live an ordered life in a white box full of shiny things, which is something I wholesalely don’t subscribe to.
As with all plans of course I expect all of this t come completely haywire, but regardless, it’s good to have something to look forward to!
I wish all my family, friends, and colleagues – both past, present and future – all the best and a prosperous 2014!