I learned a very important lesson about design while I was studying Architecture. We used to have a subject called “Basic Design” where they taught us sketching, color theory, wood work, carpentry and pottery.
During one of this class, the professor asked the entire class to do about 50+ sketches and bring them next day to the class. These had to be sketches of anything, a street, person, object, landscape… just anything that we can sketch on an A4 drawing sheet. He also told us that he is going to grade them. So all of us embarked on this gigantic task. Worked the whole day and whole night to finish 50 sketches (not everyone could make 50 though). We all tried to put our best effort in each sketch as they were going to be graded.
The next day we all came into the class looking like zombies. Each one carefully carrying our sketchbooks. Some of us even flaunting our work to each other.
The professor entered the classroom and said, “All of you, take out the 5 best sketches, write your name on top of the sketch and put them on my desk.” We all followed his instructions and did so while wondering that if he wanted to see only 5, why did he ask us to make 100?
By now, he had not said anything else. He was just waiting for all of us to put our sketches on his desk and walk back and take our seats.
After we were all seated, he started picking up the sketches in bunch of 5’s. Looked at them for a few seconds, wrote something in his notebook and ‘tore’ the sketches. First we thought he didn’t like the ones he was looking at. Faces dropped and enthusiasm turned to panic. He went on to pick the batch of next 5 sketches and did the same.
By this time we knew we had a tough semester ahead. He continued doing that for every sketch on his desk until the floor was full with our best work torn into pieces.
By the time he finished, there were tears, angry faces and worried looks all around. No one had the courage at this stage to ask what grades they got.
So to break the silence, the professor stood up and said to the surprise of all of us, “Good job. You all did great.”
Still silence in the class, no one could believe what he was saying. Maybe he was being sarcastic and we all did really bad.
One girl gathered the courage and asked the professor, “If you liked the sketches, why did you tear them? We spent so much effort to make the beautiful sketches. In fact one of my sketch you tore, I was planning to frame and hang it.”
His reply to that is still stuck in my mind and helps me everyday as a designer.
“As a ‘designer’, one must never fall in love with their work. Why are you worried if I tore the sketches? If you can do it once, you can do it again.”
He continued, “As a designer, you will face times when what you think is the best design is not what your client is looking for. The difference between a designer and an artist is that you design ‘for users’ while you create the artwork ‘for yourself’. It’s a secondary thing that someone may end up liking your art. Learning to let go of your best work in the interest of the users preference is the toughest thing for a designer.”
It was a painful, but a very important lesson learned that day.