Thursday, July 05, 2007

Emptying a Space to Let Something In: What can poetry teach designers?

The design prosses takes a cue from poetry ...

Doing Nothing
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing author Margaret Atwood speak at an event up here in Rochester, New York. I love writers. Especially when they're well into their careers and are always cracking jokes. It seems that once they achieve a certain command of language, all they can do is laugh at how inadequate language really is.

Which leads me to poetry, the intentional abstraction and distortion of everyday language. Poets distort language in order to get to the magic of life—and human experience—that structured sentences cannot describe. We also do this in good design, of course. If we didn't, all things would be purely functional and we wouldn't bother with all of this silly design-thinking and storytelling.

I tend to be interested in design that doesn't play that game, design that instead opens itself up to discovery and empties itself of the expectation that every design problem is to be solved with technology. Technology is certainly a part of the equation, but technology in and of itself doesn't satisfy. That's why we always want a new one.

When Atwood finished her talk, a student in the audience asked the inevitable question—what can I do to prepare for a career in writing? (Pay attention here, young designers; her response applies to you too.)

Atwood replied that to be a writer, you have to be comfortable with risk, and you have to accept that there are only four kinds of output:

1. Something awful that never gets published,
2. Something awful that does get published,
3. Something great that never gets published, and
4. Something great that does.

Atwood's point, of course, is that going to print has nothing to do with whether or not you are doing great work.

Then Atwood had a follow up question for the young writer, 'Do you want to be a poet or a novelist?' The young writer replied, 'Both.'

Atwood told us that novelists work very hard—it's the old 99% perspiration when it comes to writing a novel. Poets, on the other hand, annoy a lot of people, as they appear to be doing nothing at all a lot of the time. But really, she said, what poets are doing is emptying a space to let something in.

My partner is a professor of poetry. He's on sabbatical this semester, and when he gets up in the morning the only question he asks himself is should he take the dog for a walk before or after breakfast. He appears to be doing nothing, but he's writing some nice poems. The other day he emailed me a poem entitled relaxing. Ah, relaxing."    (Continued via Core77)    [Usability Resources]

The Matychak Bench - Usability, User Interface Design

The Matychak Bench


Blogger Sorceress said...

It's fantastic that you could get to hear Atwood's talk. I'm fascinated by writers too and her little lesson makes sense.Thanks a lot for posting it.

7:52 AM  

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