The AIGA Journal has documented a thought provoking conversation between designers Steve Portigal and Dan Soltzberg. They discuss the importance of “noticing” when going through your day. It’s a form of gathering inspiration from everywhere to fuel creative work. The key is getting out of the everyday way of thinking and seeing things with new eyes. Zen is often referenced in the discussion – and appropriately so. They advocate a kind of “waking up”, where you stay conscious and aware of the surroundings you’re moving through – rather than being stuck in you own head and biased world view.
It is ironic: people don’t notice that noticing is important! Or that they’re already doing it. It’s kind of like breathing—we’re not usually that aware of it. It’s much easier to recognize more “outbound” activities like brainstorming, testing, designing, refining. But noticing is just as important—it’s really where everything begins. There’s a funny Zen saying about that: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” It’s a reminder to let yourself take things in as well as output them.
Which really supports what we were talking about earlier, that it all begins with noticing. There’s another classic Zen concept that everything you need to know and experience is already happening and present, but you need to get your old ways of thinking out of the way so you can experience it. Doing contextual research is like using “super-noticing power” to peel back those layers of preconception, culture and habit. When you do that you get to something fundamental and then you’ve got a really solid platform for developing new concepts.