Diary by ASID Professional Laura Birns
The other day I was asked about my design process. “What part of the process are you interested in?” I said.
My questioner clarified that she was interested in learning how – exactly how – I tapped into that creative well within to draw up the sweet liquid that fuels my designs. “What is your inspiration?” she asked.
It was a provocative question and one for me that is not so easily revealed to an audience. Like asking a magician how he makes the rabbit appear from a top hat – half of the pleasure is the not knowing.
I considered how best to begin. I started slowly, “Inspiration is a funny adjective ... not a noun ... it’s active - always exploring - seeing anew each time I look.”
I could see I had confused her so I tried to make my answer more concrete. “Do you ever get confused where you are even though you’ve been at the same spot thousands of times?” She nodded so I continued. “Then in this familiar and most mundane of environments, something new catches your eye. It challenges you to see a bit differently.”
“Like changing your focus?” she asked.
“Yes. Exactly. It's a great process really. When you think about it, seeing the same thing day in and day out could be incredibly boring. But that shift in focus makes it fresh.”
“Are you always inspired by what you see rather than what you hear or read?”
I nodded. “I am a visual creature. To me, visual input, no matter what it is, is exciting. You’re going to think I’m nuts, but even that street sign has something to say to me.” I pointed to a leaning metal post with faded lettering. “I know it sounds a bit odd, but it’s true. See the shape of the letters and how they compliment the shape of the sign? Those shapes signify something specific. Graphics always amaze me because they are so succinct. When I talk, I get too wordy. Keeping it simple is much more powerful.”
She nodded again but I could tell I’d lost her.
“It’s that way with design. Simple and strong design elements communicate volumes and last over time. Designers speak in shapes, forms, even contradictions. Our tools are so simple and yet complex - just like people and their needs - so simple and yet complex.”
I placed my finger on the floor plan I was holding. “This design, the floor plan, the traffic flow, even the finish details all arise from being open to the gestalt of it all. Considering my clients’ neighborhood when I arrived at their home was the beginning. Those impressions then mingled in my mind as I noted the shape of their hallway. As I talked with them, I absorbed their words along with their size, shape, even the color of their eyes. Into that mix I add the black and white photos on their walls as evidence of their creativity.”
She shook her head in wonder. “It sounds really hard.”
I had to laugh. “It’s only hard if you try to force it. I just start by uncovering the layers and then I can make sense of it. It’s all about creating something functional and yet aesthetic. Good design is like magic - practical with a sleight of hand.”