Option ∞

Pahoeoe Fountain By J.D. Griggs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pahoeoe Fountain By J.D. Griggs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“At bottom, I believe that design is a highly advanced form of rationality, perhaps the highest there currently is,  at any rate on that has surpassed  art in so many ways in our era, and that it is a legitimate vehicle of the deepest human strivings, foremost among these, of hope.”
-Sanford Kwinter, Far From Equilibrium, (Introduction) ISBN 978-84-96540-64-4

As a constant practitioner of design, I often find myself hitting mental blocks. But not the kind of mental blocks that are described when you run a quick google search on “mental blocks”- you know, the ones where you find yourself staring at a blank screen with a blank mind. These are the kind of blocks you hit when nothing seems good enough.

You’ve gone back to pen-and-paper enough times to finish two entire notebooks, and the files in the project folder have quite literally reached “option_infinte.ai”. This is when you’re telling the client or yourself, (who is always the worst client), that you need more time because “I’ve come up with several options but none of them are good enough!”. .I’m not sure how many of you feel this way, but I do- and now, increasingly often.

Today, I decided to take a break and meet a cousin for coffee. He’s planning to build a bed-and-breakfast in Coorg, India, and with his love for textiles and furnishings, I look forward to seeing the result. So designer cousin-to-designer cousin, he asked me for suggestions for the building itself. Now I’m no architect, but I can safely say that having lived in four distinctly different buildings, out of which two* should (and in their own respect,) are architectural landmarks, the least I could do to help him out, was a set of ideas doodled on coffee shop napkins. While I dismissed my ideas like I would a passing vehicle, my cousin quietly folded the napkins, and informed me he was keeping them.

Sanford Kwinter, in his book “Far from Equilibrium” says that design is the highest form of rationalilty **. And eventually, after many years of design practice (in and out of school), design thinking becomes a second nature. We don’t think about thinking it, we just think it. The question-answer loop manifests in every single event in our eventful and not-so-eventful days. We look for rationality and logic, we search for patterns of order and chaos, and constantly “think out of the box”, such that our thought box is perpetually beyond the box. That is, until we stop acknowledging the box, and seek answers inside the box. The obvious answers become the unconventional ideas, and the conventional ideas appear not-so-obvious. Our box is warped. And once again, we find ourselves asking for more time to create more options because we simply cannot stop creating more options.

At what point should the design thinking stop and realise it’s own worth? And how should it be made aware of it’s own worth? A secondary effect of undermining ideas is the seeking of approval. Once this kicks in, chances our we have lost our ability to judge the potential of our idea. Lose belief in the idea, and lose the idea itself. Moreover, we lose confidence in ourselves and in our work. The point is, rationality is not everyone’s cup of tea. Neither is design. And it should remain that way; making design everyone’s cup of tea dilutes the potential of ideas with opinions. The cup becomes full, and not full of ideas but opinions, opinions that are the undoing of creativity.

So next time you find yourself endlessly churning out more options, ask yourself if you are really creating anything worthwhile, or are simply creating for the sake of creating. Chances are, you’re doing the latter. So stop, take a break, don’t turn to the internet to look for inspiration or trends. Instead, go to your “mind palace” and fetch an insight that creates a solution worthy of the challenge at hand.

You will probably welcome a blank canvas.

Le Corbusier's Chandigarh

Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh

Image Credit

*For anyone interested in the houses that I have lived in:
The first one, (the house that I was born in), is a classic Le Corbusier house in Sector 19, Chandigarh – my parents did as much as they could to keep it in it’s original condition till we moved out. I think we were the only family in the entire sector using the fireplace, all the way up till the early 2000’s! I lived there from 1988 till 2002. Sadly, with the new tenants in the house (it’s a government property that was leased to us), I don’t have much access to that architectural wonder!

The second house I speak of, is my house in Kansal, that I often visit when I need to get some fresh air. Read more about it’s construction here.

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