Inhaling and Exhaling Media
One thing I now know about design and design management—something I wish I had known in my undergraduate years—is a principle I have only recently come to understand: we designers must ingest media in order to expel it. In other words, we must inhale (view) design artifacts of a specific kind in order to exhale (create) design artifacts of a specific kind.
Although I have yet to manage a design team outside of an academic setting, I have worked professionally in the design field under fantastic design managers over the years. Throughout, I have come to realize how certain facets of this inhale/exhale principle manifest themselves within design, and how rhythmic the life of a designer is. The cyclical design process includes problem definition, collection of relevant information, brainstorming/analyzing ideas, developing/testing solutions, garnering feedback, and finally, improvement of the design. One can weave the concept of inhaling and exhaling media into the process in two ways.
The first way dictates that a preliminary inspiration period should be inserted into the design process (one inspiration period before each design process period, as in: ingest media and then define the problem, ingest media and then collect relevant information to that problem, ingest media and then brainstorm/analyze ideas using that information, and so on). The second method views each item in the design process as an instance of inhaling/exhaling, as in: inhale the problem in order to exhale (articulate) its definition, inhale relevant information in order to exhale (brainstorm) ideas, inhale (analyze) the ideas in order to exhale (develop/test) solutions, and finally, inhale feedback on these solutions in order to exhale design improvements.
The most convenient part of this principle pertains to the fact that we designers are lucky enough to be living in a media availability utopia. People often bemoan the fact that modern humans are plugged in at all times, but for designers this is paradise. Media is available instantly and it comes in so many flavors, all of which have merit when viewed by hungry designers.
A design artifact can either persuade, educate, or inform (and sometimes express and/or entertain). Each of these design flavors, when ingested prior to the act of designing something, can affect the design outcome; thus—whether approaching the design process with the inhale/exhale concept inserted in as preliminary inspiration periods prior to each design phase, or with inhaling/exhaling woven into each phase—one must keep in mind what media is being ingested prior to engagement in any part of the design process.
Persuasive media is best inhaled when collecting information or brainstorming ideas; educational and informative media are best inhaled when defining a problem; and entertaining and expressive media are best inhaled in times of inspiration searching (i.e., brainstorming/analyzing).
In essence, the act of iterative design is like breathing; if you inhale exemplary media deeply enough, exhaling equally exemplary media comes easily, and if you do it enough times you find that this endless cycle—just like the act of breathing—has become second nature.