“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”—Ray Douglas Bradbury (via jonathanmoore)
A little advice for myself, as I begin my career all over again:
Be critical, but never cynical.
What’s the difference? I think it’s objectivism and optimism.
To be critical, you must be honest, always honest with yourself, and with your peers. Good criticism is about asking questions, and then pushing hard to answer them completely, without letting personal prejudices influence those answers (but I hate purple!). You have to be able to gracefully, humbly, admit when you’ve failed. That’s being objective. You must put yourself aside, and understand the project’s goals—including user goals, business goals, aesthetic goals, and technical goals. Empathy comes into play here too, because you have to understand the motivations for each stakeholder, and then diplomatically balance all those needs as you go through the process of making.
That’s all well and good—most of us can agree that objectivity and empathy are key ingredients to any successful design process. What separates the good from the great is optimism.
Being critical—seeing what isn’t working—is the easy part. Anyone can tell you what’s wrong with something you’ve made. Smacking something down, without offering any suggestions for what might make it more successful might not (always) be mean-spirited, but it’s rarely productive. The hard part is being proactive in improving whatever it is that you’re working on. That’s where the optimism comes in, because as designers and critics, we have to believe that what we’re working on can be improved in some way.
Optimism comes into play in another way, too. As designers on the receiving end of criticism, we have to be optimistic about the intentions of our critics. As I said above, negative criticism usually isn’t mean-spirited, especially when it comes from people who may not possess the vocabulary to help them describe what isn’t working. We have to trust that when criticism is offered, our critics genuinely want to improve the work, and that the criticism isn’t personal. As designers, we have an obligation to the work to probe criticism that isn’t fully formed, to try to pull out specifics.
As a designer (and a person), I sometimes struggle with objectivity, humility, and optimism. Who doesn’t? But the advice above is a good reminder to let our sharp eyes and opinions stay sharp, so long as we don’t slip into cynical negativity.
Sarah Goodyear writes in The Atlantic Cities about equitable traffic law enforcement for bicyclists and cars, an effort I fully support. When the full bike-share program is rolled out in NYC, there will be an additional 10,000 bicycles on the streets. If you’ve biked on the West Side Highway or the Brooklyn Bridge on a weekend lately, you’ve dealt with serious high volume, bordering on actual bike traffic jams. Even major car artery streets like 8th Avenue in Manhattan see a lot of bike traffic. The volume leaves little doubt that bicycles are becoming mainstream transit options for a majority of New Yorkers, which is, in bike parlance, totally rad.
And as Ms. Goodyear points out, it also means that cyclists need to step up into their found citizenry. Just as citizenship in the US means equality, free speech, and the right to bear arms, it also means paying taxes, educating yourself on civic issues, and voting. You reap many benefits from the work you put in. So it goes with cycling.
On crowded streets and greenways, we should all observe the rules of the road: stopping at traffic lights and stop signs, yielding to pedestrians, and riding at speeds safe enough to allow us to navigate around unexpected blockages in our paths—darting children, wandering tourists, and daydreaming or rushed drivers.
As citizens on the road, we should also expect our police force to be equitable in their law enforcement, meaning, as again Ms. Goodyear points out, reckless drivers should be ticketed when they cause accidents with cyclists and pedestrians. Drivers should also be ticketed for blocking bike lanes, and creeping into crosswalks or jumping the gun on red lights.
Pedestrians too should be ticketed for jaywalking and walking in greenway areas that are specifically set aside for bicyclists, such as the West Side Highway between 42nd Street and the Financial District.
And finally, I’d like to encourage New York State (or just the city) to adopt traffic laws that specifically address cyclists. As an experienced rider, and one who enjoys high speeds, adrenaline, and a good downhill, I do sometimes bristle when I have to stop for a red light at an empty intersection, or in Central Park when no pedestrians are afoot. I suggest New York give serious consideration to rules like the Idaho Stop for cyclists, which permits cyclists to treat stop signs and red lights as yields. For example, when approaching an intersection, a cyclist would slow down, look for traffic in the intersection, and, if all was clear, proceed through the intersection without making a full stop. If the intersection was busy, or if the cyclist could properly assess the intersection because of an obscured view, the cyclist would come to a full stop. If the intersection became safe before a greenlight, they would be able to proceed; otherwise, the cyclist would wait for the greenlight and proceed with the rest of traffic.
Read more, or watch this video for more explanation:
This is how I currently ride in New York and elsewhere, and it is extremely safe. And, I’m a nice girl. It is also how most cyclists in New York typically ride. I read somewhere (maybe here, but I could have sworn the article I read specifically related to biking) that there is a 15% asshole factor for every population, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers included. Let’s have the police target those who, either by intention, carelessness, or recklessness, endanger others, rather than those who might break the law every so often, but do it with intelligence and care.
Next Thursday and Friday, I am heading back to the SVA Theater in Chelsea for the Reasons to be Creative conference. From the conference site:
Reasons to be Creative is a festival for creative artists, designers and coders. The festival brings together some of the most respected and brilliant minds from the worlds of art, code, design and education to share their passion, knowledge, insights and work. Expect two days packed with talks, networking, inspiration and learning.
Speakers include: John Maeda, Jeffery Zeldman, Paul Scher, Ken Perlin, Zach Lieberman, Jon Burgerman, James Victore, Jer Thorpe, Josh Nimoy, Amit Pitaru, Joshua Davis, and lots and lots of others. Sadly, Mr. Hillman Curtis was also supposed to speak at this event; we’ll instead be treated to a tribute by Joshua Davis. I’m beyond excited for the opportunity to see so many great minds in one place.
There are still a few tickets left, so if you want to join in the fun, you can register here. There are also some student tickets available, which I took advantage of.