In my first few years of studio I was always wondering what I was “supposed” to do on assignments. This mindset is actually very dangerous and unproductive in design studio even though, as a member of society, you have probably been trained to think like that.
Check out this video real quick where I explain how you can improve your design abilities by embracing this one simple attitude:
This problem starts with the way we are taught and tested all throughout grade school. Every class, every test, every assignment is given with a right answer in mind. We, as students, are graded on our ability to come up with the right answer. There are multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks, free response questions, even formulaic three point essays that all have predetermined answers. We are trained for years to find the answer someone else already knows. Which is great if you are going to be an analyst or an assembly line worker or an accountant, but not if you are going to design the built environment.
The other thing is that its tempting to think that, like high school, the teacher knows what you are supposed to do and has a certain amount of responsibility to get you there. Your design teacher may have thoughts or recommendations about how to proceed with your project, but they don’t know the finished product any more that you do. They offer guidance not answers.
On more than one occasion, I have seen classmates have bad reviews and then complain to people later saying, “If the project was so bad, then why didn’t he tell me what to do?”
This question comes from a totally misguided frame of mind. That attitude, does not just giving up control of the project, it actually insisting that the professor take the reigns.
But there is no right answer, so there is no way the professor can tell it to them.
The way the design process works is that there are an infinite number of possible solutions for any given design problem; you have to come up with one. But it’s a PROCESS. It takes TIME to develop. It takes iterations and edits, and small bits of progress.
BUT if we do a few sketches and we don’t have a perfectly designed building, then our brains, which have been trained to find right answers, say, this isn’t the RIGHT answer…so this must be wrong. And the reason your brain thinks that is because that’s the way it always worked in grade school. Then it becomes really easy to get discouraged with your “wrong answer” and not want to think about it anymore—and just like that, it’s dead before it even hits the ground.
The SOULTION to this problem is to recognize the MENTAL TRAP for what it is, and overcome it by small chunking your progress.
You don’t have to have a good building on day two. It should take a good bit of time to get a building that’s even close to good (especially if you are only a student). Don’t expect to have an almost finished design right away if its going to make you shut down. Instead, lower your expectations for your progress, and just focus on making slight improvements every day.
You don’t design a building by drawing it once. You make small, steady, incremental improvements over time. So rather than trying to solve it 100% (or even 50%) at once, work on just making it 1%-2% better EVERY DAY.
So if this is happening to you right now, loosen up! Just make your design a little bit better compared to where it stands right now. Also, don’t beat yourself up for thinking this way. It’s something I think all designers struggle with from time to time.
I know I do.
I hope this cleared up a frame of mind that is sometimes hard to nail down. Let me know if you can think of any other ways to eliminate or work around this mindset.
Drew Paul Bell
PS. I filmed this at Westside Provisions District in Atlanta, GA. It is a really cool adaptive re-use project done by square feet studio. You can check out their site here.