Friday, December 05, 2008

Michael McDonough's The Top 10 Things They Never Taught Me in Design School

From having never heard of him to virtual ubiquity Michael McDonough seems to be everywhere. I came across this essay in the excellent Design Observer blog. (Read the entire story here). I also noticed that there is an interesting looking documentary on PBS' website called E2 - the economics of being green, featuring the man himself. I am looking forward to watching when I have a spare moment.

The Top 10 Things They Never Taught Me in Design School
by Michael McDonough

1. Talent is one-third of the success equation.
Talent is important in any profession, but it is no guarantee of success. Hard work and luck are equally important. Hard work means self-discipline and sacrifice. Luck means, among other things, access to power, whether it is social contacts or money or timing. In fact, if you are not very talented, you can still succeed by emphasizing the other two. If you think I am wrong, just look around.

2. 95 percent of any creative profession is shit work.
Only 5 percent is actually, in some simplistic way, fun. In school that is what you focus on; it is 100 percent fun. Tick-tock. In real life, most of the time there is paper work, drafting boring stuff, fact-checking, negotiating, selling, collecting money, paying taxes, and so forth. If you don't learn to love the boring, aggravating, and stupid parts of your profession and perform them with diligence and care, you will never succeed.

3. If everything is equally important, then nothing is very important.
You hear a lot about details, from "Don't sweat the details" to "God is in the details." Both are true, but with a very important explanation: hierarchy. You must decide what is important, and then attend to it first and foremost. Everything is important, yes. But not everything is equally important. A very successful real estate person taught me this. He told me, "Watch King Rat. You'll get it."

4. Don't over-think a problem.
One time when I was in graduate school, the late, great Steven Izenour said to me, after only a week or so into a ten-week problem, "OK, you solved it. Now draw it up." Every other critic I ever had always tried to complicate and prolong a problem when, in fact, it had already been solved. Designers are obsessive by nature. This was a revelation. Sometimes you just hit it. The thing is done. Move on.

5. Start with what you know; then remove the unknowns.

6. Don't forget your goal.

7. When you throw your weight around, you usually fall off balance.

8. The road to hell is paved with good intentions; or, no good deed goes unpunished.

9. It all comes down to output.

10. The rest of the world counts.


All very good points.

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