In 1975, musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt created a deck of cards called “Oblique Strategies” to break through writer’s block in the studio. Their idea was to collect phrases that would return them to an artistic state of mind when they found themselves struggling under pressure. The cards provided inspirational words of wisdom such as, “Honour thy error as a hidden intention,” or “Work at a different speed,” or “Gardening, not architecture.” The latter is a personal favorite, and here’s why.
Architecture is envisioned, planned, and executed. It is a singular expression or provision, closely conforming to a plan, always requiring control. Ideally the architect achieves success when all the elements are arranged as presented. The architect makes the physical world obey.
Gardening is attentive, responsive, and warm-hearted. It’s about helping living things grow to their potential—living things that are under your influence, but not within your control. The elements provide or destroy, and the gardener is in dialogue with the plants to encourage and heal.
“Gardening, not architecture,” has become my guiding statement for leading a studio of wildly talented, creative, and sensitive people.
While there is certainly a place for highly structured approaches in the design world, I think the gardening metaphor is best suited for studio culture. If creativity is gardening, creative leadership is about selecting and nurturing its gardeners. Let me illustrate.
On the fourth floor of our IDEO Boston studio is a large common area. Three years ago it was essentially a peninsula of empty desks surrounded by project spaces. Sometimes they were occupied, but most of the time they were vacant because people were on projects. After some time it just seemed counterproductive to have this space outfitted as such. We asked everyone with a desk on the fourth floor to move their belongings upstairs with the rest of the gang. We intuited that this newly made blank canvas could serve as a flex space.
It must have been winter because the new space sat neglected for some time until one day a project team decided to make something of it. Frustrated with being confined to their corner project room, they took an afternoon to build a new lounge in the flex space. Sofas, lamps, and chairs (including airline seats from a former project) were relocated from different parts of the studio. The team built a standing height table in the shop and painted it turquoise with an intricate gold interior pattern. The space quickly went from “abandoned” to “owned” and found new uses—from gaming, to coding, to reconciling credit card statements. New life had sprung.
Soon after things were organized and rearranged, an exhibition of non-billable work brought the space to life in a new way. A documentary film series, “The Sundown Film Festival,” sprouted during the darkness of our short winter days. Spring and summer passed and it appeared that interest in the space was waning. (more…)
A love letter to Node. from IDEO on Vimeo.
One evening, while we were designing the Node chair, my wife Isa and I were musing: What if we were to peek into the classroom after hours, once the students and teachers had gone home? Could the chairs, desi…
Business has officially taken notice of design. The interest goes deeper than marketing the design features of a product, prompting business strategists to tap into design methods for innovative ways of solving traditional business problems. “Design Thinking” has become a hot topic among today’s MBA students. Apple is hard to ignore, and everyone wants a slice.
Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Moggridge, cofounder of the pioneering design firm in this space, IDEO. I appreciated the meeting – and the fact that Bill passed away in September makes me appreciate my brief time with him even more. During our conversation in his New York office, he shared with me the story of IDEO’s transformation from product design firm to strategic design thinking juggernaut. He described how they deliberately asked people from divergent disciplines to work together, requiring that they check their egos at the door. Why haven’t more firms done that?
“Because it’s hard,” Bill said. I’ll second that.
Many firms talk the talk of design-led innovation. We’re attempting to walk the walk. We, too, have a point of view and are one of the pioneers in the reinvention of the design consultancy – a small design office with a growing number of MBAs and people with diverse backgrounds who previously might never have found themselves working at a design firm. Professional designers are also businesspeople of a sort, but people who have gone to school for business view the world differently than those who have gone to school for design.
“Early Industrial Designer”
Joseph G. Brin © 2012
“Fluid, intuitive, plug and play, out-of-the-box” – all characteristics of user friendly experience endlessly hyped by many companies these days. However, they remain elusive – an industrial designer is one person actually trained to deliver them to us in our daily encounter with objects and information.
A Conversation With Stephan Clambaneva, North East District, V.P. Elect, Industrial Design Society of America, IDSA
Joseph G. Brin: When you all arrive in Philadelphia in April will your attendees somehow showcase what ID thinking can do for the City of Philadelphia? That’s something I’d really like to see.
Stephan Clambaneva: We are working on trying to pull this off, still in the initial planning stages. The workshop is called a “Sense of Philadelphia.” We intend to conduct a workshop to develop a “sensual” map of Philadelphia… (more…)
It hit me really hard about a year ago when I walked out of Changi Airport in Singapore: that particular combination of cloying orchids, dried fish, durian, drains and that peculiar acrid-yet-sweet smell of wet tarmac after the monsoon rain, all carried on a humid tropical breeze right up my nostrils to that most primal and limbic part of our brain: the olfactory system. The part of the body that is said to hold memory.
This memory was overwhelming. I was home.
Project H Design Flickr Photo
Scott Timberg’s article “The Architecture Meltdown” (Salon, February 4, 2012) asks the question “Where does architecture go from here?” without offering an answer, so I will. The piece makes a compelling case f…
It first hit me in Fuxing Park last spring.
I was being interviewed by a journalist from Beijing. She was keen for us to get out of the office to walk and talk, to have ‘culturally immersive’ experiences together, to both react to these experiences…
I just finished reading Lucy Kellaway’s acerbic-but-true piece (free registration required) in the FT about management consultants and all their related jargon landing in China. And it immediately brought to mind an evening I spent in Shanghai a f…