Process Matters

While we teach, we learn. —Seneca

Process matters. How we arrived at a destination is as important as the destination itself. (On occasion, I believe it’s more important.)

All too often, we have a tendency to focus on the finished product. What worked? What didn’t? Our focus on endpoints. I believe if we look a little more at the process – how we arrived at a solution, why we made the decisions we made – we might gain deeper insights.

The journey you took to get from A to B can often be the most interesting and insightful part of the creative process. That journey, if it (as it should) involves diverging and converging, is certain to reveal pathways not taken, possible routes unexplored.

Destinations are important, but journeys are often filled with opportunities, paths you didn’t take, which – at some point in the future – may afford their own potential. Spending some time after a project has reached its conclusion to think retrospectively about the process you used can improve you as a designer.

I love process posts, they offer an opportunity for others to learn, but – equally importantly – they offer you an opportunity to learn. To explain a process is to truly understand it.

Moving Brands’ wonderful Wikipedia Rebrand, a hypothetical rebrand for Viewport Magazine’s Brand Lab, results in an elegant, minimal brand, which belies its complexity. The end result is lovely, but the journey the studio shares has – for me – considerably greater value.

I use this case study, every year in week one, to show my incoming Interaction Design students how a typical design process might unfold. I use it to investigate the potential avenues a project might take and to underline that the destination reached is often just one of what might have been many other, alternative destinations.

Getting From A to B

Moving Brands’ Wikipedia Rebrand is about getting from A to B. It’s about the journey taken and how that journey might result in different destinations being reached. As interesting as the end result are the ideas that lay (sadly) discarded on the drawing board. In each of these unexplored ideas lies potential.

I’m fortunate to work with some incredibly talented students. Those that apply themselves find themselves making many, many journeys. These journeys - both short-term journeys on individual projects and long-term journeys as they move from one year to the next – are filled with potential.

I feel lucky to have a chance to nurture others’ journeys. I feel equally fortunate to get to see inside my students’ minds. At the end of the semester, when I’m marking the work, I find myself drawn to sketchbooks as much as the ‘finished work’. In the sketchbooks – filled with process – I can see the decisions reached and, equally importantly, the avenues that remained unexplored.

In each of these sketchbooks lies the potential to create case studies, thoughtful investigations – post-project – to share lessons learned. You don’t need to be a student to do this, however, anyone can share their process and in so doing create value. Why not take a project, break it down and share what you learned? I guarantee you’ll be thanked for having the courage to do so.

Often the only thing holding us back from sharing our process – drawing back the curtain and exposing the inner workings – is fear: fear of being judged; fear of failing; fear of so many things…. Forget fear. Be the one who throws open the studio door and shares the story.

Learning Through Teaching

The best thing about being an educator is the huge amount you learn along the way. There is no better way to learn something – to truly and deeply understand it – than by teaching it.

Anyone can be an educator, even students, all it takes is a willingness to learn and to share. Scientific studies have shown that those involved in teaching learn the material they subsequently share, more deeply. As Annie Murphy Paul puts it in The Protégé Effect:

Students enlisted to tutor others, researchers found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In what scientists have dubbed ‘the protégé effect’, student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake.

Learning in order to teach leads to deeper understanding. One way to do this is to share your process with others. This benefits everyone, those sharing and those learning.

Explaining your process to others forces you to break it down, to really unpack it, identifying the key decisions you made along the way. It affords an opportunity to revisit and question those decisions. If undertaken at the end of a project, as a means to reflect, it allows lessons to be learned that might apply to future projects.

Sharing the lessons you learn with others, putting yourself in the mind of a beginner, allows you to grow as a creative, reaping the rewards of teaching as learning.

Teaching can take multiple forms. Some of the best teachers I know aren’t in traditional classrooms, instead they’re exploring new ways to facilitate learning, and growing, themselves, in the process.

The classroom of the future…

We’re entering an age of the global classroom, connected, with participants scattered around the world. Thanks to the web we’re beginning to question long-held paradigms about education and how it might function. We’re finding new ways to spread knowledge. It’s an exciting time to be sharing.

In a world where anyone teach a Skillshare class (no teaching qualification required) education has changed, fundamentally. Pandora’s Box has been opened and there’s no going back. The web, with its ever-evolving potential, allows anyone to become an educator, which changes the educational landscape considerably.

You don’t need to run a Skillshare class to reap the rewards of learning though teaching, you might just share an insight to your process. One case study is all it takes to get the ball rolling and I guarantee that one case study will educate you, considerably. (Even better, it will help others.)

There’s a sizeable (and growing) audience out there that wants to learn. Why not be the one to teach that audience? As Austin Kleon puts it in his excellent book, Show Your Work!:

Think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.

Pay attention to what others are sharing, and then start taking note of what they’re not sharing. Be on the lookout for voids that you can fill with your own efforts. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.

Share your work.

If you want to grow as a creative, take the plunge and share the story behind something you designed or built. Play to your strengths and enjoy the process of sharing process. The process will repay you many times over.

In Closing…

Process matters as much as outcome. Often the journey you’ve taken is as interesting, if not more interesting, than the destination you’ve reached. Opening up and sharing your process allows you to learn lessons retrospectively and affords an opportunity to learn deeply.

I’m looking forward next month to taking the final step in this year long journey. I’ll be exploring the idea, touched on briefly here, that life is a journey and one we should always be learning on. See you in a month for the final step of the journey.

Dive Deeper

If you want to know more about the Pastry Box Project, you can read about the genesis (and goals) of the project.

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