Dennis Paphitis, AESOP’s founder, made this wonderful statement not in regard to his own products, or even his competitors' products.
He made it in regard to something quite ubiquitous, seemingly boring even. He was talking about AESOP’s own spreadsheets.
I love that someone has such tenacity, such commitment, and most of all, such vision. For whilst it may appear vain, silly or even outright stupid, a singular vision to make every aspect of something of quality is something to behold.
Regardless of cost, regardless of time frame, regardless of what it is we are doing, it is possible to design something – anything – and to do it so that is not only does what it is supposed to, it does it elegantly, efficiently, respectfully, and beautifully.
This is the skill of good design. Rationalising a process, step by step; constantly improving, discarding, abandoning, adding, reviewing and resolving, with an objective to produce something with meaning.
AESOP, the great Australian success story, appears to me to a great role model for institutionalizing what I’d like to call productive stubbornness.
More design-led people should be productively stubborn, working in our governments. Effective designers are people who cannot only facilitate better projects and outcomes, but they are also good for business, good for community and good for sustainability.
Many people rightly believe problem solving is a great skill. It is, and many people are paid to do lots of it. What’s noticeable through daily work in local government is that there are many solving real, perceived problems, and not nearly enough people questioning and then actually defining problems. So many assumptions, so many caveats, so many people involved in solving a problem. This is sometimes unproductive stubbornness, or bureaucratic stubbornness.
“People ignore design that ignores people” – Frank Chimero, emergent designer, Portland, USA
How cool is that designers always have the best quotes? Design is such a subtle activity. An activity often over-rated and equally under-rated. For example, true engineering design excellence is a lost art in my experience.
The great Bradfield – the engineer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and my favourite Sydney icon – had a breadth of vision. The ‘coathanger,’ as it is known, was just a part of his vision – for he envisioned Sydney’s great underground ‘city circle’ train lines, with numerous interlinked lines servicing a rapidly growing city. He realized Sydney needed a people focused transport system, the likes of which Australia had never seen.
Bradfield’s legacy lives on today and is experienced by hundreds of thousands of people every single day, and it is the style icon of a nation. Design excellence, a commitment to values and an element of stubbornness ensured the SHB was built. We still watch each new year to see ‘what they do with the fireworks’ on the magnificent structure.
However, Bradfield may have not had a chance in today’s world.
He would have experienced value management, cost squeezes, political interference and scope changes, and had it not been for one person’s dream, would’ve looked very different or not proceeded at all. Granted, his vision was not completely delivered – and he would’ve experienced some of the interference above – but the man had vision and it carried him, and his ideas.
People-centric design is not new. Stepping behind someone else’s eyes is a great skill that belies the complexities of understanding different perspectives, needs, wants and desires.
“Design should never say, ‘Look at me.’ It should always say, ‘Look at this.’” – David Craib, designer, Ottawa, Canada
Delivering design excellence is not easy – it comes through tenacity, probing, analyzing, testing, retesting and often a little bit of arguing.
It wouldn’t be possible to not have all of these ingredients in any of the world’s most successful design projects. A great design requires a meeting of minds and desire to head in the same direction. The focus is on the realization of the project – not looking too far forward or too far back. Learning from projects is important, and something for many of us to improve.
More and more projects are being delivered within the vastly pressurized arena of budgetary constraints, timeframes and the (stubborn!) reality of politics. A slightly different view can unlock so much more opportunity.
“Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up.” – Tate Linden, president and chief creative at branding agency Stokefire
The creation of icons and well-known landmarks adds not only to a city’s vitality, it also adds character and through attraction, economic activity. There are too many metaphors to describe how important some additions can be. Regardless, scale and size are not always the critical elements to make something a new landmark or a new destination.
Often, a street or laneway will convey people to and from an event, and it will mean more conversations about the precinct, which isn’t a bad thing.
A city’s ambition should be to continue the story and allow a conversation with its people to occur.
Our focus on starting the conversation is one that we hope will stimulate and capture the essence of a city. This is where design matters, where a story and a narrative are more than built things. This is where festivals overtake the streets, where people take a stroll, and one day where people will more and more reside.
From individuals to governments, there are pragmatic, workable, negotiable goals we can agree on to green our cities and regions, with measurable outcomes. Many of us are already doing it, measuring and espousing the wide range of financial, social and environmental benefits now. There is a stubborn bit in the process though, that instead of being irritating, should be embraced and (productively) dealt with.
In many cities around the world, many people are knee-deep in change. So much change it almost hurts. It would appear stubbornness is not a welcome behaviour.
So, is being stubborn really a bad thing? I’d like to suggest productive stubbornness could be a healthy thing. Cue no more ugly spreadsheets.