Design Paralysis pt.2
On Saturday, I went to Albuquerque for the day to attend the ASG convention. I do enjoy attending non-commercial sewing events. In some respects, it’s trend information that careens around in the hopper and sorts itself out later. I don’t try to make sense of it. Gal pal Sal wasn’t too keen on the idea but ended up enjoying herself and bought even more stuff than I did. I finally got to meet Connie Crawford who says she’s coming out with a new sewing book that I am looking forward to seeing (I’m not thrilled about my latest acquisition). I’ve been recommending her drafting book for some time now. She asked me to tell you to get the discount by mentioning it; it’s not on her order form but she will issue an adjustment.
Sally and I spent quite a bit of time visiting with John Marshall, an authority on Japanese Textiles and author of Make Your Own Japanese Clothes: Patterns and Ideas for Modern Wear. He’s incredibly knowledgeable as well as personable. As we were leaving the booth, it suddenly occurred to me to ask him about design paralysis, how does this happen? In response, he asked me a very interesting question, something along the lines of what would you design if you had all the money, time, equipment and skills in the world? In other words, what would you do if you had no limitations? Instantly, I knew the answer was there. Answering his own question, he said Sally and I were “too rich”. We have too much. We have the skills (more than anything), access to materials we want and that which we don’t have, we know who knows where we can get it. We have few limitations or constraints. I’d been keenly aware that I am often paralyzed by too many choices in the marketplace (see The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, a good run down is here) but I had not internalized the lesson in my role as a designer.
John’s idea is delicious, one I’ve mulled over the weekend. Not coincidentally, his response reminded me of one of my most favorite books, Against All Odds, a history of Toyota Motor Company. I’ve always felt this book is one of the most inspirational books any manufacturer could read. It’s the story of constraints and how to be successful in spite of them. It’s how to create something from nothing with everything stacked against you. Considering how the company has succeeded since their humble start, the greater story is how they’ve managed to continue innovation in spite of having become “too rich”.
John admitted he’d become too rich himself, that this was why he’d become a teacher. I suppose that explains why I’ve done that as well although I wasn’t aware of having made the choice. The problem is, I still want to make stuff if only because I can and I worry about getting rusty and out of practice. I think that if you are too rich, a solution is to create constraints. Sally has done this by committing to a donation of $1,000 to an organization she can’t stand if she doesn’t meet her goal. Since I don’t trust myself enough to do something like that, I think mine may be to get rid of stuff so I have less to choose from (something I started again in earnest last week) and to limit what I may do according to given pieces I have. The second thing that occurs to me is that buying another machine (that sexy needle-feed) may be a step in the wrong direction. But then if I don’t, I can’t sew all this leather -or velvet. Decisions, decisions. I need fewer of them.
Then I wonder, suppose and ponder about successful designers and how they manage to be prolific year after year. Not famous designers (with legendary constraints who run their own labels) but ordinary commercial designers employed by firms. You know how I always say that few designers in real life know how to sew and I’m on the fence about whether that is good or bad? Now I think that lack of sewing or pattern skills could be a pivotal reason they are successful and maybe, another reason some of us should be less consumed as to the value of designers to acquire said skills. Or you for that matter.
Feel free to fantasize…what would you do if you had all the time, materials and skills to do whatever you wanted? I think you will do less than you imagine. I know I was more creative and prolific when I knew less.