Since I consider myself a maker and a builder, this is my thesis. It is an instruction manual that will guide you through the development of my design process. These instructions will explain, in a very unique way, how I built my design process while at Vermont College of Fine Arts. To reflect my ‘all over the place’ approach, my thesis will clearly explain my process while literally having you, the reader, physically moving around the 7‘ x 3’ plans to follow the instructions.
Unlike my previous semester projects, where I designed build plans prior to creating a product, these instructions come at the end of the ultimate VCFA project, my MFA studies. These instructions contain my work and the conclusions that I’ve come to from doing this work.
Before entering Vermont College of Fine Arts, I felt like more of an manufacturer than an artist. I made things, I made things well, but there wasn’t much of me in my work.
Prior to studying at VCFA my design process was very different. It was unique to each design task, as it is for most designers, but it didn’t encourage and barely allowed for my voice to be heard. Before I was able to understand what process was going to work best for me, I had to understand myself.
I could argue that you could see me in my work; you could see the meticulous attention to detail, light hearted tones, and, of course, the thick line strokes around any of my sports logos. But I wasn’t letting my audience see any of my thoughts, opinions, or concerns.
Two years ago, at age 30, I, a self-proclaimed artist since as long as I can remember, began to develop my first design process. After 2 years, I finally have a process that allows my audience and myself to understand a comprehensive message through my work.
With a combination of never-ending ambition, curiosity, opinions, and trust, I developed my design process. It is composed of two important parts: creative writing and the intention to engage my audience. I discovered that creative writing can conjure up more thoughts, sometimes scattered thoughts, on topics that I wouldn’t usually comment on or expect so close to the surface, We’ll get more into that later.
These instructions contain my writings, thoughts, and projects, both failed and successful, and most importantly directly reflect me as a person.
Process: The Funnel
One side of my process is fairly structured: the writing side. When it comes to the medium or design focus, I am all over the place, and there’s no where else I’d rather be. That’s what I do; that’s how I make; it’s a huge part of my process. I want to see, touch, experience and know about everything and try as much as possible. As you follow the instructions some parts may seem disjointed or disconnected but be patient, trust it and let the process slowly take shape.
Writing has become an extremely influential part of my process. It allows me to better understand my feelings on personal and social topics. It’s pretty incredible how writing my thoughts on paper can really bring things into focus. I learn what is important and what might just be a distraction. It’s gratifying to sit down to write with a specific view on a topic and in an hour I’ve weeded through that topic and picked out what is really important, frequently resulting in a completely different point of view.
Through writing and daily observations it becomes clear as to what is interesting to me at the moment. Values change just as I change. As I evolve my peaking interest in specific topics evolve. I feel that the more I put myself in my work the more I am able to evolve, it’s cyclical.
Combining writing, being all over the place, trust and patience, I eventually I get that feeling. You know the feeling; it’s something you want to trust and invest all of your time and energy in. For me, that feeling has generated cohesive, thoughtful and lighthearted projects with meaningful messages, ranging from a tricycle that prints with sand and rotten food embedded in bars of soap to a carnival themed game with plaster dolls as targets and a light sculpture controlled over the internet.
Now, when I say “all over the place,” I’m referring to some of my disconnected ideas and projects. Here’s a visual of my process. Picture a funnel. Being all over the place is the top of the funnel. It’s wide and my ideas tend to be unfocused. Some of my ideas don’t connect with each other, and some just don’t make sense to anyone besides me, but I justify this stage of the process as the ‘why not’ stage. Others might call it experimentation. As I continue to work and begin to write, I trust that my writing, the middle part of my process funnel, will allow me to focus in on a topic resulting in a clear solid message: the outcome. Once I have generated that focused topic, I look back to my ‘why not’ stage and see if anything seems like or is an appropriate medium with which to communicate my message.
Out of Disporder thesis installation
Process: How do I design?
So, how did I come to create a sand printing tricycle, soap embedded with rotten food, a carnival like training device to strengthen your awareness and a light sculpture which is activated based on social media participation?
Here is my secret: count nothing out! Consider everything and anything, but there are limitations, as you probably assumed, like time and resources. You need to work with what you have. You also need to trust, be patient and let your ideas naturally develop, all while there’s a looming deadline coming closer and closer.
As I said, I consider myself a builder, so I tend to bring that to the design portion of my progress. I like to play with objects that I can grab in my hand. While I’m not opposed to paint or charcoal, I lean towards things that I can purchase at a hardware store. I also believe I have a very good sense of space, I always have, which is why I like to build in a three dimensional space. I’ve always connected more with a piece of art that I can actually walk around and inspect at any angle rather than something that hangs flat on the wall.
Looking at something, or more like inspecting something, at every angle is another aspect of my design process that I developed while at Vermont College of Fine Arts. In the past I would approach a project with the solution partially thought-through before the design brief was even finished.
I would attack the problem with a solution; this wasn’t good. This wasn’t good for my process, the current project at hand, or any other project in the future. I recognize this problem and have started to approach a design project in a very different way: patiently.
Patience is a challenge for me, in both my design and personal life, but I have to deal with that. It has been made very clear to me that I need to be patient to let something develop.
By quickly solving a problem I am cheating the problem and myself of other approaches. During my last semester Matt challenged me to complete five “100-a-days”. A “one-a-day” is an exercise that almost every student at VCFA has to deal with at one point. You need to draw, write or create one thing a day with the same theme for 100 days. An example of this is drawing a fire hydrant in 100 different ways. With VCFA’s unique format and student body I think everyone who has done a ‘one-a-day’ has done it for different reasons, not just to practice patience and approach.
Matt wanted me to do five “100-a-day” exercises in order to show me that there is more than one way to approach the execution of a design. Since I tend to try to solve a problem very quickly, the 100 a day exercise has trained me to think just as quickly, but now instead of one approach, I’ve discovered 99 others.
I look back to my first semester and recollect how I tried to define my project on the ride home from school. Talk about blinders, I took my blinders off for my second semester. I was slowly learning.
From a distance some people would say that many of my projects were failures. Burning a hole through a 500 page book was a mess, creating Impossible Ping Pong, a ping pong game on an incredibly narrow table never got past the build plan stage, and the Glow-in-the-Dark tree just didn’t glow, but from every project, failure or not, comes another idea. I began to curate a collection of design approaches. Each of these projects lead to another which lead to another which ultimately lead to each of my 4 semester final projects.
Folded thesis fits into padded envelope. Envelope lays on a false floor insert in branded corrugated cardboard box
Out of Disorder thesis installation
See more of Brian’s amazing work on his website!