Too Many Lamps

I used to teach industrial design. A standard industrial design assignment is to ask students to design a lamp. It’s a great assignment because lamps aren’t just art–they need to function–but they are technically simple enough to give students room and freedom to explore interesting concepts. (We have a silly joke in design education, “Practice safe design–use a concept!”)

The students start out by brainstorming some concepts, then they draw thumbnail sketches, and then they mock up an idea or two in 3D. When they get to this point they share their work with their classmates in a process critique.

When a student shares a concept with too many ideas in it, the work is to recognize the good and the bad in that situation. The good is that it is a WONDERFUL THING to have too many ideas–it’s a great position to be in and it’s much better than not having any ideas at all. The bad, well, there is no bad. But the challenge is that the ideas need to be separated out. The designer must make a decision about which idea to run with and which ideas to put aside. Making decisions like that can be super scary and as an educator and a mentor, I’ve seen resistance to this kind of decision-making over and over again.

I’m in the thick of this tension in something I’m working on right now. The pain is real. Logically I know all of the right things to do to work through the tension. I know I’ll resolve it eventually but whoa, it hurts. Too many lamps.