made you look
Recently, I watched a lecture by one of my idols Virgil Abloh on design. You might remember him—from previous writing of mine—as a former creative director for Kanye West and the founder of luxury apparel brand Off-White. In this lecture, titled "THEORETICALLY SPEAKING" he posed a plethora of fascinating points and challenges to the audience.
One of his points I loved was his insistence on looking at things as you never have before. To crudely explain, imagine you're designing a layout involving the year 1985. He posits that, before you're done, you should look at that number so many different ways that it is no longer just a year. Another, perhaps simpler, way to put it: question everything.
Question. Not challenge. You don't need to be so confrontational to learn, especially at the formative stage of design that many (myself included) are currently experiencing. So, I decided to try this out, this notion of forcing myself to look at things like I never have. And it's weird. Here's my first ever set of notes I wrote down when trying this out:
Sidewalks. Weird juxtaposition of concrete and grass. Everywhere in cities. Natural substance right up against a totally man-made thing. And it's forced into a rectangular shape, grass forced into straight lines. But the concrete sidewalks aren't built with the purpose of restricting the grass, they just both exist in that space.
I told you it was weird right? But seeing myself write something like that was fascinating. Please note I'm not saying it was a stroke of brilliance in any sense. Probably the opposite, you probably got a laugh out of it. But what I'm saying is that I've walked on sidewalks all my life and never thought twice about them—or once, to be honest. It's astounding to realize what a useful tool this can be in design.
Virgil, a staunch model of practicing what he preaches, crafted his designer brand's main aesthetic based on the stripes of road warning signs . For each of Off-White's brick & mortar locations, he takes an idea (urban nature, incomplete construction, desk-job platitude, etc.) that in no way should work properly as a retail storefront and rethinks it until it becomes a place in which he can sell clothing, as well as a piece of experiential artwork.
So, if you have ten minutes, I encourage you to try what I did. You don't even have to go outside. Maybe look at the desk that your computer is sitting on while you read this. Why did that rectangular slab of wood become a desk? How was it chosen to become this? And why is it a rectangle? Such sharp, uninviting angles all over, yet I'm supposed to sit down at it and work. Are desks even worth it? How many brilliant ideas have been made at these things versus standing up, walking around, talking with friends?
Ask everything questions. You'd be surprised by how many responses inanimate objects will give you to think about.