Time and the benefits of doing ‘nothing’
In common with most graphic designers I earn a living by selling my time – the time I spend (or anticipate spending) actually working on a project, what I call ‘studio time’, dictates how much I charge. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. So time is an important component in the development of an effective design.
We’ve all experienced or heard of those products and designs that might have benefitted from more time having been spent on their development – the bug-ridden software, the car with poor ergonomics, the logo that provokes derision across social media. It’s easy to assume that the longer you spend on something, the more you thrash it out, the better the result will be, and, yes, there’s truth in that, but it’s not the whole story. After all, we’ve all sat in front of a blank screen or sheet of paper, scratching our heads and waiting for that moment of inspiration to come or the solution to a problem to appear. Was that time productively well-spent? Could you justify charging for that time?
We dream when we’re asleep (some of us do when we’re awake, but that’s another matter – snap out of it, Williams!) because our minds carry on processing our thoughts when we’re not even consciously ‘thinking’, and we all know how inspiration can strike when we least expect it – those ‘eureka moments’ rarely happen when we’re staring intently at our blank screens and notebooks.
In a not entirely unconnected way we also know how that portion of leftover chilli tasted better after we’d stored it in the fridge for a few days and re-heated it than it did when we first made it. We’re familiar with the concepts of marination, infusion and maturation in the world of food – how flavours and other properties can be enhanced through the passage of time. And that’s the point – the passage of time and the processes that go on during that time, processes we don’t entirely control, can really move things to a different level.
Putting this all together, it’s clear that deliberately leaving some ‘fallow’ space between the periods of activity on a project can allow thoughts to percolate and ideas to hatch unbidden, and the best ideas often come from areas unrelated to the task in hand.
The problem for us is that in our time-pressed modern world we have come to expect everything now-now-now, especially since gaining the kind of personal computing power that gives us instant reactivity in so many areas of our lives. We feel the need to bow to time limits, whether imposed from outside or by ourselves. OK, there will always be those immovable deadlines – other people’s schedules cannot always be bent to our whims – but a project, like a living organism, needs as much room to ‘breathe’ as we can afford to give it, taking care, of course, not to let it drop dead through terminal inactivity!
So the successful conclusion of a project is indeed dependent on time, but it’s not just time actively spent that can make the crucial difference as to how well things turn out – it’s also time elapsed.