In my career to date, I have spent much of my time both as interior educator and professional architect, discussing and nurturing students and clients in the ways of observation and perception. For almost two decades I have constantly been helping people to see. The difficulty has always been that none of them believe, at the beginning, that they couldn’t see. And yet without exception, whether over weeks or months they all come to realize how blind they were.
We live in a world that is constantly bombarding us with information, mostly visual but often with other stimuli too. The vast cities, mobile communication, instant gratification and urgency for the next big thing. This relentless input barely gives us time to look at or reflect on any individual thing for long enough to appreciate or understand it. We take more photos but we actually look at them less and paradoxically we actually see and notice much less. Indeed we often spend more time seeing what others feed us rather than relying on our own decisions or observations. This is leading us to a consensus view which tends to the mediocre and uncritical, a poorly mediated understanding of our environment. The trick to changing your perception is always to start simple and grow the complexity. With experience you can speed the process but you must learn to crawl first, before you can walk. And knowing how to run is not the same as being Usain Bolt. You must also acknowledge that you cannot crawl. Start at the beginning.
So the key thoughts will always be What, Why, How. What is this, what does it do, why is it like this, why did it become this, how is it made, how can it be different. One of my pet hates is the common phrase ‘thinking outside the box’. My problem with this is that most people have no idea about the box they are trying to get outside off. And most of them are probably still thinking very near the middle of the box. It is a short hand for lazy, random thought processes rather than structured and reasoned experimental and innovative thought. From my perspective, a designer should be more like a scientist than an artist in their thought process. If anyone asks a designer why something is like this there should be a logical and sequential explanation, a defensible position, not an I-like-it- that–way kind of answer. This should not be confused with being conservative or boring. Indeed, it should lead to more stimulating results because the preconceptions have been questioned and unpacked and reconstituted in an up to date way, but without being different just for the sake of it. Once you start deepening your observation you will be able to compare similar objects and elements around you and notice what are the details that make one better than the other, what are the things that could be done differently and how to achieve them. You can notice the combination of aesthetics and function and how successfully they work in harmony or conflict. Why do you prefer one thing and someone else prefers another. And you will realize that everything around you is designed, we are not concerning ourselves here with nature, but with the spaces and objects that as humans we have surrounded ourselves with. From the moment we sought shelter or created tools we were seeking answers to problems and designing solutions.
Design is always about asking questions and providing answers and what makes it interesting and also difficult is that there are no right answers, only better or worse solutions. So now you can start by feeling the paper in your hands and the chair beneath you and begin to critically engage with them by asking what, why and how.