Life in the seams

I hate this chart

Three circles perfectly align with a magic center. How often does a friend use this sketch to explain their new idea? How frequent does a meeting come to a halt as the room debates what nouns should be placed within each circle?

The world does not work this way. The world never overlaps as perfectly as each of these charts would like us to believe. Instead, our disconnected world is a messy and unorganized place.

Why all the mess?

The short answer is entropy. Any system works towards stability and organization, yet random events happen which keep things at a normal state of disorder. The world works its way from disorder to order.

Humans do not like disorder. Humans understand the world through clustering and categorization. Our brains constantly take anything we see, hear, or think about and try to cluster it next to known items. This is why we have all of the charts.

The beauty in between

What if we looked at things this way?

There comes a point where organization and categorization become restrictive. What goes on between these categories and classifications? What happens within the seams?

I immediately think of Jazz. Jazz is all about the space in between. Not just at the specific level of rests in between notes, but Jazz as a genre itself. Jazz started as not rock, not blues, and not pop. As it grew and developed, each new style it created was quintessentially non classifiable.

Music is a beautiful realm of forced classification. Ask a friend to describe an artist. Sometimes the answer is just ‘Rock’ or ‘Blues’. If you ask them to describe thier favorite artist, the answer could be ‘blues-folk-dreamy-punk-with a touch of soul’. These hyphens constitute the most important part, the seams. When we approach a creation that does not fit into a known category, we string together as many descriptors as possible.

When a person truly creates something new, it can be immposible to classify. The experience of listening to Charles Mingus, reading David Foster Wallace or walking into a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is not one of a single genre. They live in the seams.

Avoiding classification

The curse of creation is feedback. Once people see your creation, they will compare your work to things that they know, things that are common, or things that are proven. They may even draw some circles for you. If you are not careful of their influence, your creation may end up being boring, simple, and safe.

It is up to you to push your creations away from normal classifications. Scour the world for unique references and inspiration. Throw out anything that you’ve seen before. Question every element of your creation and rethink how it can be made.

In art, dance, architecture, performance, technology, or design, there are people ignoring labels and creating experiences within the seams. If you have the creativity and gumption to live in the seams, you will have the chance to create something great.


Peter Knocke is a User Experience Strategist living in NYC. He’s a Co-founder of GothamSmith LTD & Specials on C.