The Problem of Too Much and Not Enough

It is common to hear someone say that they are overwhelmed with the range and possibility within making and studying design. Visual language is big—some would say it is everything or affects everything. Where to start? What path(s)? And when the path is taken, it sometimes runs into a dead end. So here we have the problem of too much and not enough. In all of this, it is always good to define context, but this doesn’t always work because you have to also believe in a few things. Lets ask some questions to get at some essential beliefs:

DO I WANT TO DO THIS? The first step in many design processes is acceptance of the problem/situation. For those first starting out in design, they are generally motivated by the love of making things—they love invention and the creation of statements and questions. In other words, these folks like to communicate and explore language. Wanting to do this is generally not an issue. Wanting to do a specific thing within art or design is another matter, as is the prospect of learning design in one setting or another. This leads us to...

DO I NEED TO DO THIS? As students in a university setting, the THIS is about engaging with the place, people, and activities—including the uncomfortable and abstract oddities that one may encounter. OK, so maybe you do not need to do this—it just does not fit you and your learning style or your life or your beliefs. Really, you may be best served inscribing banana leaves on a desert isle for 10 years—this may bring you your enlightenment as a holistic creative being. Needing to do THIS should be something one believes in and this is different than believing myths about when, where, how, and what one must do to do this thing—be successful, happy, knowledgeable, productive, have a career, design, make, attend university. To really answer this question, we need to have solid answers to the next question...

WHY AM I DOING THIS? Banana leave aside, I think one goes to university for two reasons. First to engage with other humans in meaningful face-to-face dialog and secondly, to name things and by so doing, form connections. The social aspect of learning is of great value and it has everything to do with your role as a learner, a student of design, and eventually an active designer engaged with others to bring about some greater meaning. All art and design is about communication and meaning-making—living solely in your own head is not enough in this regard. Learning languages and exercising their use leads to invention, possibility, and greater meaning.

After considering these three questions, one may find a logic and a belief that underscores their love of making as an engagement with others through language and to further explore such things requires a social setting—greater the dialog/greater the possibilities. Having belief in what one is doing—finding energy to move forward based on reason—is essential. This can simply be summarized for the artist and designer by believing or maybe just considering: FORM = LANGUAGE = LEARNING or DESIGN = EDUCATION.

In considering beliefs, reasons, motives, and specifically why we are here doing this, context has been proposed. Really the primary context that any communicator/artist/designer should be concerned with is that of language, dialog and making connections. This brings us back to the TOO MUCH as in the overwhelming range of form/language from geometric abstractions of circle, triangle, and square to the seeming realities of photographic representation to symbols, signs, and word. This TOO MUCH should not result in confusion or despair—it should simply be recognized within its range and possibility—it should be accepted. Within it all you will begin to discover sentence combinations that are more meaningful and reach more people or fewer people but with even greater directed meaning.

For the design student or the established designer, it is a daunting proposition—it is too much. We all need to accept that we live in a time when we must admit knowing very little. Putting that fact in its place allows us to be learners and take our best shot without needing to be right. This also makes us honest! The ability to accept the daunting scales of language and contemporary design practice will have us focus on those things that are efficient and effective. Instead of being overwhelmed by it all, we can be empowered by the task at hand and our place in making greater meaning—wrangling the exponential growth of information for better understanding. TOO MUCH? There is never too much—that is why we do this—it is the challenge.

With TOO MUCH out of the way, NOT ENOUGH is really easy. The idea/concept/next move dead-end which hits us all can be overcome by the TOO MUCH we just talked about. If we accept form as language and the act of making as always carrying meaning, then we simple continue to make marks and assess them. Period. Many folks try to work it all out in their head. They must have a concept fully-devised and tested before they put a mark on the paper. To do this is to deny form and that the act of form-making/language-making—literally the gesture of hand moving across paper drawing.

Considering mark-making as research can be very helpful. What am I drawing? I do not know but I am drawing and I am seeking/researching possibilities within what is on the page. This is the necessary dialog that must occur between hand, eye, gut, and brain. You are stuck with the NOT ENOUGH, well, have you tried blue? Red? Curvilinear? Typography? Xerography? Spoken word? Do you believe in form?

posted by Tony Brock on January 25, 2007 | comments: 3 | post a comment

I believe this is all very true. Design is a very large subject that ranges over almost every discipline, and we, as designers, must learn to express concepts and ideas to communicate specific ideas. I have learned this semester that it can be overwhelming, and at times I felt like I would never be finished. However, I have also learned that while I feel overwhelmed, tired or stressed I also love the idea that there are so many solutions and that it can't possibly ever become boring or mundane because there are so many options. Sometimes it is TOO MUCH, but I want to try and hone my skills so I can manage all of this because I love exploring new ideas and learning about new ways to do things and I especially love the idea of possiblity. Everything was thrown to me just in these last few weeks, but I have learned that I can handle it and while I have LOTS to learn, I have found I want to learn and can't wait to continue.

Posted by zWalt on January 28, 2007 09:38 PM

Overwhelming is an understatment. There is SO much to cover and it feels, at times, that the project is too massive you should probably abort the mission. You know just jump ship and swim to shore, whatever. But funny thing is, even when you jump ship there's water and hey you've got to deal with that too. So either way there is stuff all around you just waiting to be exlplored rendered, xeroxed, colored, cut, and photographed. You MUST start somewhere and honestly there is no right place. The end destination isn't set, I'm not even sure there is one, so I've basically learned that you must just start. Do something. Draw an line and then build off of that. Keep your mind on the process not the whole picture. I've really learned to sift through anxiety of "too much" and just work. Get it out because it feels so good to have gotten atleast and ice chip from the berg.

(lo siento for the analogies, I really can't help it)

Posted by c on February 3, 2007 07:13 PM

Before these past couple of weeks of exploration with range I used to find myself just sitting there when things became extremely overwhelming. I would sit there waiting and waiting for an enlightenment or some sort of idea of how to make sense of everything. Finally when I realized just how much time I had wasted doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING I would end up starting exactly where I would have started in the beginning, had I actually begun. I wasted so much time being frustrated and feeling lost. Its not always going to make sense, but I just have to believe in doing not sitting, and know that exploration and experimentation offer so much more than one would think and open up so many untouched doors. The range is pretty much neverending.

Posted by a.maj on February 7, 2007 12:57 AM