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Organized Improvisation

Design is not a one way street. It adapts and shifts during the creative process; the ultimate outcome is almost always different than the original intentions, and usually feels better. Design is way more fun when you can get behind that idea. I like to think of it as organized improvisation. I like to think about how I can selectively give up control of original ideas to circumstance, to materials, and to my collaborators.

We recently designed Sightglass Coffee and I had the opportunity to come up with a custom lighting fixture for the front of the new space. The way it came together and the finished product are so satisfying to me that I thought I would make up a bunch of rules about how-to capture that magic.

1. Find your inspiration – in this case we had 30 or so heavy metal joist hangers that came out of our demolition on the site. We really wanted to do something fun with them.

2. Make up some rules – The organizing principle was to string these metal pieces together in a way that made something new and unexpected. I imagined alternating the different sizes and placing them end to end with little bends here and there. The result was a gently undulating form that snakes it way along the ceiling.

3. Hand off control – The drawing looked awesome. But we didn’t want a drawing, we wanted a light fixture. Luckily we had an excellent builder and a creative lamp-maker available to work on it.

4. Practice saying “yes” – You will know that the right craftsperson is on the project because they will get excited about how to make an idea work. This is the time to set your rules aside, listen to their advice, and say “yes, yes, yes.” “No” is the opposite of creativity.

5. Respond – You may hate other people’s advice. That’s too bad, life’s not fair. Take it and figure out it supports the concept, makes it better, and gives it life.