Imagine it’s early January when I started writing this post, rather than early September when I finally finished it. It’s been a busy year tackling this issue.
It was a tough week for me. Not because it was my birthday and growing older reminded me of my own mortality. I like birthdays, and if anything I was disappointed because I was distracted by other things. But that’s okay, the day I was born is arbitrary. The real day that I celebrate is October 3rd, 1979: Tornado Day. I also got sick a few days before my birthday. A horrible sick I don’t want to tell you the details of, other than that I slept for about thirty hours and it took me three days before I trusted food again. It’s one of those sicknesses I will remember for a long time and reference when horror stories need to be shared. I think whatever freak bug I got stuck with me all week because even now almost a week later my stomach is still not in great shape. Then again it might not be the sickness lingering but stress. I store stress in my stomach. Like an idiot. The stress is caused by some PTA volunteering I’m doing right now. Isn’t that annoying? When volunteering causes stress? When being helpful to others makes your life a wreck? I’m sure I’ll survive and maybe even learn not to hold onto other people’s worries. Perhaps I’ll learn to just accept that I can’t make everyone happy and if me saying no annoys someone, then tough shit.All that was going on in mid-January, but that’s probably not what was really bothering me. That particular week I was supposed to start schematic design for an addition to a house in north Seattle. Design in school was easy. Design in the real world has been very tough. And I’m starting to understand why. Drafting, modeling, redlining, rendering, and other workhorse tasks are easy. They are straightforward. They have a beginning and an end. Design doesn’t. It has an amorphous beginning and a stopping point—because money or time has run out, or because the right solution appears.
My design process is slow. I don’t sit down with a sketchbook and draw pretty pictures. I’ve never done that. Not really. Design inspiration comes irregularly. A flood one day. A wasteland of uselessness another. And yet both extremes, and all the points between are valuable—and billed at the same rate. And this is what turns my stomach in knots. Designing is a lot of things, but often for me it’s one of two extremes: silent musing or fun and easy. Silent musing is enjoyable too, but the sitting still “not doing anything” kind of trumps the fun aspect of it. Sure, sure. Design isn’t always easy or fun. Sometimes it’s hard and annoying and a pain in the ass. But mostly it’s enjoyable.
Both versions of my design process make me feel guilty as hell. Like I’m cheating and stealing. I get paid to sit and think. Or get paid to do something that’s fun. For all of my career thus far, I can see that one of the things holding me back has been this guilt. The guilt of sitting at my desk for a few hours problem solving a design issue. I don’t know why.It’s hard to say if this struggle was always with me or started in the working world—once money became involved. One particular example from my early career sticks with me. This isn’t the origin point. I was already deep in this pit of lack of self esteem. But it didn’t help. I was working on this amazing project. I won’t link to it to spare the culprit. He’s a fine architect and it is one of my favorite projects ever. But the story isn’t about how he treated me, so let’s forget about him. The story is about me and design. I was developing the model and drawings for this beautiful addition and remodel. We were deep into Design Development, maybe Construction Documents. I found an issue with the design. Rather than alert the project architect, I decided to solve the issue myself. I already knew back then (2007) that I tended to avoid design work. Maybe I was just protecting myself because I wasn’t comfortable with criticism or being told I didn’t know what I was doing. In this instance though I decided to force myself to take ownership of the issue, to take risks and try to solve it myself. I spent a bunch of time coming up with options and found the best solution I could. I printed out my ideas (this was a long time ago when one still foolishly printed everything out) and showed it to the project architect. What did he do? He grabbed some trace, pushed my design aside and reworked the whole problem on the original plan. I don’t recall if he came to my same solution or not, but I watched him throw hours of my time in the trash—hours the client was going to pay for. It burned me hard. I know this was just one architect, not all architects. But it killed me to think how we were mismanaging the clients money. Maybe I’m still not recovered from that waste.
Or maybe I’m just horribly out of practice as I spent years after that incident just hammering away at improving other people’s designs and rarely taking the lead myself. I wanted to be a good steward of client resources and not duplicate work. I wanted to avoid waste. I spent more time shoegnoming than taking control. Well until recently. Things are a lot better now than when I started this article, but it’s still hard. I have more insight into the situation. But I don’t have time to share the details today. Maybe before the end of the year. Maybe. But it looks like I have a lot more designing to do this year. So instead of writing about the issue, I’ll spend the next few months exploring it. Either way, expect more thoughts on this topic. Just be patient. If I don’t have time to write about my design process and a million other things, I will at least be oversharing what my design process looks like on Instagram and Facebook. For instance in late August 2016, I shared the evolution of a DADU I was designing. It was super helpful for my process. It forced me to produce images and allowed me to reflect on them while I was away from my desk (thanks to having access to the images on my phone). Oh and it opened me up to feedback and criticism from other architects. Sharing the images of that DADU improved the design tremendously. It turns out feedback from supportive people is awesome.Follow Shoegnome on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. Even if I don’t have time to write, I still have time to post interesting images and photos of what I’m up to on social media. If I’m designing, my goal is to create and share a rendering daily. The images in this article were from a currently unbuilt project I did in conjunction with Cary Westerbeck of Westerbeck | Architecture. Cary and I have been teaming up on all sorts of great projects recently. I’ve got a mountain of blog posts brewing on all the awesomeness that is that friendship. But no time to write them. Fortunately my writing process is a lot like my architectural design process. A lot of slow boil while doing other stuff.