Blog: Design Musings and Other Nonsense

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Want To vs Have To

I was thinking the other day about how some products and services are just magical. How they seem to know what I want before I do, how they work exactly the way I expect them to, and have enough flourish around the edges to truly create an incredible experience. More and more, I am finding these experiences not with products/services offered by large corporations, but by small (often young) companies. I was trying to figure out why this (often) is, and I think I have a theory.

I was thinking about this right about the same time I was working on a project that I was just not that into. It was not that there was anything wrong with the project, I just did not really care about it. Not anyone’s fault, just the way it goes sometimes. Not all projects are going to make everyone involved swoon. There are lots of reasons for this, but in the interest of brevity I will gloss over the whys right now.

What occurred to me is that since I did not really care about the project that much, I was simply working to hit a spec. I was, subconsciously at first, simply working to do the minimum of what I had to do to meet the requirements of the project. And, all the while, having a miserable time.

But that was not the worst part. The worst part was that this was not fair to the client. By keeping the project at an arm’s length, I was keeping most of myself out of it. As such, the work was passable, but hardly inspiring. It was mediocre by my standards, which, frankly, is bullshit.

What occurred to me is that since I was just trying to hit a spec, I was holding back. I was doing things because I HAD to, not because I WANTED to. For creative work, this sucks. For me anyway, this keeps the valves only partially opened, and keeps my best effort from coming forth. It makes me create things that are not as good as I know they could be, which is annoying at best and depressing at worst.

It also occurred to me that this is everywhere. How many times have we suffered through the lazy design of something, something that was probably designed just to hit a spec? Specs are not inspiring, they are simply lower-limits of what something can be. Sure, we will pass the class with a C-, but do you want to use something that is some designer’s C- work? Probably not.

Bringing this back around, it occurred to me that one of the most common qualities of the truly excellent products and services I have used is that they were loved by their creator(s). The creator did not make this thing awesome because they had to, they did it because they wanted to. They wanted to build the most balls-out version of their concept, because they were in love with the concept. And, if you love something, why wouldn’t you want it to be as crazy-awesome as it could be? If you are really fired-up, really passionate about your idea, working on it never feels like work. And, from that place, the product is worked until it is right, not until it is good enough. Although this can torture many creative-type people along the way, once the thing is done, and done all the way, it is something special. It is the unique, magical manifestation of the idea. Is it perfect? Probably not, especially if you really care about it. But, it is your best effort, and it is inspiring.

OK, so what does one do with all of this? Surely it is not possible to love every project you work on, right? Well, I think it might be. Sure, it is not possible to love everything about a project, but I bet it is possible to love something. For example, maybe you are working on a project for a product you would never use, and aren’t really that into. However, I bet there is something in the project that you could get excited about. Maybe it is an opportunity to try something new. Maybe it is an opportunity to use that great idea you had six months ago but didn’t work at the time. Whatever it is, I think you owe it to the project to at least look for something to be passionate about. For me anyway, my best stuff always comes when I am passionate about what I am doing, and if doing great work is important to you, it behooves you to at least try to find a connection point to your project.

Now, maybe this is all just a bunch of fun, fancy, thought experimentation. Maybe in the real world where we have these things called jobs that we have to do for this other thing called money, maybe this is not always possible. Maybe that is true, but I am guessing that your passion is more accessible than you think it is. I think it is easier to focus on all of the things we are being made to do and lose sight of what we want to do. When we started the project, odds are we wanted to do great work. If so, then why not try?

And, in the grander scheme of things, if you truly have nothing to be passionate about, maybe you are doing the wrong thing(s). Maybe your lack of engagement is trying to tell you something, that greater things are possible for you if you just pick up and go over there. Only you can say for sure.

However, if you want to do great work, you are going to have to find your passion eventually, and when you do, anyone who uses what you create (as well as the people paying the bill) will be thankful.

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