I’ve been wondering for a very long time why designing anything seems more effective when I am able to work with another brain.  Yesterday, I was involved in three rapid, complex let’s-design-this-on-the-fly-we’re-behind-on-our-deadline sessions. The situations we were designing for were both complex and dynamic – perfect criteria for systems thinking. With no time to go deep, I often flounder around searching for insight and inspiration. I wander in the wilderness, where I can easily lose a day. It works but it doesn’t work as well for let’s-design-this-on-the-fly-we’re-behind-on-our-deadline.

Yesterday, I had a partner in the wilderness with me. All three times. We spend about 1.5 hours on each design session. And amazingly, we were able to design something that still appears to be highly functional and relatively simple. I think that was possible because we were a Design Duo. Each of us performed a difference function. And I didn’t realize it until mid-way through the third session.

In these Design Duos, there was a Generator, who jammed through a whole lot of different options that might work, might not work, absolutely wouldn’t work. And there was a Clarifier who asked, “What do you mean by . . .?” “How does that meet. . . ?” “Are you saying we need. . . ?” “What about adding a role to . . . ?” “How does that fit with . . . ?” “Walk me through how you got here. . . ” We were an ordered pair, each performing a special function. The Generator is sloppy, fast and creative without boundaries. The Clarifier adds discipline and practicality to the ideas. By isolating the roles (unconsciously), we were able to plow through a WHOLE LOT of design work.

I held the role of Generator for the first two sessions and as the third session approached, I realized that I was exhausted. While I would likely reengage, I wasn’t looking forward to it. However, during the third session, I played the role of the Clarifier. It required a different energy. Something calm and considered, rather than the wild and high energy outlay of the Generator. For the next test of this idea, we’re going to consciously pick roles. Each one stretches you in different directions. Alternating should allow us to extend the design practice without exhaustion.

I think this is a lot like the writing practice that Natalie Goldberg, described so well in Writing Down the Bones. In order to open up to the inner genius, uncover what’s really going on in your head and get it down onto paper, separate the writer and the editor. It’s also a lot like Visual Conversation. The Generator creates the first draft drawing; the Clarifier asks questions about both the drawing and the situation around the drawing. And that’s why you don’t have to be an artist and in fact, shouldn’t confuse artistic talent with Visual Conversation. Be the wild, creative, impractical Generator. Stop that Inner Critic and just flow. There is a time for the other role but binding them together will only bind you up.