The Value of Curation

The thing about taste.

There’s this Ira Glass quote about taste that I really like. I believe it’s one of the best pieces of advice out there for budding designers. Daniel Sax made a great short video out of it:

Basically, Ira talks about the gap that exists between your taste and the work you produce. This is especially prevalent as a beginner, when are simply not skilled enough to meet your own expectations. To live up to your own standards, Ira argues, you should continue working until you manage to close that gap and are satisfied with your work.

I don’t think it works like that. You should never, ever close the gap. Your work is not supposed to be good enough. The moment it lives up to your expectations, your taste is no longer sharp enough to make something interesting. Instead of trying to close the gap, you should work on improving your taste just as much as your skills. The way I try to do that is to curate.

Conscious Curation

Surely, your taste will continue to evolve on its own. But the question is whether you want it to develop without guidance, unstructured and nebulous. Traditionally, that process would be guided by a mentor. Someone with both life and professional experience who could help you discover the unknown and make sense of the unfamiliar. But not all of us have the luxury of being able to call upon a mentor. It’s time to take matters into our own hands.

For me, curation has become an essential part of my workflow. Every day, before getting into my actual work, I open up Feedly where I’ve gathered about 200 feeds and go through the latest posts while drinking my coffee. Whatever I like goes into my corresponding Pinterest boards. I force myself to look at a ton of work, trying to judge whether it’s good. And if not, I try to explain to myself why. I’m noticing how my taste is evolving, becoming sharper and more refined. How each time I go through my feeds, there are fewer images that stick. I’m starting to become more critical of my own work, too.

By learning to analyze the work of others, I can start to apply the same thinking to my own work and improve it.

Keeping an open mind.

Not only does curation sharpen your taste, it also is a powerful tool to learn. It’s our job to come up with ideas and it’s way too easy to get stuck in ever the same patterns. Instead of risking that, I try to challenge myself. I dive into big topics that I’m unfamiliar with, such as art and architecture, by curating them.

Knowing little of architecture, I decided to approach this massive, intimidating topic by looking at pictures. One at a time. For every picture of architecture that I come across, I try to figure out what makes it special. And then I file it and forget about it. Before I realize it, I’ll have built myself my own personal library of architecture. I’ll start to notice what belongs together and what doesn’t. I’ll come across names, periods, styles that I can start researching. In the end, all that knowledge will improve my output.

I’ve learnt that the wider my frame of reference, the more I can draw upon, the better the ideas informing my work will be.

The most interesting people I’ve met were the ones that have approached the unfamiliar with an open mind. The ones to bring a fresh voice to the table, to do uncomfortable work and make something new. To do that, you need to be able to draw reference from everywhere, rather than just your immediate discipline.

So give it a shot: sharpen not only your tools, but also your taste.

I’m Joris Rigerl, a designer based out of Graz, Austria, working with les Avignons. You can see what I curate on Pinterest and read what I think on Twitter.

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