At the beginning of my diploma, when I was looking at my big, sprawling, open-ended designs, I wondered how on earth I would know when they were finished. It was a good question, and the lack of clarity was definitely a flaw in my design process. Two years in, I find that the constant process of thinking about what I want to achieve has really developed my skills in defining project boundaries and knowing when I am done. I find that I can come up with an idea and not only know whether or not it is feasible (through experience of biting off more than I can chew), but also know how I will know when I have finished that particular design. I have italicised the I, because I think that markers of success are very person-specific. For example, in a design for a business, one person’s goal might be to earn a certain amount of money, but financial goals just don’t work for me, I am not motivated by them. I would prefer to set goals along the lines of ‘run x amount of courses,’ or ‘raise prices to x amount’. What I have realised is that being able to clearly define what you want out of a project means knowing yourself, your priorities and what is feasible for you really really well. So, for me, the first step to knowing when a design is done is to know yourself well and set project boundaries that fit in with that.
The second way I have discovered of knowing when a design is done it to understand the lifecycle of how things are achieved. I wrote about this idea in this post. It’s the Hero’s Journey, the idea which suggests that all of the stories in the world are based on one story – the monomyth. My friend Erica has just written a book on how you can use this idea in your own life. The hero’s journey goes (a little) like this:
The call to adventure – “wouldn’t building a garden on this roof be cool?”
The refusal of the call – “nah, it would be too difficult and I couldn’t do it.”
The acceptance of the call (this is when you get cool stuff and people want to help you) – “ok, sod it, let’s have a go! Wow, thanks for all of the plants, mum. Yep, it’d be really great if you helped me out.”
The belly of the whale – “Aggh, it’s really hard to get stuff to grow up here because of the wind. This isn’t as exciting as when I started out.”
The Supreme Ordeal – “All my plants have died. Ok, I’ll plant the whole lot again.”
Triumphant return – “I’ve done it! I’ve grown all these plants through a whole season on this less than easy roof. Want me to teach you?”
When I think about all of my designs, I can plot them along a point on this journey. I have come to realise though, that a greater ‘journey’ (e.g. making a living from scything) might be made up of several smaller journeys. You might not get your big success all at once. In fact you probably wont. I think that every success (for example, I feel like I have done really well with scything courses this year), heralds a rethink and a new journey. I have discovered that it is impossible to create a design that is too big, because each big design with naturally break itself down into several smaller ones. A garden design will do this – e.g. a smaller design for a pizza oven, for planting for beneficial insects, for year-round produce. This ‘breaking down’ is a pretty good example of designing from patterns to details – a principle that baffled me when I first started, but which I really really value now.