Nearly 20 years ago in Monterey, I met David Carson at a HOW design conference. At conferences that followed, I found that he was always up for a conversation over a beer, providing that I picked up the tab. While that seems like a very elitist behavior to leave a young designer with the burden of paying for his beverages, I didn’t mind. I was impressionable, and enjoyed the fact that I could have a yearly chat with someone I considered a design hero.
Now, one of the things I learned from Carson was a list of the two items that every designer should carry at all times. I have eagerly shared this advice with designers whom I’ve had the honor of speaking with over the past 10 or so years as a lecturer at conferences and events. These items are: a camera and a sketchbook. You can add your own elements (a pencil, marker, pen or brush is obviously important and food helps) to the “toolbox”, but the importance of what I learned from that simple and now obvious and likely unintentional “advice” was that as a designer, part of our job is to DOCUMENT. Whether by collecting printed doodads and trinkets from our travels or simply to photograph or sketch the things that we haven’t seen before, we are squirrels collecting nuts of creative nutrition to bury in our books and save them for later, when we’re hungry for inspiration.
…we are squirrels collecting nuts of creative nutrition to bury in our books and save them for later, when we’re hungry for inspiration
Fast forward to 2013. In thinking about those years past, I realized this morning that my recollection of conversations with Carson may be foggy. Sometimes we only remember what we want to remember – the good stuff, the takeaways of past experiences. Regardless, we now live in a world where digital devices allow us to capture – in increasing quality and seemingly unlimited quantity – our surroundings. Maybe it’s easier to only have to carry around one device to photograph, write and capture life’s experiences – or maybe the omnipresence of these devices, lessens the actual experience itself. Rather than simply experiencing life as it happens, perhaps we are now constantly on the wild hunt for stuff. We miss details while searching for things to happen.
Possibly the best experiences happen when we’re not looking for them. In 1996, David Carson was sitting at the bar in Monterey, California, at a design conference holding court with some young impressionables like me. I joined the conversation and stayed until everyone else was too tired or drunk to continue. I never took a picture, sketched a sketch or saved an item to boost my memory of that evening. Maybe he told me to carry a camera and a sketchbook with me, or maybe I made that connection from something else he said. The point is that it doesn’t matter. The tool in the designer’s pack that David didn’t mention was the brain — to contain, process and recall what is important of our precious memories at a later date.
The tool in the designer’s pack that David didn’t mention was the brain — to contain, process and recall what is important of our precious memories at a later date
And if I ever see David at another conference, I’ll once again listen more than speak, casually mention my point about the brain, and in the end, maybe let him buy me a beer.