Last semester, I got to take an “Intro to Engineering Design” class, in which we covered a whole range of topics regarding design: from initial brainstorming to the final presentation of the design complete with things like manufacturing specifications, measurement tolerances, and 3D models.
I won’t say that it was my favorite class, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. See, until this last year or so, the only type of design I’ve been a part of is purely creative. The designing of a novel doesn’t need a lot of technical elements: an outline is usually the farthest it goes.
In engineering, however, the design starts in the creative areas and then slowly morphs into more technical areas.
I’ve come to appreciate both in a way that I could not have without having experienced first the wholly creative design process, and then the mixed design.
The Importance of Design
Stories aren’t made by mistake. No one “accidentally” writes a story. It takes a conscious effort to sit down and write something. Even if you don’t know for sure what’s going to happen in the story at any given part, you’re fully aware that you’re writing it.
Design is the conscious effort behind creation. It’s laying down conscious decisions about what you’re creating. In writing, that can be anything from “I have this idea…” to “I have these four outlines and seven notebooks full of worldbuilding and character development for this idea…”. In engineering, the design is – often enough – itself the creation.
Design is a process. It’s the development of your idea from start to finish, whether it’s a short story, a novel, a chemical process for the creation of preservatives, or a new design for an internal combustion engine.
Why does design matter?
Without design, do our creations really mean anything? If we create things without conscious effort, what is their worth?
This isn’t supposed to be a philosophy post, so I won’t make it one, but I will say this: without design, our creations have far less meaning and worth. They’re accidents, made unintentionally in the subconscious of our minds.
That, to me, doesn’t speak to what creativity is. Design is one of the integral parts of anything we create.
You, of course, probably aren’t super interested in the stiff form of an engineering design. It’s probably not overly interesting to read about abstracts and design papers and research papers and 3D rendering and process detailing.
Instead of structured design, conventional artists (those who design the fine arts) tend to follow a more fluid design pattern. They create things, but they’re not in any particular order, with any particular amount of formal thesis writing or problem stating, and they’re often wild and unpredictable.
Which is better?
When it comes to design, you must avoid the comparison trap. Don’t take your design methods and compare them to others. Everyone has a different way of designing things. Even in engineering, where design is much more structured and pre-formatted, each engineer will design things differently in their initial stages. It’s not until they have to present it that they’ll conform it to standards outside of their own.
Let your design form the way you need to form it.
Let it be fluid.
Your Design Process
So… what is your design process?
For me, I have two different design processes: my fluid design and my structured design. The latter is what I use when I’m doing technical art, like engineering design and math and science. The former design process I use when I create fine art, like writing.
My fluid design is probably more structured than many, because I’ve also got that part of my brain that wants to structure it. When I design a writing project, it progresses in almost the exact same order from book to book. I start with a basic plot or character idea, expound upon it and then develop characters. Then comes worldbuilding and plot arcs, followed by a rough outline on my wall and then a detailed outline in a notebook. This process can take me anywhere from three weeks (for instance, Barnslow Died and Asher’s Song) to eighteen months (Agram Awakens, and my newest project I’m about to start).
For you, I’m sure it’s different. You might start in a different place, create less outlines, develop your world more or less, or any number of different things.
You know what?
Design isn’t about “the best way” to make something. It’s putting real effort into creating something.
Design, in and of itself, is an art. The art of making art. I think that’s beautiful.
What does your art of making art look like?
(Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my college’s library and I just spotted a book titled “Nihilism” and I feel the need to skim this book so I’m going to end here… don’t mind me.)