Customize everything

“Default is Dangerous.”

— Aaron Draplin


“Never ride stock.”

— James Victore

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“Designers today have gotten lazy, and let the programs and computers make too many decisions for them.”

— David Carson

Joshua Hoering
Prime for Design

Defining Design

Design became part of the English language in the 1930s.  In English, the word is both a noun and verb.  As a noun, it means intention, aim, plan, scheme, plot—all alluding to someone being cunning and clever for the plan to exist.  As a verb, it means to draft, sketch, or fashion.  The word design is derived from the Latin word signum, meaning "sign".

To have any design, Intention, Innovation, and Technology are often required.  Intention requires creatives to first consider how human needs need to be served and how to make experiences better.  Technology requires creatives to understand materials, hardware, and software for a design to exist and function.  Innovation requires creatives to think about context, creativity, and strategy to develop an original design.

Individual Vs Collaborative

Individual Design originates from one person drawing, writing, and experimenting, where the individual is the sole proprietor.  This is the classical way of understanding a creative, which is more akin to how artists are identified.  Examples of these types of designers include Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Frank Lloyd Wright.  While these designers are known to employ teams and collaborators, their individual vision is always comes first.

Collaborative Design happens when groups of people with different expertise design together.  This means people in the fields of business, human resources, urban planning, engineering, and marketing can collectively contribute to a design.  A formal process for the group to work through on a single interface contributes to collective focus.  Inclusivity and diversity are strengths as a breadth and depth of perspectives provide a check and balance for bias.


The premise of all design is discovery.  People who’ve discovered new ways of doing things are often trusted to lead this process due to their inherent courage, discipline, humaneness, intelligence, and vision  Communicating with confidence and from experience through a wide range of situations sustains this trust, but to solidify it, uniting teams who produce excellent results ethically is essential.


Designing begins with people and people seeking to understand each other.  Having credible knowledge of the needs, motives, and behaviors of people obtained through observation, conversation, and research is a good place to start.  Design as an iterative process, one that invites failure to arrive at successes.  Exploring the development, acceptance, refinement, and rejection of designs allows designs to be tested against their own merit.  The experience of designing is a deeply immersive experience requiring creatives to imagine, re-imagine, and play without boundaries to discover what’s possible.  A culture and environment that is comfortable for people to fail in and encourages healthy growth and development makes the designing experience better for everyone.

Joshua Hoering
Analysis of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks"
Edward Hopper, “Nighthawks”, 1942, oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm (33 1/8 x 60 in.), Art Institute of Chicago.

Edward Hopper, “Nighthawks”, 1942, oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm (33 1/8 x 60 in.), Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1942, amid World War II, Edward Hopper painted one of his most celebrated masterpieces, titled “Nighthawks”.  A rectangular 5-foot wide canvas presents a corner diner in an urban environment frozen in the dark hours of the night, a scene lit by ceiling fluorescents eclipsed by long flat lines of a horizontal roof balanced on thin beams between tall, wide glass windows.  We're voyeurs to the diner’s world, witnessing four figures dressed in black, blue, red, and white, commanding our attention against the vacant street outside.  Warm yellow walls of the room illuminate against the cool dark blues and muddled greens outside; dancing facets of architecture leading us to the woman in red studying a green object in her upturned hand.

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Upon closer inspection, we enter a small world of the urban dwellers, gazing.  Their sightlines intersect in different depths of field toward what appears to be money being inspected in the woman’s hand, yet we can’t be sure -- the lack of inscription leaves the viewer trapped in a paralleled questioning observation.  The style of their crisp clothes, clean and flatly colored is echoed by angular walls that close them in.  The light casts shadows on their faces accentuating cheekbones; the man’s eyes shaded by a fedora's brim.  A smokeless cigarette points from his hand in front of hers, almost touching hers, but the depth of space reveals they aren't, a dramatic suggestion of romance.  Her coffee cup exhales steam; his only a reflection against the counter.  Across the long wooden surface that loops toward us, a lone empty glass sits next to a napkin holder with salt & pepper shakers, offering symbols for the waiter, couple drinking coffee, and perhaps the viewer...  Then, we notice a man in a dark suit and fedora with his back against us, apart from the main focal point of the painting yet directly in the center of the composition.  Edward Hopper was known for wearing a wide-brimmed fedora, so the suggestion of the artist present is plausible.  Looking closer, he lifts a glass above his shadow on the counter with a newspaper folded flat beneath his left elbow.

The rhythmic geometric planes of folded newspaper and dollar bills, dramatically lit architecture, and crisp fashion contrast the detailed stoic faces which hold a pause of introspection.  Hopper’s masterpiece presents a moment of wrinkled stillness against the melodrama of WWII across the ocean in Europe, reminding us the quiet night is never simple.

Works Cited

  1. Hopper, Edward, Nighthawks, 1942, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago,

Joshua Hoering
Where Do Ideas Come From?
René Magritte painting "La Clairvoyance", 1936

René Magritte painting "La Clairvoyance", 1936

When we're innovating and creating, there's always a reference, typically drawn from research and experience.  From abstract to realistic, form to function, or usability to accessibility, it's important to consider our points of reference for the work we're doing.  This drives reason, purpose, taste, and innovation.

When we get our hands into the work, it's easy to get wrapped up in the details and technicalities.  After all, this is the work that gets the job done.  But, starting with the customer or audience experience and working backward to the details and technology that makes it possible is the right way to move forward.  This perspective causes more problems and failures, but true innovation happens from solving these problems and learning about said failures produce discovery.  In a sense, staying in the unknown is where the unexpected happens and while the ambiguity of being there may feel uncomfortable, it's also the most exciting place to be.

When we're working through these problems, it's wise to consider nature and science as sources for inspiration.  Mick Pierce, an architect working in Zimbabwe designed the largest building in Harare without air conditioning by researching termite mounds in Africa and Australia, resulting in a building that uses 90% less energy than all those around it.  This shows us that when we strive to understand the complexities of nature and science, we can draw out principles that lead to innovation.

While research is typically associated with the sciences, it can readily be applied to any creative process.  At the dawn of industrialization, solving new problems related to production techniques, efficiency, and performance, so people studies these subjects to answer problems in society and business.  Today, people are researching human behavior and the brain to analyzing problems differently and questioning existing solutions.

Ultimately, the inspiration for innovation can come from anywhere at any time.  Fazlur Khan was inspired by a pack of cigarettes held by rubber bands when he designed the 108-story Willis Tower in Chicago.  This is to say, being open to unexpected sources of inspiration could prove most important.  The question is always whether we have the right sources to work with.

Joshua Hoering
Care > Power
Kurt Vonnegut, 1979 in New York City

Kurt Vonnegut, 1979 in New York City

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in the introduction to "Mother Night":

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

This is similar to what it means to get better at something.  We're all students in our fields in some capacity, which recognizes we'll get better over time.  If being an artist or designer provides a power of sorts, we've made a degree of commitment to the desire of that power to some end.  As students first, we owe it to ourselves to understand the importance of our context in history, as we relate to other fields and the audience we serve.  Our understanding of our audience can influence the work we do more than anything else.

The part I enjoy most about Vonnegut's quote is the word careful; there are two meanings:

  1. making sure of avoiding potential danger, mishap, or harm; cautious.

  2. done with or showing thought and attention.

The first is the most associated meaning, one avoiding risk.  The second expresses thought and attention.

If we are to be artists and designers, we should be those who are not afraid of taking risks; who understand the context of our work, especially as it relates to our bias and audience.  If we are to create at such a capacity and shape the future of the field, the responsibility is not just a power, but a gift and a weight that should humble us.  Anyone who abuses power can easily be recognized as arrogant.  Our duty is to serve our audience and our field at our greatest capacity, just as we believe people in their respective fields do the same. 

If we care not only for how our work addresses our audience, the form of our lens must comprehend history, be capable of being reformed through self-reflection, understand the present clearly, and be capable of projecting a contribution for the future.

If we care, that care will make us better at what we do over time.  If anything, caring is more important than power because it shows respect for others, ourselves, and our field.  The potential for doing our best work is still ahead of us.  If we are to contribute, our thought and attention should be aimed toward the responsibility of becoming the best we can be; not the power that comes from getting there.

The Lifecycle of Any Creation or Innovation
John Cage & Marcel Duchamp playing chess on March 5th, 1968 at Ryerson Theatre in Toronto.

John Cage & Marcel Duchamp playing chess on March 5th, 1968 at Ryerson Theatre in Toronto.

I've always enjoyed studying the work of Marcel Duchamp.  As an artist, he played riddles, jokes, and moves with his audience.  He was an excellent chess player; he played professionally.  When I compare these roles he played, I imagine the chessboard chess opponent are metaphors for the artwork and viewer... the similarities are striking, except his moves as an artist are hidden unless we trace his logic, which leads us to an eventual "checkmate" in each of his artworks.

So, who are all the players in art and design?  It's important to anticipate these 4 stages and 12 players of any innovation:

1.  Creation

  • Designer or Artist - creator

  • Client - person or company paying the designer or artist

  • Manufacturer - materializes the design or artwork into the physical world

2.  Lifetime

  • Business - markets and sells the design or artwork

  • Target Audience - audience the artwork or design is marketed to or intended for

  • User / Viewer - actually uses and/or experiences the artwork or design

3.  Afterlife

  • Disposer - person or company disposing or recycling the artwork or design

  • Archiver - person or institution preserving artwork or design

  • Scholar - person or institution researching, writing about, or exhibiting the artwork or design

4.  Legacy

  • Appropriator - person or animal that uses the product for another purpose

  • Student - person who studies the creation for deeper understandings, historical context, and appreciation

  • Thief - person who steals the idea of the creation and passes it off as their own

Joshua Hoering