They weren’t very good.
I saw Richard Wiseman’s book 59 Seconds mentioned on Boing Boing the other day and on a whim I started reading it. It reminded me of another book I’d enjoyed, Brain Rules. Both are what you might call “self-help” books based on legitimate, well-researched, scientific experiments. Real data. Plus, it has a great title! The hook in 59 seconds is that each chapter ends with “one minute advice” on how to improve your situation. Who doesn’t want to improve themselves in a minute? What can I say? I’m a sucker.
I’m only about halfway through so far but it starts out with what I thought was an interesting idea. Keep something like an Emergency Happiness Diary that you can use to periodically boost your happiness.
Several studies show that writing about traumatic or negative events — specifically writing where you can structure your thoughts into some type of narrative — can help you work through psychological problems, increase your self-esteem, your own measure of happiness, and even reduce health problems. Similarly, writing about how grateful you are for good things that have happened to you will boost your feeling of happiness, make you more optimistic about the future, and apparently will make you more likely to exercise. Reliving an intensely happy moment through writing? That’ll make you happier. Spend some time writing about a person you love? You’re going to wind up happier, with reduced stress, and even a notable decrease in your cholesterol levels.
Happiness, it seems, is worth pursuing. So, somewhat incredibly, here’s one way to get it. Start an Emergency Happiness Diary and keep it for five days. Just five days. On those five days write the following types of entries.
Day One: Thanksgiving
Look back over you past week and list three things you’re grateful for. A friend, a close relationship you’re in, your health, your home, your job, a happy memory … the list goes on.
Day Two: A Great Experience
Imagine “one of the most wonderful experiences in your life” and quickly write down how you felt at that moment without concern for grammar, spelling, or punctuation.
Day Three: The Future
Imagine a future where everything has gone really well for you. Nothing fantastical like winning a giant American lottery but instead a future where you’ve succeeded through hard work at your goals and ambitions. “Imagine that you have become the person that you really want to be, and that your personal and professional life feels like a dream come true.” It won’t help you achieve your goals “but it will help you feel good and put a smile on your face.”
Day Four: Affection
Write a short letter to someone you know to tell them how much they mean to you.
Review the past seven days noting things that went really well. Write down a quick sentence about three of those things explaining why those things might have turned out so well.
And that’s it. It’s just five days with five short entries. Each type of entry is backed by several studies showing how this type of writing will make you notably happier. According to Wiseman, “you should quickly notice the difference in mood and happiness, changes that may persist for months. If you feel the effects wearing off, simply repeat the exercise.” That’s kind of neat.
Have you tried something like this out? Are you thinking about it?
No art, however minor, demands less than total dedication if you want to excel in it.
Leon Battista Alberti (architect, painter and mathematician)
Morale is key in design. I’m surprised people don’t talk more about it. One of my first drawing teachers told me: if you’re bored when you’re drawing something, the drawing will look boring. For example, suppose you have to draw a building, and you decide to draw each brick individually. You can do this if you want, but if you get bored halfway through and start making the bricks mechanically instead of observing each one, the drawing will look worse than if you had merely suggested the bricks.
Building something by gradually refining a prototype is good for morale because it keeps you engaged.
From Design and Research by Paul Graham.
Or maybe the past if you liked California-era Mr. Bungle. Regardless, it’s been a while since I’ve heard something so now. It’s ridiculous and it shouldn’t be any good at all. It’s Babymetal, I guess. Anyway, this whole thing makes me feel like I really am living in the future. (We are.) Enjoy.
Ain’t It Cool News interviewer Quint says it well, “To be a kid in my generation meant you grew up worshipping Snake Plissken, RJ MacReady and Jack Burton.” There’s a great, super-casual interview there with genre film legend Kurt Russell. Lots of interesting conversation on his career and his collaboration with director John Carpenter. Kurt compares them to Bernie Taupin and Elton John.
Is beauty objectively true? Are there principles you can use to guide you to it in your work? Can designers from both the sciences and the arts look at each others work and find beauty? These are important questions for designers of all types.
For those of us who design things … we need to be able to recognize it. We need good taste to make good things. Instead of treating beauty as an airy abstraction, to be either blathered about or avoided depending on how one feels about airy abstractions, let’s try considering it as a practical question: how do you make good stuff?
That’s programmer Paul Graham from his article Taste for Makers. Here’s my edited version of his principles for good design. What you need to make good stuff. I’m posting them here for my own benefit, as a note-taking exercise, and maybe yours if you don’t want to read the original. But you should.
- Good design is simple. For architects and designers it means that beauty should depend on a few carefully chosen structural elements rather than a profusion of superficial ornament. When you’re forced to be simple, you’re forced to face the real problem. When you can’t deliver ornament, you have to deliver substance.
- Good design is timeless. If something is ugly, it can’t be the best solution. There must be a better one, and eventually someone will discover it. If you can imagine someone surpassing you, you should do it yourself.
- Good design solves the right problem. The typical stove has four burners arranged in a square, and a dial to control each. How do you arrange the dials? The simplest answer is to put them in a row. But this is a simple answer to the wrong question. The dials are for humans to use, and if you put them in a row, the unlucky human will have to stop and think each time about which dial matches which burner. Better to arrange the dials in a square like the burners.
- Good design is suggestive. In architecture and design, this principle means that a building or object should let you use it how you want: a good building, for example, will serve as a backdrop for whatever life people want to lead in it, instead of making them live as if they were executing a program written by the architect.
- Good design is often slightly funny. This one may not always be true. Good design may not have to be funny, but it’s hard to imagine something that could be called humorless also being good design.
- Good design is hard. In art, the highest place has traditionally been given to paintings of people. There is something to this. If you draw a tree and you change the angle of a branch five degrees, no one will know. When you change the angle of someone’s eye five degrees, people notice.
- Good design looks easy. Like great athletes, great designers make it look easy. Mostly this is an illusion. The easy, conversational tone of good writing comes only on the eighth rewrite.
- Good design uses symmetry. I think symmetry may just be one way to achieve simplicity, but it’s important enough to be mentioned on its own. Nature uses it a lot, which is a good sign.
- Good design resembles nature. It’s not so much that resembling nature is intrinsically good as that nature has had a long time to work on the problem. It’s a good sign when your answer resembles nature’s.
- Good design is redesign. It’s rare to get things right the first time. Experts expect to throw away some early work. They plan for plans to change. You should cultivate dissatisfaction.
- Good design can copy. I think the greatest masters go on to achieve a kind of selflessness. They just want to get the right answer, and if part of the right answer has already been discovered by someone else, that’s no reason not to use it.
- Good design is often strange. At an art school where I once studied, the students wanted most of all to develop a personal style. But if you just try to make good things, you’ll inevitably do it in a distinctive way, just as each person walks in a distinctive way. Michelangelo was not trying to paint like Michelangelo. He was just trying to paint well; he couldn’t help painting like Michelangelo.
- Good design happens in chunks. At any given time there are a few hot topics and a few groups doing great work on them, and it’s nearly impossible to do good work yourself if you’re too far removed from one of these centers. You can push or pull these trends to some extent, but you can’t break away from them.
- Good design is often daring. Today’s experimental error is tomorrow’s new theory. If you want to discover great new things, then instead of turning a blind eye to the places where conventional wisdom and truth don’t quite meet, you should pay particular attention to them.
The biggest takeaway? “You should cultivate dissatisfaction.” There’s no answer to the sad problem of the designer who struggles to finish a project before he hates it. In fact, it’s a blessing. If you’re not dissatisfied with your work in some way you’re not progressing. Graham closes his article with similar words. “The recipe for great work is: very exacting taste, plus the ability to gratify it.” It’s true.