The Day Before …

With all the snow and cold, I was recently treated to about 1 hour of channel surfing. On the Sundance Channel I saw a segment in a documentary series called The Day Before. Through all the self-importance and posturing, I thought about how often and similar the process of cramming is for design practitioners of the graphic kinds as well as fashion.

I saw the end of one on Fendi and (Karl Lagerfeld) and the beginning of another (Jean Paul Gaultier). The self-importance of the Fendi documentary was about as much as I could stand with my fingers ready to turn the channel, but the Gaultier documentary was interesting in its ability to capture the craziness in front of a fashion show.

What struck me is how little was actually done ahead of the day before!!! Gaultier’s whole collection was rounded together in the last 24 hours. What is it about the zen of the deadline?

This has been on my mind for about a quarter since I’ve been working with a MICA flex class on assignments that—while modified—were an assignment that I received and was given 24 hours to complete. When I got the assignment I was happy of course to be paid, but then as soon as I got off the phone with the client, the first thing that happens is I begin hearing that ’24’ tick-down, knowing that the clock is ticking…. And how for the first five hours I dinked around testing various compositions, then eating and then thinking: “I’ve got to have something definitive going into the next day”… I didn’t. But, we’ve heard this story before: a little head-clearing and voila comps which went to the client just slightly after time.

Flashback to the present. What remains of that story is some decent work and the buzz of the deadline. When communicating all this to the students, I’ve focused on their creating the internal process of milestone completions that allow one to revisit and rebuild—making the design better and better as one goes along. All that works out on paper, but the “fog of war” happens and the process gets muddled.

For instance, the snow interfered with six-hour class that was the working time that gave the students deadlines BEFORE the deadline. For some this was a help, for others it was a hindrance. More time to ponder became more time wasted. I saw a documentary where a design firm developed thirty-five prototypes of a chair design before presenting it to the client and wanted to impart this level of preparation to the students, if only to prove to them that, everything doesn’t have to be a seat-of-the-pants design process.

On the other hand sometimes those iterations become the inspiration that comes together in the end. It’s all down to varying experiences and varying processes. The key is to know your process.

An example of that is the difference between the way Apple releases products and Google releases products.

Apple’s emphasis is built on hyper-preparation and testing, perhaps fueled by their failures of the late nineties (think Newton pad). On the other hand Google often can’t release something fast enough to get it to a beta stage that can then be reworked and made better. Apple rarely does this. And anytime Apple had to revisit something, it was under the prospect of negative reaction—think back to the switch to OS X or the switch to USB and firewire and the blowback that Apple received.

Google’s not found the same level of objection, often releasing products at beta (Gmail is a prime example) which then was slowly introduced to the masses.

In an article on innovation in Fast Company, Doug Merrill, a Google executive said, “The marvel of Google is its ability to instill creative fearlessness”… A book I have on creativity called Fearless Creating says that we should “understand the difference between working and working deeply.” The bottom line is no matter what approach we use, it ultimately has to be about our ability to tap into that stored creativity reserve, preserve and cultivate some of that and make it useful for someone to digest.

By AIGA Baltimore
Published February 16, 2010