Sometimes, you need to follow your gut - your intuition - and tread the path that splits rational decision making with bold risk taking. Five weeks ago, I submitted my final design prototype to my graduation advisors for marking, and began designing a maquette for what I wanted to do with my exhibition space. The graduation show at Emily Carr is a big deal in Vancouver; many industry professionals, tourists, family and friends, and other members of the general public will stroll through the institution's halls, exploring, searching, and discovering new and emerging work in art and design.
It was in these last few weeks that, looking at my final prototype, something just did not sit right with me. I wasn't happy with my work, and I knew that something was missing. But what was it? I had submitted a prototype that fell within the criteria that I myself had set up - a storage solution that was clean, inconspicuous, quiet, and appropriate for the home environment. What was missing? It was everything that I had set out to do on paper, yet I wasn't convinced that I had done what I wanted. I looked through my studio notes. I pored over my sketches. Every pivotal decision throughout the last eight months, I scrutinized and doubled back on.
And then it hit me.
Looking through a notepad, I found some scribbles from earlier in the schoolyear that I wrote down during a talk delivered by James Hilton, co-founder of AKQA. In it, there was a paraphrase from one of James's slides: "USEFUL, USEABLE, DELIGHTFUL". My product concept was, indeed, useful. The bulk of my research always came back to the indication that no more than 15% of Vancouver residents actually kept a preparedness kit or grab-and-go bag ready in their homes, despite the fact that well over 70% of residents I interviewed were aware of the need to do so. There was, without a doubt, a need for what I was making.
Was my product useable? It had an appropriate capacity for basic warmth, shelter, and first aid, large enough to fit sleeping bags, a tent, first aid kits, and basic camping accessories. All of these items that I accommodated for also happened to be the items most commonly owned by downtown Vancouver residents, eliminating the need to create a storage solution that could hold items that realistically did not actually exist in most homes.
Was it delightful?
I certainly didn't think so, and neither did the faculty. I received a mark of C on my prototype deliverable, with a high mark of A on design potential. Something was certainly amiss, yet I followed every instruction in my self-imposed criteria. Again, what was missing?
It was back to the drawing board for me, with barely three weeks in the semester leftover, a graduation exhibition to plan, committees to volunteer on, and responsibilities needing to be attended to at my part-time position as a research assistant on campus. So I set to work. I taped and hacked, glued, and created mockups - to scale, at smaller scale, rough modeling, for two and a half weeks, following my intuition and trusting my emotions to visually convey a captivating object that could be, all at once, both quiet and eye-catching. What you see on my webpage today is the result of my 20 day endeavour to redesign my thesis project. I felt my way through the process to make it useful, useable, and delightful. I finished with a few days left before industry night, and stepped away to let it sink in. In the meantime, I threw myself into helping my peers finish their exhibition spaces and reconnect with my desire to assist.
Twenty minutes before industry professionals were officially allowed to begin browsing through the exhibition, we - as a department - came together and distributed awards; some were serious, and others were done more for humourous achievement. I managed to nab two awards that night: the Duct Tape Award, for my throw-together and almost-too-late delivery of a completely novel final piece, as well as the Dedication Award in soft goods for my determination and stubbornness to keep at it.
In retrospect, these last few weeks have made me learn a thing or two about myself. It has shown me that my intuition, as lousy as I thought it may have been, proved to be more valuable and delightful to have engaged with. I am a maker, and my hands - not just my words - bring to life the creativity that feeds my imagination.
The first weeknight after the exhibition opening, I came home with a desire to cook - searching through random food items in my fridge, I let my mind go and for the next forty minutes, prepped and whipped up the most amazing home cooked meal I have made in the last couple of months. I sit here now, in reflection, realizing that this is my zone. This is my therapy. I cook, and I create, and I have never once followed a recipe, because with cooking I have always trusted my gut (pardon the pun).
I also realize now that I could very well do the same with my design process, and if I can design half as good as I can cook, I'm brimming with excitement at the things I will be designing - and more importantly, making - in the coming months as I embark on this new journey as a certified, bonafide, Designer.