Back in undergrad, my best friend tried to convince me to be his assistant coach for a local high school girls’ tennis team. I hesitated for a couple of reasons: first, he was a very talented tennis player while I was… not. Second, it felt too soon to trudge back to a high school campus. It took a lot more persuasion, but somehow, I relented. And it turned out to be one of the most surprisingly rewarding experiences I’d have throughout my years in college.
My favorite relic is a team shirt that I still wear from time to time while lounging around the house. It’s one of those delightfully corny puffy paint numbers – handwritten neon block lettering on a bright yellow Hanes t-shirt. The girls ambushed me with it one day and it read: “LHS Ladies’ Tennis / Coach Becky” on the back and “You’ve Got the Mo!” proudly lettered on the front. That last bit was a shout of encouragement that the quirky team captain used to holler at her teammates during tennis matches. It had evolved from, “You’ve got the momentum!” to “you’ve got the mo!” and it soon caught on as our unofficial team cheer. The shirt was perfect.
Now, how does this relate to design? I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of momentum. It’s a basic concept, but one that complicates the design process. So far, 2015 has been packed with new endeavors, ongoing jobs, and a handful of start-and-stop projects. And as usual, the latter seems to dominate my roster. While there are many reasons why projects fall into on-again/off-again tendencies, the struggle they all face is the loss of momentum.
A lack of momentum is troublesome for obvious reasons – starting and stopping has a big impact on cost and schedule – but the less apparent impact is how it muddles the design process. Creative thinking relies on momentum because once it comes to a halt; it takes a considerable amount of energy to get moving again. And after a few start-and-stop cycles, the entire process feels disarrayed, inefficient, and mentally draining.
It would be ideal if all of our projects ran smoothly and at a consistent speed, but that simply never happens. Ever. So how do we manage? What I’ve recently noticed is that creative momentum might not be singular. In an office where every designer works on multiple projects in tandem, we can spread our creative energy throughout several outlets rather than obsessing over one, which has its advantages. For instance, when I lose steam on one project, I might kick over some creative momentum to a different project by reintroducing a relevant design exploration that fell off the wagon in another project, or by picking up on a similar design problem that was left unresolved in a previous iteration. This type of piggybacking off the creative momentum of other projects happens quite frequently, presenting alternative paths to continue design thinking. It’s the unpredictability of each project that keeps me on my toes to seek out unexpected opportunities, and I find myself keenly aware of “the Mo” with bizarre ideas of incorporating puffy paint into the next project.