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Obsessive-Compulsive Design Disorder

Some designers are crazy about their work. They're also persistent and motivated. design mind on GOOD is a series exploring the power of design...

Some designers are crazy about their work. They’re also persistent and motivated.

design mind on GOOD is a series exploring the power of design by the editors of design mind magazine.

For two days in February my time was filled with inspiring talks about design, technology, and so-named “cool shit” at the FITC conference in Amsterdam. Since I returned to Austin, however, I have been looking to find a common thread that tied the talks together into some sort of larger idea. After thinking through a number of possibilities I realized one thing: All the presenters were out of their minds—in a good way.

These were extremely passionate and motivated individuals, but more than that they were obsessed. Perhaps as designers we all have to be a bit obsessive-compulsive about art, nature, storytelling, data, programming, craft, or whatever. If we aren’t, we would have nothing to inspire us; nothing would enable us to transcend the everyday. There would be no guiding force in our work. We would just stand still.

Some designers go for walks to literally avoid standing still. Jared Tarbell, an experimental digital artist and co-founder of Etsy, hits the trail to find lichens, rocks, and patterns in nature that inspire him to create an impressive array of programmatic studies, which he posts at his site. Many of his experiments are informed by mathematical patterns known as recursion or the Fibonacci sequence, which explains the patterns often found in snail shells and sunflower heads. Tarbell obsessively and wholeheartedly employs nature to digitally create complex designs and then applies them to paper, wood, and even stone.

Persistence is also key. Shaun Hamontree of MK12, a motion firm based in Kansas City, is an avid storyteller and is in no doubt inspired by the very stories he is commissioned to portray. His firm was up for consideration by a production company to do visual effects for the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. In order to get the bid, they almost maniacally made the decision to proceed as though they had already been awarded the work. Using tactics that would have made 007 proud— like obtaining a script and blueprints for the set through espionage—they won the job.

Fortunately, that isn’t the end of the story. Although they hadn’t been invited to design the opening credits, to stay ahead of the game, they did them anyway. They submitted their take on the credits to the production company, but were told it didn’t fit the style of the film. Not to be defeated that easily, they took the “fake it until you make it” mantra to a whole new level: They said there was actually a second version but it would take a couple days to hone and deliver. So, they went back and frantically created a new version that won them the opening credits.

But inspiration and persistence can only be successful with motivation. Edison once defined genius as “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” One speaker that seems to embody this principle is Erik Natzke, a Flash guru who uses technology to create innovative work. He attributes his success to the willingness to fail and the stubbornness not to give up. Where most people might use a plug-in or take the easy route he learns how to build his own plug-in and then uses that. Although time consuming, this hones his skill so that he can constantly redefine the type of work that he does. Producing work at this level takes a lot of perseverance and doggedness, but most of all it takes having the right approach to solving problems.

To be truly inspired you must first be obsessed, persistent, and motivated. It doesn’t hurt to bend the truth every once and a while either.

Photo (CC) by Flickr user Justmakeit

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