I stopped making random collages in Photoshop after my first year of university because after being trained to see the world differently, I felt I no longer had the liberty to make uninformed design decisions. I felt a greater responsibility because I had formal training and had no excuse to be contributing to visual pollution. Prior to design school, I was a self-taught amateur with no rules, free to experiment with the tools I had access to, mostly because no one expected visual sensibility from me. Anything non-ugly was already a bonus. It seems silly that I designed less in my free time as a design student because I should have been practising my skills, but somehow I was scared.
My roommate reminded me today that now that I’m in a writing program, I’ve stopped blogging. In a similar way to design, I’ve become much more intimidated about blogging these days, partially because I have to do it so often in school, but mostly because right now I actually have to think of myself as a writer. I never consider myself to be a writer because I don’t do it frequently and haven’t been trained to do it. Even when I wrote for IDSGN, I didn’t ever think I was a writer. But then apparently this is what I’m studying to do now. To be honest, I don’t think I have a voice or writing style because I didn’t consciously choose one. My style is really just defined by my limitations, and if I knew more about writing, I probably wouldn’t write like this.
I do a lot of my designing by just seeing things and simply being. When uninspired, I never hesitate to go out with friends, flip through books, talk on the phone, cook a meal or simply look out the window for a really long time because I feel all these experiences enrich my visual bank which I keep referring to. Everything I do is absorbed into my creative sponge, and at the end of the day I can wring it all out and translate it into something visual. My mind never stops designing, which is why I never felt guilty about having fun or keeping a part-time job. I didn’t feel bad when I read blogs at work.
As a designer, I worked better in the evenings and often I could work with only a few hours sleep. Life was a series of all-nighters, naps and lots of designing and fun in between. But now that so much of my time is spent reading, I find my brain doesn’t function very well with little sleep. Instead of working through the night, I wake up at 8AM to read with a clear mind. When I don’t sleep enough, I lose focus and my productivity suffers. Sometimes I read paragraphs over and over again to understand them.
A lot of the time, I think of seemingly brilliant design concepts, that turn out to be the most ridiculous and strange ideas after execution. In design, it’s the process of translating that is so exciting, because some things that don’t seem to work also sometimes do. There’s so much iteration in the design process, but it’s all empirical learning. You never know where each project will take you. But I’ve found that when writing, if it doesn’t sound right in my head, chances are it won’t look good on paper either. There really isn’t any element of surprise because words don’t magically seem more cohesive just because they are written. There just isn’t a different way to look at it. You can’t really mask it, juxtapose it to something else, scale it, duplicate it, print it, rip it or manipulate it with your fingers they way you would with design materials. If words sound stupid, they stay stupid until you think of new ones.
When I am collecting thoughts in my head for writing while on a walk or commute, it’s difficult to remember them later if I don’t take a note of them. Even if what I want to say is perfectly articulate at that moment, sequences of words are harder to remember than compositions and juxtapositions of forms. It’s just difficult to take a mental picture and recall it later on. Maybe I don’t speak the language well enough yet (English?) or I’m not used to this communication because I find typography to be much easier to understand and express than the actual words themselves.
Grad school, writing, New York–all of this is unfamiliar to me, and the combination of adapting to them at once has made me extremely disoriented lately. Every day requires a great deal of energy, maturity and discipline. New York as a city is a lot to take in already, and while I love it, it has been overwhelming. I hope I adjust to all this sooner rather than later, because I have a lot of pending assignments and it would really help if I synced to the rhythm of things. And maybe with more practice, I’ll figure out the writing process too and find that it’s as fun as it is to design.