On digital tools and the iterative design process…
Check out this quick clip form a discussion I was in a few months ago.
There are ideas you think OF and ideas you think WITH. To understand how to think WITH digital media you need to understand its inherent properties. i.e. What can you do in the computer that you can’t do analog?
The benefit that’s easiest to take advantage of is the ability to quickly make iterations with the iterative process.
You can think WITH the computer to think OF an infinite number of iterations faster and much more easily than you could ever do by hand. This allows you to run down the road of the iterative design process with reckless abandon and take your shitty early ideas to a well-refined level of BRILLIANCE!…or something that just doesn’t suck as bad.
The reason people say “fail fast and fail often,” is because when you let go of your need to find the right answer and you just take action, you start making real progress.
You will probably never come up with a well-thought-out solution on your first attempt at something. Your first idea for a commission or a project is necessarily immature. And that’s okay. Put it down on paper, or on the screen, or with a physical model—whatever you have to do to get the idea out of your head and into the world. Once it is out there, your eyes will see the blind spots your brain didn’t notice. Then MAKE the changes you can think of to make the idea suck less. Draw it. Then after drawing the new changes, look at it critically. What still isn’t good enough? Come up with a solution and draw it again…
(When I say “draw,” “draw” it from your mind like you would “draw” money from the bank—bring it out into the world. You can draw with a pen or you can “draw” with a mouse. Don’t get caught up in limiting connotations.)
The point is to TEST the idea by checking it in reality. And you can’t do that if its up in your head, not drawn out to reality.
So that’s the iterative design process in a nutshell.
Now, you see how it would be convenient if you could take the iteration you are on currently, make a copy of it, and make changes to the copy without having to marry to anything yet.
When working on a floor plan in AutoCAD for example, start drawing and making changes until you make enough progress that you feel like you have something to loose. Then, take the drawing and copy it over and change more. When I feel like the change I am about to make is a leap, I copy it and work on that one. This way, the paranoia of commitment and regret is held at bay, and I can continue exploring an avenue and come back if it was a mistake.
Because of this, my working AutoCAD files are messy and sprawled, and it’s part of my process. They serve as a reminder to me of where I came from and the progression of the design.
Copying art boards in Illustrator is good for this as well.
You can do this similarly with tools like trace paper and velum or a series sketches. These analog techniques are great and sometimes easier in the early stages of design. Start with rough sketches, move into loosely scaled drawings on layers of trace paper. With each iteration, you are carrying forward a certain amount of info and then adding more. You will get to a point where you will be carrying forward so much information with each version that it makes sense to put it in the computer instead of redrawing a large amount of columns, and walls, and furniture, and door swings, and over-head dashed lines.
But bringing it back to failing…
Each iteration is an exploration. And they won’t all work. But because of the ease of making copies, you can test a LOT of ideas without the cost of redoing everything for each version. So accept the fact that every step of the way won’t be pretty. A lot of your ideas will really suck at first. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. You can work with an unrefined idea and make it better. You can’t improve something that is still imaginary. So embrace the fact that “failures” are necessary and run at them vigorously. Don’t be afraid of the little missteps along the way. Embrace them.
When you take that pressure off yourself, you get out of your own way and make really cool stuff.
Let me know what you think.
When did you begin to understand the iterative design process? Have you embraced it? Or was it always natural to you?
I want to know!