As you might suspect, I’ve been producing a lot more work than I’ve been posting. Ironically enough, this one is a guide to beating procrastination—the very thing that keeps me from updating here more regularly. I promise to do better!
The brief for this project was called “Scenarios and Lifestyles”. Using any media we chose, we had to observe and record and everyday scenario and/or our life for a day. Then using design, come up with a way to improve that aspect or scenario in our lives.
After getting moved in, I found it didn’t take long to fall back into some old habits, namely the problem of getting motivated to do basic, rather unpleasant household chores. I noticed that many of these chores took hardly any time, and that the problem was starting them, not necessarily doing them. I decided to do a little chart showing just how long these things take, in an effort to overcome the feeling that they take a lot longer than I expect, which leads to putting them off. I wrote a brief for the project (which I also included on the poster itself), which explains the concept more fully:
One source of procrastination is the planning fallacy: a psychological quirk where we significantly over- or underestimate the amount of time required to complete a task. In doing my research for this task, I decided to focus on everyday activities which I procrastinate on, due to overestimating the amount of time required to do them. I’ve found I put off chores such as cleaning, firstly because they’re not fun, but also because I expect they’ll take me all afternoon on my day off, so I never get around to starting them. This chart was designed as a physical, visual motivator and reminder of the true length of time mundane tasks take.
For several days, I timed myself doing chores, which I then recorded on this chart. This serves two purposes. First, it acts as a reminder as to how long these things actually take. Rather than wondering when, at some nebulous point in the future, I’ll finally be done and be able to pop off down to the pub for a pint, I can get a much more precise estimate of how long I need to work. Secondly, it acts as an extrinsic goal-keeper. Unlike my own brain, it’s not something I can argue with, plead with, or rationalize with. I can set my timer for the length of time indicated, start work, and know that after that time has elapsed I’ll be done (or nearly so). This makes it easier to get started on mundane tasks, and ensure they’ll be completed more regularly. Rather than something that save energy or materials, it’s a tool designed to save time.
Since I’m already updating this, I’ll go ahead and throw in a few more observations and thoughts about the program so far. It’s interesting to experience exactly how theoretical the work is. Firstly, the briefs are extremely open-ended. To compare things to the undergrad work: typically we’d assign (as a teacher) or be assigned (as a student) some specific design problem to solve, e.g. a brochure. Sometimes there are additional restrictions, such as only use two colors, or must include one photograph, things like that. As a teacher, there was often some specific technical thing (or several) I wanted my students to address, and so would tailor the assignment appropriately.
The work we’re expected to do here has quite literally no technical limitations, and by extension, the critiques focus very little on technical execution and almost exclusively on the success of communicating whatever it was we chose to try and communicate. I’ll admit that’s a bit unsettling for me, as someone who likes to have a well-defined plan and specific goals to shoot for. If you’re assigned a brochure to design, it’s easy to see whether or not you’ve done that. But if the assignment is “record your life for a day”, who’s to say that doing it in braille isn’t appropriate, so long as it supports whatever the idea is that you’re trying to convey? Things are very much about the ideas, and not as much about the execution of the ideas.
What this has led to are several people in the cohort who do the very bare minimum in thinking and effort. They may have an idea, but there is always a ready excuse as to why it’s not finished as a tangible work of design, or why it didn’t get printed, etc. We talk about the ideas, certainly, but I’m under the distinct impression that, even though the technical aspects of the work aren’t really discussed much, they really do matter—even if it’s only in the demonstration of a serious effort. Not to mention, a mediocre idea gets more traction when it’s well produced than does a brilliant idea not done. As Bill Watterson (the artist of Calvin and Hobbes) once said: “if the joke isn’t funny, go for broke on the illustration.”
Of course, I have no intention of doing mediocre ideas; I want to do brilliant ideas and execute them fantastically, to the best of my ability. It not only requires a serious amount of very concentrated thinking (and a certain amount of the ever-illusive “inspiration” never hurts), but also the ability to define one’s own terms, set up one’s own limitations, and basically decide what, how, and why you’re going to do anything at all. And it’s tough. But it’s also really exciting.
I’m extremely fortunate that I have such an incredibly solid grounding in the use of the software, and in the general principles of design and art. It’s really easy to take that stuff for granted. Because the course focuses on “communication design” as a general concept, anybody with the capacity to do the right kind of thinking is accepted. This doesn’t automatically mean they also know how to use the tools to execute their ideas. This has been a real struggle for a few of the folks who either don’t come from an art background or (in the case of one lovely older woman in our group), has her degree in design from 1987, before any real use of computers to do the work. That I’m able to sit down at the computer and not have to think for one iota about any aspect of how I’m going to execute my idea is something that I am quite grateful for.
I’ve had a lot of really good feedback on my work so far, too. There hasn’t been much that’s been a big surprise. The only real major criticism of my work is that it’s often just extremely literal—something I’m quite aware of, but do need to be reminded of in order to stay focused and working on it. It’s not really in my nature to be very metaphorical or abstract in what I’m trying to say (in writing, art, or anything), so it’ll be interesting to see what develops out of that. I’ve also gotten a lot of praise for my style and execution and overall pixel-perfect professionalism. (One comment on a motion graphics piece of mine was, “This is better than almost everything on the telly.”) So again, I know that I have that going for me.
This is also a good time to mention that there is no formal grading on each piece that adds up to a final grade for the course at the end of the semester. There are a series of learning outcomes and criteria by which students are judged. Unfortunately these can be nebulous, as subjective art-speak often is. (One LO reads: “We will be looking for resolution of ideas into final outcomes.” Well yes, one should hope so. I suppose it’s stated for completeness, but it’s so self-evident as to be a bit meaningless.) More to the point, there are no real ongoing progress reports, but even in the absence of that, I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job.
Finally, in other news, I’ve also been selected as the MA student representative for the 2012-13 year. The position is mostly a liaison between students and faculty, as a way to address needs and issues within the student body by having a point of contact to communicate with the appropriate faculty and staff. Although it’s extra work (and by the looks of it so far, may actually be quite a significant amount), I’m really excited to be involved. I regret not stepping out and being more involved with extracurricular activities when I was an undergrad, so I’m making a point to not let opportunities slip by while I’m here.