Friday, October 9, 2009

The pursuit of happiness

Blaise Pascal once said, "All men seek happiness. This is without exception." Happiness is one of the inalienable rights, but designers/architects don't seem to consider it necessary. They rarely smile in their portraits. Instead, they try to act serious to appear "cool." At a Columbia lecture last night, graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister laughed at this and said, "Cool is just a stupid way of being."

In order to remain refreshed and happy, Sagmeister takes one-year sabbaticals every 7 years. (He just recently came back from one in Bali.) He did a little math: average Americans learn in the first 25 years of their life, then work for 40 years and retire at the age of 65. Why don't we use five of the retirement years and disperse them as intervals into those working years? For him, it's a good way to avoid repeating old ideas. And economically it's actually beneficial since you can raise the fees if you have good and fresh ideas all the time.

There are at least two ways of finding happiness in design. One can be happy experiencing design. For design objects, he talked about the moment of happiness in the 1980s when he rode a Yamaha motorcycle and listened to The Police's Synchronicity on a new Sony Walkman. As art works, James Turrell's room at PS1 in New York, Ji Lee's speech bubbles project, and Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate in Chicago were used as examples that had made him happy.

You can also be happy designing. In the pursuit of happiness in design, he suggests to "think what you really like to do before doing it." Here's a list of things that he likes about his job:
1. Thinking about ideas and content freely - with the deadline far away.
(No pressure is always better.)
2. Working without interruption on a single project.
(Concentrate without being frazzled. Immerse yourself.)

3. Using a wide variety of tools and techniques.
(Try not to get stuck or repeat yourself.)
4. Traveling to new places.

(Just go out and see new things, even if it's just a few blocks away.)
5. Working on projects that matter to me.
(Care more if it's important for you.)
6. Having things come back from the printer done well.
(Enjoy the end results.)

To describe the right to happiness as "I just want to do what I like" sounds like an excuse to be egoistic and stubborn. But happiness is your own pleasure and satisfaction, and is ultimately about fulfillment of the self. Right, maybe I should consider my own feelings more and treat myself better...

For the record, here are my favorite things from the lecture:

Favorite design: trophies for the Vilcek Awards.

Favorite story: When designing the logo for Casa da Musica, Sagmeister failed to avoid using the shape of the building. It was mostly because after Rem's presentation he realized architectural design is actually logo making. But he did avoid sameness by adapting the color palette with a computer program.

Favorite claim: "If a building can stand there for hundreds of years, it's a pretty damn sustainable building!"

Favorite of all favorites: laughing yoga.

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