A great project succeeds at every stage

success at every stage

This is the 19th of twenty-one lessons for design students, gathered from the combined experience of being a student, and teaching students. I will published one lesson each weekday until they’re done.

19. A great project succeeds at every stage

In my fourth year of study, I produced a project of which I was immensely proud. Unfortunately, my studio leader disagreed. In a tense conversation about the disappointing grade that followed, he commented that my design hadn’t hit the mark on a number of assessment criteria. I was incredulous: couldn’t he see what I was trying to do with the project!? Shouldn’t I be assessed according to the ambitions I set for myself at the start of semester!? Didn’t he realise that I was a prodigal genius lightyears beyond his limited capacity to understand!?

I never ended up challenging my grade, but I’m glad now I didn’t.

What my younger self failed to grasp was that all great projects succeed against all the assessment criteria. That’s how it is in life, that’s how it is at university.

Part of the reason is practical: my ambitions for the project were important to me, but ultimately it had to be judged against all the other students’ projects. Standardised assessment criteria are really the only way to do this. They are also good at acknowledging the breadth of a semester’s worth of work. Sitting on the other side of the fence these days, this is precisely how I establish my criteria. I look at your research, your siting strategy, your form making, your attention to craft, your communication technique. To achieve a great project, you need to succeed across the board.

The other part of the reason is aspirational: a design is greater than the sum of its parts. As alluring as they can be, a pile of sexy renders are only part of the story. Like the human body, you can’t point to any one element and say that’s its best bit. Both the body and a design project are holistic exercises where all parts balance and compliment each other: legs, building massing, arms, windows, eyes and stairs all do their own job within the greater whole.

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  1. A great project succeeds at every stage, author’s own image.

2 thoughts on “A great project succeeds at every stage

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  1. Hi Warwick,

    I was wondering what advice you would give for students who fall into a slump/suffer from design block in the middle of semester. I’ve had this happen 2 out of the 3 semesters of my degree and as well as really affecting the final result of my work it has been quite a hit to the old self-confidence.

    1. Really good question Inez. Designer block happens in practice too. I have three suggestions:

      1. Change technique or scale or focus. If you’re struggling with your floor plan, switch to section. Or jump from 1:100 to 1:20, or even look at another part of the site.

      2. Don’t try to solve the block. Instead, just try out a bunch of options – 10 roof massing options or 3 floor plans etc. – and ask another student to talk through the pros and cons. Use the conversation as your tool to decide.

      3. Remember that you don’t need to perfect every element of your project, nor fold in every ounce of your soul into every project. It’s better to finish even if you’re not 100% happy with the master plan. Let the imperfect master plan be, and get on with the next step.

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