Conscious Design

15845571977_0cc18e631dphoto credit: E8 via photopin (license)

When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Steve Jobs

It fascinates me that every day, I’m experiencing the result of other people’s conscious decisions. Almost everything I use was created by someone else. And 90% of the time, I have no idea who these people are. Who designed my pencil bag? My socks? My notebooks? My cell phone charger? I will probably never know.

I became fascinated with the design of roads at one point. Not city planning, the chemical composition of asphalt, or the campaign signs next to potholes, but rather the very shape of roads. At some point, it was someone’s job to decide how wide to make the roads, how thick to draw the lines, what the different sorts of lines meant, even how curved each street corner should be.

But instead of just soaking in all the things around me, I’ve become impatient and wanted to create things myself too.

The Engineer Vs. The Marketer 

When I first began blogging, I read all the tips, I put in all the sweat and tears, I posted semi-regularly…and yet very few people were reading my posts. What was going on?

Don Norman, in The Design of Everyday Things, talks about the constant battle between the engineer and the marketer when designing a product. The engineer believes that her product 1 is inherently good. If someone doesn’t see the value in it, that’s their problem. She’s frustrated that products that “look better” are more popular, even if they don’t work as well. On the other hand, the marketer is frustrated that the product simply doesn’t look appealing. It’s useless designing something good if no one even knows that it exists or knows how to use it.

Even though this applies to products, it can easily be applied to other things. 2 As a nerd who believed that intelligence could and should speak for itself, I had fallen into the snares of the engineer. To this day, I don’t care terribly much about how I look or how others perceive me. And I’ve suffered the consequences. 3

StuCon meetings need to promoted well, but they also need to be interested and engaging so that people come back. I keep hearing about user experience for designing apps and interfaces, but it just recently occurred to me that it applied to events as well.

As for my blog posts, it means that even though I may have engineered a good post (questionable), I have to put deliberate effort into promoting them. Fun.

Creator-Consumer Disparity

Other non-epiphany I realized: The amount of time it takes to create something is more than the time taken to consume it.

  • Food takes longer to prepare and cook than to eat
  • A 10 minute musical piece could have easily taken a year of preparation.
  • The best hour-long lectures took a lot long than an hour to prepare. The best assignments take more time to create than to do. If a teacher is just reading powerpoints and making up assignments on the fly, it shows.
  • Each blog post takes hours to write, yet can easily be read in minutes
  • Any enjoyable experience you had (a fair, a class, some other experience) probably took more time to plan than to experience
  • Getting someone else to care about something requires you to care 10x more than they do. And even then, you may only tangentially get their attention.
  • Shooting, picking, and editing a good photo for social media takes a lot more time and effort than scrolling through a feed and liking it [^4]

The biggest trap is that it all seems effortless. Especially with the volume of quality content (see: Youtube), it’s hard to comprehend the amount of blood, sweat and tears behind each excellent product. And after doing a few too many homework assignments that have an audience of exactly one person (the teacher) for a few seconds at best, I lost sight of the effort it takes to create something that will hold someone’s attention in the real world.

Closing statements:

As it becomes easier to be a passive consumer and harder to become a creator, I see this gap quickly widening. The problem with good design is that it takes bad design. [Read: Non-ephiphany: The Only Place for Bad Work] And in a culture where everything has to be done right the first time and every mistake carefully tracked, it’s easier to follow inertia and not do anything.

To that, I say to shut down all internal marketing and self-promotion voices and focus on creating something that is inherently good. Maybe it’s just building a intelligent mind. Maybe it’s another project of some sort. It doesn’t matter. In the end, that’s where the sustainable and fulfilling things lie. And that’s what life’s all about, right?

Further Reading:

Song: All We Are, OneRepublic


  1. Subverting gender norms. 
  2. I am about to objectify people and experiences. Whoops 
  3. Namely, through making people suffer by being awkward. 
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