Remember elementary school, when you were asked to draw something for class?
You got out your crayon box and let your imagination take over. You drew grass and flowers and a sun, or a house with a front door and four windows. You mentally put yourself into that piece of paper and went to town. If someone asked you about it, I doubt you’d say, “this is where I put the green, and this is where I put the yellow , and the house won’t function right unless I put the chimney there.” No, you’d talk about who was in the house, and what activities were going on – if it was a windy day, or why it was a sunny day, and maybe there was someone in the house making dinner, and that the chimney was there so that you could smell your favorite food cooking. There might be a flower drawn taller than the house, because you felt the environment needed a bigger dose of nature!
Ask any first grader to describe a picture they drew, and you aren’t going to get a two-dimensional description, they are going to tell you what it’s like to inhabit the space. As adults, our behavior and expectations for ourselves change, but I believe we still have access to those vivid thoughts with a little unraveling of our routines.
There is a photograph of two men fly fishing in a calm stream that cuts through springtime woods, and I’ve carried it around the office a lot lately. When I first used it for inspiration to select a finish palette for a client, I didn’t realize how much time the picture and I would spend together, as I transported it all through the office and across state lines. I used the image as a tool to help create a sense of space within a collection of interior finishes, interpreting the reflections of light on the rippled water as a carpet with a two-tone abstract pattern in it, the trees and leaves as medium toned paints, the texture of the pebbles as glass panels with netting pressed between the layers.
I presented the group of finishes and the photograph to an in-house design review, set it on the floor, and proceeded to talk about what kind of wall base and LVT would work for the project. Shortly into the meeting, Mike McDonnell stopped me to change course and urge me to explain why I made these choices. I hadn’t thought of my design process as something to be shared until that moment. It was just something I did. But I didn’t just bring a rubber base, I brought a story that would soon be part of the client’s.
I took the photograph with me when I brought the finishes to the client and explained how the elements in the image helped to mentally sculpt the spaces we were creating for them. The tranquil fishing scene had an ambiance with which the group immediately connected. They wanted to be there. They even began discussing which person in the group got to be which fisherman (“I’m that guy!”). It flowed into a conversation on acoustics, lighting levels and color palette.
On my second visit, I didn’t need to explain my process to newcomers at all. People who had been at the previous presentation did it for me, because they remembered and understood on sensory level how we were working toward creating the space: “See, what IKM is doing here is creating tonal balance in the flooring between the spaces…” We then proceeded to look at the floor plan, and with the aid of the picture, we didn’t discuss as the 2D element it was, but as how it was functioning volumetrically.
Through this experience, I broke through the wall we build the day we transition from student to “professional.” Our most valuable thoughts and habits become so ingrained in our individual processes that we have a hard time distilling their meaning when it matters most. The pieces that make human-centered design “human” is not something to be subverted, it’s as important to sharing as the finished product itself. The connection to the design process gave us common ground to work toward creating a space the client related to on a personal level, one that could have easily been overlooked and discarded if not for Mike’s advice.
From now on, I’m going to ask myself how we can build intuitive connections to the physical environment, document my inspiration, and approach new projects with unfiltered childlike curiosity.
When in doubt, I think I’ll consult my first grader. 🙂
Lisa Granger, NCIDQ, LEED ID+C
Imagination advocate, Mother of 3, Word Game Fanatic
Best Homeowning Advice Ever Received: “Don’t start your DIY plumbing project at night.”