Summer reads — On design and creativity

Three beautiful books about beauty, meaning and creativity as storm.

First of all, designer and visionary thinker Alan Moore’s Do Design. Why beauty is key to everything.

In Do Design. Why beauty is key to everything, Moore recommends 14 practices to create enduring beauty. ‘Be curious about the world’ is the first:

“Walking, or driving, I look at building — their shape, contours, how they sit in the land — old and new. I look at the brickwork of the houses enjoying its texture, its warm red colour, and the white mortar. I stop at a church and let the stillness be in me for five minutes. I run my hand on a handrail enjoying its shape and visual appearance.

People fascinate me: how they move, how they dress, how they use technology. As I am reading about some new technology advance, a reflection come to me. Maybe I make a note or two in my notebook. It reminds me of something I was reading in a book. I put my notes in the margin to dig out the book when I get back.

I always have a book on the go, and I often annotate, underline, pull out stuff that intrigues me, inspires me, resonates. This process of writing helps me see more. Making connections, creating meaning, adjusting my world view. (page48–49)

“I don’t need to draw conclusions, I am happy for the thoughts to be half-formed but present.” — Alan Moore

My second book recommendation is The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski, a professor of architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, and founding principal of 3six0 Architecture.

“I explore, witness, and practice the creative process through my work and my teaching. As a child, I was reprimanded for ‘getting bored easily,’ and now I see that weakness, like all ‘weaknesses,’ as a strength. (Getting bored keeps me moving ahead.) I live in a city whose name, (‘pro-videre’) signifies what creativity is: a process of ‘seeing ahead.’ We ‘see ahead’ when we make designs that are materialized in the future, when we write problems that anticipate solutions, when we link one step to another in navigating our lives and the way through anything, especially the empty page, writer’s block, confusion, chaos, needs, and questions. The creative process is the story of this passage and speaks for the author, to the user, the reader, inhabitant, audience or viewer.”

If you have some 50 minutes to spare — just skip a meeting — please watch Leski’s lecture on creativity at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Or alternatively, this short interview.

And finally, the beautifully designed Design. The Invention of Desire by Jessica Helfand, a designer, artist and theorist. Formerly a partner in Winterhouse, she is a founding editor of Design Observer, the largest international website of design and cultural criticism.

In her book she explores design, and by extension innovation, as an intrinsically human discipline — albeit one that seems to have lost its way. She argues that empathy, humility, compassion, and conscience are the key ingredients missing in the pursuit of innovation. According to Helfand, innovation is now predicated less on creating and more on the undoing of the work of others.

“In the end, design matters because it is an intrinsically humanist discipline, tethered to the very core of why we exist. It frames our conception of power; informs our belief about personal dignity; piques our curiosity about action and fantasy; highlights our yearning for beauty and romance; and engages our eternal appetite for narrative. Design matters because it gives form to our past and dimension to our future, but this is not because we sit on nice chairs, or wear pretty shoes, or pride ourselves on our good taste in belts or cars or video games. Design — which traffics in but is not beholden to consumer culture — does not matter because it is hip or hot or cool or cheap or new or rare or bold or sexy, even though these are all qualities that may claim to entice us at any given moment, for reasons that have everything to do with who we are, not what we own. Design — which is grounded in mathematical certainties, relying upon composition and orchestration, on gesture and nuance — does not matter because it is pleasing to the eye, even though we applaud its beauty and its purpose and its presence in our lives. Design matters because of the why, not the what; the sentiment, not the acquisition. Design matters because people matter, and the purpose of this book is to examine precisely this proposition: to consider the conscience-driven rules of human engagement within which design must operate. This is a book about design as it relates to human beings. Because that is what matters most of all.” (page 24)

“In this humility-poor environment, the idea of disruption appeals as a kind of subversive provocation, too many designers think they are innovating when they are merely breaking and entering.” — Jessica Helfand
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