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Scale + Orientation + Medium + Distance


The last of these three interrelated groups is SCALE + ORIENTATION + MEDIUM + DISTANCE, simple straightforward strategies for the mental blocks we all encounter as designers at what used to be the drawing board, these work for me because I still use the Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencil with the pink “delete” switch on the end — the end that isn’t pointed. [If you require more information than that, we probably have nothing left to discuss.]


I cannot tell you how I design because, for me, it is an introspective intuitive process. But I can tell you how I deal with mental blocks: those inevitable and all-too-often occasions when I pursue unproductive directions and reach what seem to be dead ends. I’m going to assume these situations occur in your life as well. When they do, I have four simple strategies to offer.

The first of these is SCALE. If you’ve been working very small — 1/4 inch to the foot or smaller — shifting to one in to the foot will allow you to see opportunities lost at the smaller scale. [Try standing on your fraughting stool.] The converse is also true: getting lost in details, minutia, diverts us from the big picture. I may understand what I’m doing, but not why. Related to this is the notion of dimension: get out of two dimensions and into three or possibly four (that is, add the dimension of time to your repertoire).

ORIENTATION is the quickest of these tricks. Looking at the same drawing for too long can be mind-numbing and the easiest solution is to rotate that drawing ninety degrees: upside-down or backwards (left for right), disoriented, divorced from patterns that have become too comfortable, we see new relationships and opportunities previously unapparent.

For those who work solely on the computer in CADD or some newer software, this third strategy will be impractical: changing the MEDIUM will open your imagination to the limitations of those that are too familiar, too comfortable. Switch from your computer screen to pencil on tracing paper. Switch from media that allow you to be precise — the Dixon Ticonderoga #2, for example — to one that won’t; charcoal, for example, or even a wet medium like watercolor. Miesian precision with a brush is next to impossible. If your default medium is black-and-white, try color; the complexity of a detail may make more sense when its components are color-coded. 

Finally, when all else fails — and it often will, despite your best efforts — it’s time to DISTANCE yourself from the task at hand. Mental fatigue sometimes requires putting down your pencil, pen, or brush and immersing yourself in anything totally different. Go to lunch. Go the the gym. Swim or run. Go to a movie. Walk the dog. Write a letter. Engage your mind and body in an activity that has little or nothing to do with architecture. And when all else fails, call me and we’ll have a drink.

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