Tag Archives: design process

Macho Work Culture

We burn out our students, and design firms often burn out their employees. There is an unrealistic expectation of the number of hours that need to be spent in the studio. I came across this article in the Guardian recently that goes into and debunks the myth.

There is a physical toll that impedes your mental ability when you don’t get sufficient sleep and exercise. Sleep is critical to humans. There are a small minority of people that can survive on much less sleep than the rest of us, but for most of us a minimum of 7 hours, and preferably that full 8 hours. Exercise is also shown to help the mind function correctly, and releases endorphins that help to elevate your mood, and actually gives you more stamina. And finally, eating correctly. This means a balanced meal, not sugar from the vending machine. Caffeine has a half life in the body of 4 to 6 hours, meaning that 8-12 hours after you drink that coffee, you’ve still got 25% of the caffeine still in your body. All-night work seldom yields progress equal to the number of hours.

Plan ahead. My teacher, Robert Mangurian, would ask what the final presentation was going to look like at the start of the project. I know what you are thinking: How can I know what my presentation is going to look like when I don’t know what my project is? Well, you do know what your project is. Typically, you have a site, you know the scale of the building, you know the scale of the drawings you are asked to produce. Do the busy work while you are developing concept. Set up your sheets for your final presentation. Think about the renderings you will be doing. As the concept develops, you’ll be able to apply it to your base sheets without having to create the entirety. And the busy work is something to do while you are still investigating concept. The work must progress, and typically it progresses by steady application.

Look, there is no doubt that any profession will make time demands to complete things on time, and any profession will require additional work to make that happen. Sh!t happens. You discover late that significant changes need to be made; you came up with a better idea; someone gets sick and you are short a team member; the list goes on. But if you (or your manager) are regularly requiring long hours, then you didn’t manage your project well. These should be exceptions, not the rule.

You need to learn to work smart, not just hard.


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For some reason in design schools we have adopted the term “iteration” for doing multiple versions. In writing this is called a “draft.” And I cannot enough stress the need for multiple drafts, especially early on when still forming an idea. Drafts are a way of clarifying your thinking. Drafts are a way of testing your ideas, to see if they work. Even the strongest 3D thinkers among us cannot fully envision complex space and form without using tools of visualization – whether hand or digital – to test the concept. Design is not so different from the scientific method, wherein a hypothesis is tested, the results analyzed, and a conclusion is made, which might result in a revision to the hypothesis, new testing, new analysis, and new conclusions. Or the dialectical approach (which I like better because it rhymes): thesis, antithesis, synthesis (idea, test/challenge, refinement). This thinking goes for any aspect of the design process, from the big ideas, down to the details, it is a constant process of refinement.

I like this article from another discipline by Fred Bernstein, the architectural critic, who started his career writing by studying and practicing law. Law is a profession where language is the foundation, and people go to great lengths to make sure their meaning is not misunderstood, and indeed, to make sure they themselves know what they are saying. Thus it is with design. Good design is a constant act of refinement and questioning, research, testing, and many, many drafts.

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