The following is an excerpt from a letter that I wrote to a student whose work I critiqued via correspondence. I feel that it accurately represents my philosophy that design education is an experience as universally applicable as the principles of design practice.
Seek treasures amid ruins.
Before I get into the thick of the feedback, allow me to offer you some insight as you take your first intrepid steps toward the impossibly distant horizon of expertise. Of absolutely greatest importance for you to accept is that you’re still cooking. This is a process; it’s a journey. You’re starting with relatively zero knowledge on a subject that has been evolving for thousands of years. You’re seeking to enter a field of practice that demands that one define herself by its culture, and, at your age, it’s likely that you’re only just beginning to get a glimpse of who you are. You’re in a program recognized for excellence on an international level, and you’re in the most psychologically challenging phase of that program. If you could, even for an instant, feel satisfied that you know what you’re doing, it would bode far more ominously for your future than the fact that you feel lost, and that you struggle to succeed. To overcome a struggle, one cannot avoid being made strong enough to survive; to find herself she cannot avoid learning exactly where she is. These are the true fruits of the experience that you’re having right now. If it were easy, you would be robbed of them. It matters not in the least if you succeed or fail at this project, this course, this major, or this stage of education. It only matters that you see it all for what it really is: a chance for you to grow into something more than you were when you started.
Finally, I must reveal the sobering truth that this hill you’re climbing is only one small point in that lifelong journey. There will be many milestones to reach, many new plateaus to strive for. It’s not where you’re standing when you stop to look around that reveals the quality of the stuff you’re made from, but the poise and pluck you demonstrate as you shoulder your burden and climb to the next highest place.
Design is action made deliberate through careful planning. A designer’s purpose is to affect the observable behavior of living things through manipulating the predictable qualities of materials. It’s a way of looking at the world that allows methodology to transcend discipline.
You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.
We live in the most visually literate society ever in human history, and that literacy compounds rapidly and organically with every new innovation and shift in communication trends. With so many messages being consumed and processed by the average person every hour of the day, the stakes for accuracy, originality, and ethics are higher than ever, and constantly rising.
The world is shouting so loudly at us through the little black rectangles in our pockets, and the medium black rectangles in our laps, and the large black rectangles on our walls; at times it seems that the only way to hear one's own voice is to be quiet. Before beginning a new project, before analyzing a client's content, before opening any files, completely let go of any preconceived ideas for what the solution should be. Empty the cup so that it can be filled with something new.
There is no more solid foundation upon which to build a platform for communication than objectivity. It bears the weight of the designer's methods in a way that no other approach can be trusted to do. From objectivity springs voluminous curiosity which must be met with dedicated research. In consideration of the great many details one discovers through research, the need to bring them into order by some formulaic strategy is revealed. That strategic organization of goals, insights, and components becomes the metrics by which iterations of a concept are measured. The proven concept is the precise blueprint for the execution of a successful design solution.