Pursuit and Perseverance: Embracing challenge in design

Chemistry and I never got along: an inherent part of its theoretical basis is to limit variables to the greatest extent so that you may create controls. In its infantile years, it’s an exercise in a parallel universe where molecules exist equidistant from one another, neutrons collide perfectly, and where air is pure.

In later years of the hardest (not challenging, but rather not soft) science, I quickly learned that everything they teach you in Chemistry I is basically some sort of sick experiment. In this long-term study, they compare: college students’ reactions to finding out everything they learned in Chemistry I they would have to forget in order to succeed at Organic Chemistry to children’s reactions to finding out Santa Claus is actually dad (and Santa Clause‘s Tim Allen was incarcerated) and that the Tooth Fairy is probably mom (and you should probably stop thinking about what happened with those costumes after you grew up). It illustrates the horror of knowing your reality has been fabricated by someone who either didn’t believe in your intelligence or was too lazy to explain to you the nuance.

I quickly gave up on chemistry and got a grade my parents don’t know about. Part of me is always a bit frustrated by this fact. Had the circumstances been different, I might have found in chemistry the inspiration I find in language or in spatial math. I never got there, because I was flummoxed by its nonsensical oversimplification. It felt like we were collectively settling for an easy way to explain more complicated topics.

As with anything I find to be “too easy”, I quickly grew tired of examples professors would tell us “would never happen in nature. I understood the need to lessen variables, but found it defeatist to explain things to you in a way that never existed in nature just so it was easier. It’s equivalent to test driving a car around a perfect and even track. It’s equivalent to marrying someone who you’ve never gotten obscenely lost with or who you haven’t heard fart. It gives you the simplest problem to solve, not the hardest.

* * *

On weeks like this where I swear I’m speaking Finnish to all my clients and I can’t seem to convince them to just trust me, it can be trying. By presenting our designs out there, we’re putting a lot of how we think and how we express those thoughts into a single screen. It’s easy to get discouraged sometimes that clients just don’t understand (best if sung to the Will Smith song, “Parents Just Don’t Understand”) and even to blame the client. We find ourselves flustered, ready to just be a “yes man” and do what the client asks.

But if there were a Hippocratic Oath for designers it would probably ask that we never solve the simplest problem. If we’re presented with too simple a problem then we’re not asking enough questions. No problem is that simple when you consider even one variable — audience — that every single person has a unique view and a directed agenda. Compound onto that aspects of business goals and areas of potential for content creation. No problem is inherently too simple, the questions asked are.

Not only is this feeling baited by presenting our work, it’s sometimes a byproduct of the work itself. Weeks where we fall into our old standbys (full bleed photos or vintage type pairings), we’re ready to just do what the world asks. Give them something beautiful to look at with light touches of animation through parallax.

But if there were a Hippocratic Oath for designers it would probably ask that we never solve the simplest problem. If we’re presented with too simple a problem then we’re not asking enough questions. No problem is that simple when you consider even one variable — audience — that every single person has a unique view and a directed agenda. Compound onto that aspects of business goals and areas of potential for content creation. No problem is inherently too simple, the questions asked are.

And so maybe with the lesson with chemistry was: Chemistry didn’t fail to challenge me because it wasn’t hard enough at first but because I didn’t find the seek the challenge within its simplified form.

Seeking this challenge within design will make the process harder, yes. First within ourselves as designers and being comfortable with the level of work we create, but second with our clients. Generating chaos will complicate the process which might disrupt timeline or decorum. Yet the moment we stop the search for challenge within design is when we find ourselves months (of even weeks) down the road looking at our past work and realizing it’s humdrum. It doesn’t withstand the test of time not because of the ever-evolving aesthetic, but because it wasn’t its best at the time it was made. Perhaps it illustrated molecules as static spheres connected at exact intervals, when it could have illustrated them as dancers in a ballet set against a cosmic stage.


Originally published at www.tatianamac.com.