When I was a student at ArtCenter College of Design, I used to always want to come up with the most original awe inspiring idea for every project. Like every good design school student, originality was what I strove for. But a funny thing happens if you pay attention. And that is the fact that nothing is really completely original. Don’t get me wrong I believe there may be some never thought of ideas still out there, but for the most part many ideas are based off of earlier things in some way. So now you may be thinking that originality is a myth. Not so fast my friends, this is where The Twist comes to play.
When I say Twist I don’t mean the surprise ending in every M. Night Shyamalan movie. I mean twist as in making new relationships out of familiar things. In his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas James Webb Young says that an idea is “nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.” An example of this method of creating unique ideas is the movie Star Wars. In the process of creating Star Wars George Lucas took elements from myths found in The Golden Bough, Sufi Legends, Beowulf, and the Bible and tried to combine them into one epic story. For example, “one could go through Star Wars and almost pic out the chapter headings from Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces: the hero’s call to adventure, the refusal of the call, the arrival of supernatural aid, the crossing of the first threshold, the belly of the whale, and the series of ordeals culminating in a showdown with the angry father… (Seabrook p. 145)”
Another example is Pablo Picasso’s painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. You can clearly see how the shapes and expressions found in African masks inspired him to include it with his own style of deconstructing and shaping the female form. Lastly, another master of the Twist was J Dilla. For those of you that don’t know, James “J Dilla” Yancey was a record producer/rapper that created a huge influence on the hip hop world in the mid-1990s. An example of his mastery of creating new combinations of old elements is the song Lightworks. Listening to it you can hear how different, seemingly unrelated sounds can come together to create something that you can’t help but nod your head to.
Looking back at my days as a student, it’s not terrible to want to be original but worrying about it being something that has never been thought of before is. That is like chasing the unicorn of perfection. Nothing is perfect and nothing that we touch can ever be perfect, but the one thing that is unique is our point of view or voice. This is especially true for designers nowadays because we all use the same tools, look at the same sites and wear the same clothes. The thing that truly makes us different is the ability to see relationships and continuing to gather new experiences and materials to work from. We all have different experiences in our lives. The ability to share your voice in a way that makes people want to take notice of what you’re trying to do is crucial in connecting with your audience.