In the last post on this series we had a lovely young textile designer write about the thought process behind choosing between gathering knowledge of the work under an established designer and starting her own venture. In this new post we see that there’s more to a ‘title’ than just the literal definition. There is a primary skill associated with every job, but then there’s that one thing beyond it that makes you great. Think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson.
The perspective shown in this post by a young design practitioner Sarojini Dantapalli is a brilliant one. Having co-founded a firm called Design Experiment with designer Abhitej Velore, she shares with us what she believes is the most important lesson the last two years of her journey taught her. We hope that it helps you find the spark that brings you greatness.
The designer and the story teller
“For a young design practice the only thing more dangerous than lying about what they do, is to not talk about what they do.”
One of the most important aspects of being a designer is to observe people – what they like, what they don’t, how they move, how they use what we give them, and how their surroundings can be improved. As engrossed as I was in studying interactions of human beings with the world around them, it’s the subtleties of human interactions that evaded me – the interactions between people.
As a child I remember being very bogged down by the constant nag of “what will people think?” (Watch how you behave, watch what you say, be careful how you speak, so on and so forth.) Not knowing how to deal with this array of uncertainties, I decided to lock those voices out. I told myself they didn’t matter and shunned them all out.
It wasn’t until I ventured out on my own, trying to sell what I believed was the “genius of great design”, that I began to take interest in people again. I learnt with time that the important question is not “what will people think?” but “what do we want, people to think?”
Let me confess that when I first started out I was just a silent observer of the world spending most of my days solving design problems or making products come into existence. I very naively presumed that when I do good work, the world will be my stage and I’ll have a very enthusiastic audience craving to know what I have for them. Hell! Of course that was far from reality. Well it is true that the world is your stage, however, the audience in question are the ones we need to earn.
This is how I understand the world- we are all creators, with different perspectives and perceptions; we all have our notions of right and wrongs, what should be and shouldn’t. We all have our stories to tell. We all play the audience and the performers at some level or the other.
The few people that stick out in our heads however, are the few performers that excelled at what they did. Not always because of the inventive products they made or the creative work they put out, but many times because of the brilliant stories they said.
I started to notice that most of the popular architects/designers/inventors were more often than not known for something beyond their products. People loved their work but more importantly, people loved them. I loved them. They inspire me because they show me not only their work, but they share with me their stories, their struggles, their beliefs, their aspirations and of course their successes.
I realized it’s important to take out time to speak your mind. People like to know about other PEOPLE. They like knowing about great work, but they LOVE knowing about great people.
This has till now been easier said than done.
Realizing my shortcomings, I started to observe all the designers/inventors who were great presenters and what they did right. Gradually it started to make more sense. The key, I noticed, was that every step of the way they not only thought about how people would use what they make, or the difference their work would make, but also what is the impact they want to make on the world. How do they want people to perceive them and their work?
Observing some of my favourite presenters from different fields, from how they drove their point in, to how they unveiled their ideas. How they explain and imprint the greatest strengths of their theories and stories in our minds, It slowly became apparent to me, that presentation was much like design. It relied heavily on understanding people. While designing they’re your users; while presenting, your audience. You need to understand what they are looking for, what their tastes are, what they would find enticing, and what they would overlook.
Presentation is basically like storytelling or movie making or choreography. You think about how you start, how you build and how you end. You need to know what points would excite the viewer and what would put them at ease. You need to make sure these absolute high energy points are separated by a sense of calm otherwise their impact would not be felt. You need to make sure that you build an expectation, let the audience know something is coming, and then give them the satisfaction of being right. You need to make sure you maintain the emotion you want throughout the presentation. You need to make sure you end with a lasting impact. At every point in choreography, you need to put yourself in the audiences’ shoes and think about how they would feel – just like how you would in design. Good presentation can only come out of a good understanding of people. The only way you can understand people better is to put yourself amongst them and embrace their presence.
I’m not saying presentation is everything. Design, in the end, is ultimately what satisfies or dissatisfies a user. However it is presentation which converts a viewer into a user in the first place. Presentation is what gives you a chance. For emerging designers, chances are vital.
Here is where my struggle from being a passionate designer to an aspiring story teller begins.
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