Cause I never simply wake up and write.
Morning always ships with the trappings of extraneous tasks like putting on clothes and brushing my teeth. Don’t worry: I will get to those before I interact with the outside world, but right now me and a bowl of Barbara’s multi-grain Puffins doused in almond milk have hopped back under the covers to properly slow down this Saturday.
Lying in bed and meditating on the excellence of slow mornings, I thought about how pace relates to the creative process. The essence of what I do as a designer is taking nascent flickers of ideas through to fully executed works. In order to do that, I need to spend a lot of time on parts of the design process that don’t neatly correlate to billable hours. As an example: one of the more recent branding projects I worked on was for CITeR – the Center for Identification Research. 20 hours into the project I still didn’t have much concrete to show in the way of goods-produced-in-exchange-for-dollars. Then all of a sudden, boom: the cumulative research I’d compiled and ideas I’d generated birthed a concept I thought was strong enough to execute, and I was able to make a move on that. From there it’s revisions and dialogue with the client and stakeholder-herding and yadda yadda but essentially that’s the crux of working as a designer: having the optimism to be confident that you’ll arrive at a kickass solution – even through those slow stages.
This past week I was listening to an episode of Debbie Millman’s Design Matters podcast. When she asked guest Ayse Birsel if she believed designers think differently than other people, Birsel said yes, and cited optimism as the key differentiator: “We always think that we’re going to come up with a better solution no matter what the problem.” Though basic, this isn’t something I’d given much thought to previously. You could argue that hopefulness is essential to success in most fields, but creative pursuits are especially vulnerable to sabotage by self-doubt: thinking the app interface I’m designing will suck invariably is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The degree to which optimism influences outcome I think is tied to how artsy fartsy and abstract the project is. I’m a user experience designer, which – as design disciplines go – is pretty far away from the artsy fartsy end of the scale and toward the science end; I have to be able to defend my decisions with research, and there’re a myriad of constraints to work within. Even with UX though, there’s a component that comes down to subjectivity, and in order to perform at my best it’s essential I have faith in the end result being successful.
I think about it as distinct from confidence. Confidence lays the foundation for successful creative work, but optimism goes beyond that to imagine wildly – irrationally even. I tend toward a pessimistic disposition more than I would like, and regardless of what degree of confidence I achieve, if I get too caught up in the pros and cons and on-paper representation of possibility, that hamstrings my potential for creative output.
As Louis C.K. does a great job of pointing out, optimism is essentially stupidity: “Why the fuck would anything nice ever happen? What are you, stupid??” And maybe that’s why I’ve struggled with it: the Boy Scout in me feels like it’s my obligation to point out what could go wrong. If I get hung up on that and things aren’t going as quickly as I’d like midway through a project, I flounder and end up with a result I’m not as happy with. E’ry time.
Daring to be optimistic though...it works out...and it’s damn fun. It feels sneakily rebellious – like eating a dinner of nothing but bacon. No grown up can tell me what not to do or that I should play it safe. As such, 'm trying to make 2016 be the year of my recklessly betting on a first-place finish of my pursuits.
Now, it’s noon, the sun is out, and I hear ice melting, so I’m headed for a run.