An article in The Guardian asks “Do UK orchestras play too perfectly?”
This struck me as interesting because the idea of perfection has come up in a few conversations recently, including yesterday when Philip Joe of Microsoft paid DJCAD a visit to spend the day with MDes students. His advocacy of whiteboard meetings, where discussions are recorded in a non-permanent way that can be added to and drawn on, is a good example of why perfection can be the enemy of creativity.
Here’s an extract from the Guardian article:
(Conductor) Simon Rattle … told me that one of the principal players i[of the Berlin Philharmonic] had a stint as a section leader at one of London’s orchestras. He was amazed at the brilliance of the British musicians in the first rehearsal of a complex piece by Bartók. The technical standard was much better than it would have been at the Berlin Phil at a first rehearsal.
That sounds good, right?
The problem was, the final concert wasn’t any more exciting than that first run-through. That’s the exact opposite of what happens in Berlin, or Vienna … or Amsterdam. With those great European orchestras, there’s a journey. You would be shocked if you heard these bands when they rehearse a piece for the first time: they are much less together than their British counterparts. The payoff is, though, that the concerts … often have an expressive intensity that British orchestras rarely manage.
I’ve often noticed that design students tend to aim for perfection with their work, avoiding the “prototyping” phase. The word “prototype” is often misunderstood as the first thing off the production line (e.g. a prototype car is finished in every sense, but it’s the first one of many). The modern meaning of the word is an iteration, or version, of something that is used to think a problem through. It could be (and usually is) very messy and unfinished. A prototype robot that will sweep your floor might look like a circuit board on wheels. A prototype necklace that triggers a signal in a partner’s bracelet when it is near might look like a piece of wire with a transmitter on it.
This video shows how paper prototyping is used in interactive design:
Within my own field of graphic design a prototype website will look like a piece of paper with some boxes on it. A prototype advertisement will be a black marker sketch. They are rehearsals. The similarity with the orchestra example is they are rehearsals that are shared with other people, not kept to yourself. The more unfinished something is, the more likely it is that a meaningful conversation can be had. Whereas the more finished it is the less likely it is that you’ll want to change things, or that others will contribute anything useful. (And in industry it’s always much more expensive to change things later on in the process).
This is covered in the book The Back of the Napkin, which is a recommended text this semester.
Kate Rutter of Adaptive Path reminds us that the quality of the visual determines the quality of the feedback:
- Low fidelity = High-level feedback
- High fidelity = detailed/low-level feedback
Low fidelity visuals would be sketches, rough models, paper mock-ups and so on. At this stage the type of feedback you get will be very useful and focus on what’s important, whereas high fidelity visuals – something you’ve spent hours making, for example – will solicit feedback about whether people like the colour, the layout, the finish and so on.
Or to quote Dan Roam, the author of The Back of the Napkin, “The more human the picture, the more human the response.”
Being messy from the start, and being open to the idea of being messy, is important for creativity, as this final extract from the article suggests:
It’s a different way of thinking about what performance is. The goal in Berlin or Munich is to get to a place where the music is in the bones of the players; in Britain, the problem is getting further into the music than playing all of the notes in the right order.
So it is with design. It’s important to care more about understanding the design, the idea, and the problem that it’s solving (how do I communicate that message? How do I get people to use a service? How do I make this metal twist in the way I want?) than to make the finished thing perfect. Craft is imperfect. That’s what makes it human.