Solving What You See

Design is really about solving problems. But how do you know if what you're solving even is the right problem? Or even if its a problem to begin with?

Learning to design is, first of all, learning to see. Designers see more, and more precisely. This is a blessing and a curse—once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see. The downside is that the more you learn to see, the more you lose your “common” eye, the eye you design for. This can be frustrating for us designers when we work for a customer with a bad eye and strong opinions. But this is no justification for designer arrogance or eye-rolling. Part of our job is to make the invisible visible, to clearly express what we see, feel and do. You can’t expect to sell what you can’t explain.
— Oliver Reichenstein, Learning to See

The eternal issue for designers is how to define the problem they're trying to solve. Go too broad and you won't fix anything, too narrow and you've got the same issue.

Being open to possibilities, listening to people, simply sitting back and observing; these are the real tools we need to be using and developing every day. Better than learning code, or that sweet new version of Photoshop, the ability to clearly and concisely define a problem is crucial.

To top it off, clients aren't to fully understand what their problem is; they may not even know they have one. You'll need to convince them it exists before you can convince them that you've found a way to solve it. Clear, effective thinking and communication are required

So. Start by trying to see. Once you can see, learn to talk. Once you can talk, learn to do.

This Is Water

“Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.”

David Foster Wallace

The meta-narratives I was drilled on at uni always appeared as external forces; understanding them gave you a tool levelling critique of the world and society. Foster-Wallace’s analogy is better. Worshiping these narratives, sinking more of our time and personality into maintaining a tiny pocket of meaning, leaves us unable to see or feel or understand anything that sits outside of our own dogma.

We’re left swimming in an inescapable sea of ideologies, dragged unthinkingly into the blue, wondering what the hell water is.

Feelings are boring. Kissing is awesome.

I am depressed.

More precisely, I've been told, I have bipolar type II tendencies. The disorder definition describes a long term oscillation between moments of mania and depression, with more frequent bouts of depression than mania.

My limited and failure ridden attempts at therapy and drugs have failed to unearth an origin story for it. I get sad about that, and feel guilty for not having a profound reason, some finite moment of horror, from which my depression springs unabated and abundant. Actually, that’s not quite true—I feel like society expects you to have a single, defining reason for being mentally ill. Every time you have a conversation with someone, they ask “What’s changed? Did something happen?”

Maybe they think if there’s a single reason for it you can have an ‘aha!’ moment and that everything will be fine. Pop therapy. And while the sentiment comes from a genuine and supportive place, it is driven by the hope of an easy fix.

That hope is as a false as El Dorado.

An analogy I’ve been using for this latest bout is to compare it to climate change (yup). I describe it as an overall trend; you’re going to have polar vortices of feeling good, but the trend line points towards an increase in frequency and intensity of feeling terrible. I’m lucky to have a partner and family and friends who’ve called me on it before it’s gotten too bad. We’re committed to keeping it to an average rise of 2º Celsius above year 2000 averages.

Like climate change, depression is not an easy fix, and it’s not something that you can point to a single solution for. One time I had a psychologist tell me to go for more walks, and not much else. Three months later I was sitting in the shower and very seriously studying a pair of scissors.

Which is not to blame the psychologist—it is to blame the deeply embedded ideology of Mental Illness™. The idea that anything but an aha! moment could resolve how I felt was anathema to me, and I mistakenly rejected it out of hand. This kind of thinking runs surprisingly deep and is difficult to shake; even if you do shake it, you’re only replacing it with another set of ideologies.

I’m throwing everything at it this time: therapy, drugs, exercise, diet. That’s something new, I guess.

It’s always strange talking to people about how depression works, feels, and how to tackle it. Particularly if they haven’t experienced it themselves. Someone recently described it to me as a horrible, aggressive monster. If only.

The challenge with depression is recognising it. And not in a talking to people about it or writing about it or seeking professional help kind of way. No, the challenge is in recognising that I am, in fact, depressed. Why? Because that depressive mode is always with me.

It whispers sweet, saddening nothings when I’m talking to friends. It sits there, subtly changing the way I think, talk, react, emote. Even when I don’t have depression, the tendency is there. Things are just a little bit worse for me most of the time. It’s not there occasionally, like an unwanted houseguest that won’t leave after dinner. It is a constant companion, a weight to carry from moment to moment. The longer I have to carry it, the harder it is to be normal.

There are moments where I want nothing more than to give in to it. Giving up to it, curling into a ball on the couch, fixated painfully on the wall in front of me—in those moments it feels … not good, but like a kind of relief. In those moments it’s all I want—all I’m capable of. I catch myself saying things like “sometimes it’s good to feel horribly sad. That’s healthy.”

How to describe it, then? It is me and I am it. To change it, to get rid of it, is to change who I am. This is what makes treating it and overcoming it so difficult. At what point does the depression stop and I begin?

Those last three paragraphs; that’s depression. A newer psychologist characterised depression as a lack of hope, which rings true for me. While I’m not yet hopeful, I’m determined this time for things to go differently.

I’ll finish with two things. The first being; if you are depressed, feeling low, flat, or anxious, please seek help. I know that every part of this disease (and it is a disease) is likely to be telling you to give up and give in, but believe me when I say that you are not alone in it, and that it will be easier to live with if you share how you feel with those around you. Do speak to a doctor about treatment.

The second is a comic strip. Enjoy.