The process of writing How to steal like an architect last year, a series of 10 articles based on Austin Kleon’s How to steal like an artist, made me consider other lessons learned over the years. What further lessons would I teach my younger self, given the opportunity?
14. It’s okay not to know the punchline
Teaching a Design Thesis studio last year at the University of Melbourne, I gained a previously unexperienced global perspective of the design process. Nurturing a group of sixteen students through their projects, I was for the first time able to appreciate the many different approaches to the student / tutor relationship and to design.
I learnt that the best students were those who were able to fully commit themselves to the reciprocal interaction between design, research and dialogue. In other words, those who first posed a design question, second undertook research into possible solutions, third engaged in productive discussion, fourth listened to our suggestions and those of other students, and only fifth made a design decision. The key to this process is in commencing it without yet knowing how it will conclude.
Good design is not a linear journey whose end point is already known. Rather it is a series of false-starts, u-turns, dead-ends and scenic routes. Good design does not happen during an A-to-B trip with a disengaged driver behind the wheel, instead it unfolds as a weekend expedition undertaken by a driver who places himself behind the wheel for the love of it.
Ultimately, the destination – the final design – becomes defined by many of the detours experienced during the journey, becomes enriched by them. You won’t know which will have a lasting impact until you pass through them, so don’t try to map your route before setting out.
It’s okay not to know the punchline.