January 15, 2014

Lessons learned from design competitions.

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." (from some childhood story I've heard)

One of my early blog entries for 2013 in my disappointment after my failed attempt to do a design competition over the holidays. I talked about willing to try and fail instead of giving up. Well this year, I am happy to attempt once again doing a design competition this past holiday and this time - I got it done on time! I could have chosen to not do anymore competitions after last year’s failed experience, thinking about the expenses and resources wasted, but I wanted to push myself as a designer and I wanted to know that I can make it on my own. I wanted to learn and bounce back from my failure.

To be honest, doing a design competition during Christmas is difficult...much more when an ice storm, power outage, family gatherings, Breaking Bad marathon, and an Arctic Vortex occurs in a period of 2 weeks - I have hibernating bear tendencies. There were times where I doubted that I was going to be able to complete. I was worried if my work would not be the best or the most dignifying to hand in.  I still persisted and you will never know unless you try. You will never know how to improve unless you move towards getting something done and choosing to not let failure get you again. There were times when I felt like an Architecture Student all over again – anxious, worried, and sleep deprived. This experience actually re-ignited some of the stressful feelings I had as a student. (which will inspire future posts to come!)

During my hiatus from the womb of academe, I have taken to heart the advice of a good professor that I should do competitions while I am away from Architecture School. Your portfolio pieces have a shelf life (3 years-ish) and you probably will not like a lot of your earlier work when you look at it today. So far I have done 4 competitions, 3 of which I collaborated with colleagues at school or work. This time, however, I wanted to strike it out on my own. For this post, I will give you some points that I have learned from this experience for any architecture student wanting to try a competition for the first time:

Start early. Start anything. Start Right Away.  
A sketch, a model, anything for a point of departure or discussion. Starting to design early can spare you from an all-nighter when crunch time hits.  

Get a friend or mentor to provide feedback and dialogue *cough* critique *cough* about your design.  
A good design means having discussion and critique with others to explore all issues concerning a design.

Work a bit on everything, building it all up on until deadline. 
I learned this at the end of my school career and at work: we work with placeholders in this field – updating drawings until deadline and just placing something on the sheets until a better revision can swap it.

Mock Up your submission early.  
Test print to understand what you’re working with and see if it’s readable when projected or printed. 

Proofread and checklists for submission. 
Ensure everything is sent, and sent in the proper format...have a checklist ready (print copy of deliverables) if you're sleep deprived. 

Be willing to edit and cut for the sake of clarity when explaining design concept. 
I have done sketches, models, renderings – but at the end you have to let go of items to be shown so that the intent is not convoluted. 

All-nighters and Late-nights are not helpful.  
Okay, perhaps when the work is strictly production it works, but if it's conceptualizing or figuring out the design idea - it will not help. Sometimes you need to rest your brain and come back to a problem with fresh eyes. You can easily overlook things and make mistakes when sleep deprived. (This requires Step 1 to manage your time and prevent late nights/all-nighters) 

Find ways to keep cool under pressure. 
Sometimes worry and anxiousness can actually hinder. Personally, it did for me as a student and you need to find coping strategies if perfectionism and anxiety choke your performance.  

Conclude your design early 
You need to conclude and just stick to something as the deadline nears. It’s never going to be completely “right” and you have to work with what you got.

So there you have it. What do you have to lose, it's really about just getting and better - one competition at a time. (P.S. If you can, do it at a strategic time...like the holidays or summer break)

Be Fearless by Failing
If at First you don't Charette...
An Evening on Failure

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