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3 on 3 with Josh Owen.

When designdaily.. asked me to do a short design-opinion piece with a focus on ‘people’, I thought: Is there any other way to think about design other than with a focus on people?

In my view, design is a human-centered discipline. Without thinking of it in this way we are simply making for its own sake. Making for people means making our presence known through our deeds, which suggests some kind of intervention into the environment. So the products of this intervention are mediators between humans and their environments – tools if you like. Creating balance between people and environment is really all we can do to keep things moving in a balanced way. So in order to answer the request calling for a ’short’ piece, I thought I’d keep my answers to three short thoughts on each of three topics. And rather than over-think the answers, I gave myself the challenge of responding in 3 minutes or less to each. Therefore the title: “3 on 3 with Josh Owen”

ONE

3 thoughts on Design Process:

1. Focus.
Do what you need to do in order to gain perspective. See the world for its beauty, its ugliness, its unity and its disparity. Look for the opportunities to help fix what is broken and further what is good. Do not judge the scale of your actions. Help can be big or small. It can come in the form of a tiny answer to the smallest problem or the largest theory that could lead to a sea change. Whatever you do, find a window of opportunity and start looking through it.

2. Obsess.
Once you see the problem, obsess over it. Turn it over and over in your mind. Frame it and lust over it until it begins to tell you what it wants you to do.

3. Test. Fail. Repeat.
This may seem obvious – especially to a designer – but the process works. I’ve always thought of myself as a cautious optimist or a romantic pragmatist. Both framings of my personality conjure a picture of a dreamer who is also a realist. One could say that these characteristics are in diametric opposition but thats the point. In the right measure, these personas are what we need to move culture forward. And these are somewhat unique to the designer. Why? We designers are in the business of dreaming the future. Hopefully that dream we evoke is a humanistic one. Getting there requires testing, failing and repeating, evolving works that way.

TWO

3 thoughts on cultivating the right Environment for growth:

1. Work with what you’ve got.
Designers tend to like constraints. Given the variables dealt to you in the situation you are in, what can you do with the resources around you in order to succeed, prosper and find happiness? I’ve always found that there are reasonable steps one can take to advance without insisting on seismic shifts at once.

2. Be nice.
A great colleague of mine once said that he would not tolerate subordinates who ‘brought dead mice to his door’. The implication was that those who brought him problems and complaints were not worth saving. Those who brought him challenges that they were seeking his advice and wisdom in order to help to address, he would welcome. There is a message in this that I think gets at the spirit of collaboration – recognizing others strengths to compliment your own. Knowing that together, problems can have richer answers than singular solutions. I’ve never been one who employs complaining strategies or attempts to evoke fear in others in order to advance my agenda. I prefer to listen and to look for ways to empower others to address their issues while helping to address my own.

3. Get comfortable but get out.
When you find a good context to work in, dig in deep and lay down roots but never stop getting out to look at the rest of the world. There is enormous value in settling into a locality. Building a relationship with a micro-economy, a landscape, a cohort, can be gratifying and profitable in many many ways. The counterpoint however is stagnation. When one becomes too comfortable, it is very easy to loose perspective. So think local and think global. Act local and act global. This is easier to do now than ever before.

THREE

3 thoughts on Networking in design:

1. Build.
Relationships are all we have. They are the center of our existence with each other. When we remember this fact, it is easier to think about how to approach working with others. Everyone is sensitive. Everyone has a different perspective on life, meaning and context. By being open to the many cultural variations that occur in our interpersonal contacts we not only build a community but also increase our chances of making choices that are impactful and aspire to be universal. Try to work on building bridges rather than burning them.

2. Listen.
Jazz musicians who are really good at improvising by referencing that which their colleagues are doing around them are known to have ‘big ears’. This is a way of saying that they are exceptional at the craft of sharing material by interpreting and responding in meaningful ways. So listening to others is very important. When we consider problems for audiences beyond ourselves, having empathy and the desire to serve is critical. So if one begins with the premise that each of us has distinct and useful perspective, than one can build on what is around them. Promoting that which is inherently good, is something that can come with a true understanding of others’ problems.

3. Share.
Sharing your successes and your failures is a great way to build your network. “Publish or perish” is something we often say in the academic world. It sounds rather harsh, but the core of the statement is meaningful because it suggests that you stay relevant by being part of a global dialog. We can do this in many ways as designers: Mentoring others, writing, curating, archiving, producing products… All of this activity shares you into an ecosystem that is relevant both to you and to those who follow your cause.

So in short, (and I do mean short, because that was how I designed my above responses) design-process, cultivating context and networking are really all intertwined. All are about People and all are about how we work with and for them. These are a few of my opinions when it comes to focusing on people through my microscope, switching lenses and focus as needed.

*Vector Illustrations taken from book, “Lenses for Design,” by Josh Owen

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