Modern Man Inspiration Destination #02

VintageRadioShack_Storefront

Modern Man Inspiration Destination #02: Radio Shack ūüė¶

As you can guess your ability to visit your neighborhood friendly Radio Shack is now short lived. This post is intended to serve as a tribute to an institution that fostered early maker ideals and¬†ushered in¬†the era of garage workshop hobbyists and amateur tinkerers. Until recently the Shack (as we insiders call it) was my go to for random audio adapters and solder based connectors (that I just needed to have right damn now and couldn’t wait for my Amazon Prime shipping till tomorrow). Truly you can never have too many 1/8″ TRS to Stereo pair adaptors (the thingy you use to connect your iPhone/ipod to most stereos).

In all seriousness, Radio Shack was once the mouthpiece for trending consumer technologies, all the while encouraging the very same consumer to go forth and create the next technological trend. You may have walked in off the street to get some batteries for your RC car or perhaps you lost your power cable (transformer/power adapter) to your cassette player, but while you were in the store you where shown “under the hood.” All the pieces that made your toys go were neatly sorted in to plastic drawers and hung about on wall pegs for all to see. If you could imagine it Radio Shack would do its best to stock the widgets you needed to bring your vision to life. I found myself “browsing” quite often. I would browse not because I was searching for the missing piece to my project, but in hopes of finding the very piece that would inspire my next project. I needed an excuse and Radio Shack was always a willing provider. Radio Shack¬†is/was a playground for self proclaimed geeks and¬†techies, those¬†who like to crack things open and see what exactly makes them tick.¬†We will remember you fondly. DIY will never be the same (at least not for small electronics projects)

I leave you with this call to action found on the Radio Shack google plus page:

“Your next project could be one that changes the world! We’d love to hear about your latest breakthrough, or if you need advice on making your big idea a reality, our neighborhood associates are here to help.”

Your associates may not be in my neighborhood any longer, but the culture that you supported for so long is going strong. Here’s to the big ideas and the world that is made better because of them!

Radio shack

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Modern Man Inspiration Destination #01

Modern Man Inspiration Destination #01: The Plumbing Section at Home Depot. 

I’ve decided to start a series within my blog entries that I get asked about often. “Where do you go for inspiration?” This is a great question (one we don’t always think about when we are answering)! I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to register these many go-to locations in a way that may be useful, starting with Home Depot.

The plumbing section of Home Depot is sacred ground for me. I go there when I need to purge my mind of all of the clutter that stands between me and my would be design solution. As a designer I get a particular thrill from the tactile experience of handling threaded fittings and PVC adapters. It feels a bit like LEGO for adults. I’m sure that it would be generally frowned upon to build a copper/brass/PVC dragon in the middle of the isle, but that doesn’t stop me from building that creature in my head. Now granted it may not always be a dragon it may be a (insert meaningful and personally applicable whimsical creature here), but¬†the result is always the same: Imagination ON. In this digital world of 1s and 0s, walking into Home Depot’s Magical World of Plumbing (a theme park I pray for every single night as I tuck myself in) sets my imagination to 1 and my mental clutter to 0. I like to give myself plenty of playtime before I circle back around to my design that brought me to Neverland to begin with. Handle the fittings, connect a few things, discover unlikely pairings and let go of the world outside. With a newly cleared headspace and plenty of creative momentum I am able to circle back around and start connecting the dots and filling in the spaces that were lacking the substance and¬†sinews of an inspired and effective design. This is not to say that all of my designs look like plumbing fittings (frankly none of them do), but it effectively illustrates the need for appropriate mental stimulation. The kind of mental stimulation that a computer or a television is unable to provide. Give your brain the exercise it needs by going somewhere and doing something that allows you to imagine the world in a different way. Most important consideration: don’t forget your sketch book because a 2′ x2′ plywood panel makes for expensive paper.

Cultivating Trust

Who do you trust?

That seems like a relatively simple question. Answers are likely to be spouses, loved ones, friends, and even in some cases co-workers. I guess the follow-up should really be trust to do what? For the purposes of this blog we will focus on the business side of this question (although our personal feelings often inform and direct our interactions). To be successful at your job you must rely on others to perform tasks that support your own. It is rare that you will ever see a project go from birth to end of life cycle without peer interaction. You may design something that gets handed of to engineering for manufacturing and marketing for branding. So the question of who to trust really begins with how to trust. How can I be sure that my goals and vision will be advocated by those who handle the work at various stages of the process. Well you will never have a guarantee, but through clear communication and a reciprocal exchange you can cultivate an environment of trust.

Always be clear about your goals and intentions. As you invite others to be advocates of your cause, be mindful that you may be expected to return the favor at some point. When it is your turn do your best to understand the goals. Be a good steward of resources (time, money, effort). If you show that you are a responsible steward you are more likely to be shown the same consideration in return. When someone performs for you go out of your way to pay it back or pay it forward. Be gracious and give credit where credit is due. If you conduct your business with a “do unto others” approach you will find greater success as you will transform those within your immediate sphere of influence into trusted peers. If you make a habit of¬†rewarding loyalty with loyalty you will find that your network of trust will always be growing.

So I guess the real question is who trusts you? When you know the answer to that you are almost there. It is critical that you continue to invest in these trusted relationships. Do the work and you will be rewarded.

Title (no really the post is called “Title”)

So you wake up one day and your title of choice is no longer Project Manager (or inserted title of meaning to you), but instead you call yourself Industrial Designer. How did this happen? What does this even mean?

In order to become a project manager I was hired as a project manager. That title was applied, but it did not necessarily suggest a level of proficiency or skill at this position. There are many project managers (that I have personally encountered) that will leave you scratching your head in wonderment for how they could possibly hold that title. There are accredited and universally recognized certifications that can be gained through a combination of hands on experience (logging hours) and knowledge and skills based testing. These certifications are a pretty solid metric for quickly gaining a sense of a project managers specific forum of experience so I actively sought these certifications to communicate a value for my title. These certifications merely reflect a knowledge of established best practices and do not necessarily serve as an indication of your ability to implement the knowledge and effectively manage a project. While employers are able to use this information (by way of professional certification) to establish a basis of value, it is still your responsibility to deliver on the promise that your title makes on your behalf. I am saying all of this only to emphasize that a title holds as much credibility as you apply to it through discipline and practice. The logging of hours WITH a disciplined approach will net the best results and help you live up to your title.  A title is a path with a determined destination that you will never quite reach. You know where you are going and you continue to move in that direction to the best of your ability, but it is a continual journey. That brings me to an important point (well 2 points actually) : It is impossible to know everything and there is always something to learn (these two points do not always mean the same thing). A title or a certification can and will get you a job in many cases, but you still have to do the do the work if you want to keep the job.

So what does this mean to design? After all this is a design blog.

You are an Industrial Designer if you choose to be. This is a title (like so many others) that you can apply to yourself. There is currently no professional accreditation or certification that can be applied. This is due in large part to the relatively young age of ID as a profession. BE CAUTIONED. With great titles come great responsibility. You have a responsibility to be actively engaged in the industry of ID. This is a thriving and competitive industry we have placed ourselves in. Log the hours for then, but also log the hours for you. If you are only ever doing this ID thing at someones else’s bidding it can get very tiring very quickly. You must fill yourself up with all the stuff that keeps you fresh, sharp, and creative. Maintain your personal creative outlets and refine your professional craft at the same time. Drawing ellipses and accelerated curves¬†for hours is a great way to refine your skills, but for the 99% who are not interested in this as a leisure time activity there are other ways (some obviously more tedious than others). Reading, professional networking, drawing/sketching (for for technique AND for fun), and developing personal projects are a few (of many) ways that you can continue to grow and develop your craft. I will not prescribe a specific methodology for success, but I will offer the following call to action: “Be a lifelong learner.”

In an industry that currently has no title based accreditation it is on you, the self-proclaimed Industrial Designer, to establish and convey your value. Log the hours, work hard, and take pride in what you do. Titles are merely placeholders for your character, so you ultimately define the title. The title should never define you.

Self-Evaluation

Self evaluation is a necessary evil. I jokingly suggest that “I learned everything I need to know about life learning to be an actor.” In all seriousness, everything seems to circle back around to the finer points of acting as a discipline and a craft. As an actor you are constantly evaluating yourself and adjusting to critique in order to grow and improve. You are shown how to provide thoughtful and useful criticism (saying something is simply good or bad is not useful). You find ways to quantify and measure characteristics and emotions allowing for necessary adjustments. The book Zen in The Art of Archery (Eugen Herrigel) changed the way I looked at acting in particular, but eventually all things craft and discipline driven. It talks of the repetition and act of doing with intention until a point that you release and you no longer do, but “it does.” A bit too philosophical? Maybe, but it made perfect sense to me at the time and continues to give me great perspective on Industrial Design as a discipline and true craft.

It is through a deep level of commitment to the growth of my craft that I am able to identify very specific foundation needs.

Q: “Can You Draw?”

A: “Yes.”

Q: “Do you have a lot (a lot = butt load = bunches) to learn about DESIGN SKETCHING and ID specific drawing techniques.”

A: “Absolutely.”

Asking the right question is paramount. I thought I knew stuff about things before I started the MID program at GA TECH, and I even have pieces of paper that say just that (nice paper too, framed and everything). I have been humbled by my classmates and professors in the best way possible. It is through this humility that inspiration and motivation are born. This high level of motivation and drive is actually my biggest problem. I have (until the birth of my daughter last August) had the greatest difficulty in balancing work life and home life. I have always had the luxury of having my hobbies as a source of employment and financial gain (even if only part-time during certain stages). Even when I was working in the corporate world as a Project Manager I kept up with my Graphic Design and Video Design clients (through Ensign Studios, LLC, which I started in 2007). I love being a designer, and I am passionate about helping other people (particularly non-profit organizations), but I have learned (the hard way in some cases) that people will gladly take advantage of your kindness and generosity. My primary objective is to establish personal/professional “best-practices” to safeguard my family from my work life (as well as my work life from my family when/if necessary). I am not lacking in leadership experience, but desire nothing more than to grow into a role that allows me to give back as a mentor/educator. I learned design by doing as much as possible and working closely with designers that I admired and respected (also some that did not receive as much of the admiration, but still taught me valuable lessons).

I look forward to sharpening my skills as an Industrial Designer, while integrating my experiences in everything from acting to project management. What’s next? I guess that is a question I will look forward to answering for many years to come.

-Bradley