Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Power of the Plan - some tips on getting things done..

Today I want to talk about THE PLAN, not just as a component of a set of architectural documents, but as a metaphor for universal organization. You may be familiar with LeCorbusier's quote, 'The Plan is the Generator'. When I first heard this quote in college, I didn't really get it. Almost two decades later, these five little words impact almost everything I do. Today, I hope to describe how you can be more effective by analyzing the steps in making a great plan. As you will see, these steps hold true for both the architectural document and the notion about getting things done.

Step 1 - What do you want?

When I first think about designing anything, I ask myself what I am trying to accomplish. I say, "Self - what's the big idea here?" After I do this, I then make a written list of all of my goals in as much detail as possible. For example, if I were designing a house, I might develop a program that lists all of the spaces that I want to be in the house and I might assign them a value. It might say something like "Master Bedroom - 200 SF, Master Bathroom - 80 SF, Laundry Room - 40 SF" and so on. If I were thinking of developing a print ad for Pocono Modern, I would make a list of all the sentiments and feelings that I want the ad to get across. I might even write a list of words or adjectives that would help me brainstorm later on. Make no mistake, this step is crucial to carrying out a plan. You have to know what you are trying to do before you can figure out how to do it. And while this sounds very simple, you would be surprised how many times I have seen colleagues staring at a blank screen or a blank piece of paper claiming that they don't know where to start.

Step 2 - Know your limits

In my experience, the two big limits in this country are time and money. It seems that every task somehow involves at least one of these two things. Your partner may want you install a new closet system in your guest bedroom (which seems simple enough), but he or she may want it done by next weekend when their parents are coming to stay. Often things that seem simple are complicated by the availability of these resources. There are of course other limitations, but for the purpose of this piece, we will just call these limitations the 'X Factor'. Fill in the blank for whatever your 'X' is. Once you know what you want to do, you have to consider what the potential limits or road blocks are so that you can factor them into your plan. I have seen many graphic designers come up with incredible ideas for things like invitations and stationary only to find out that the designer was thinking Letterpress and the Client was thinking Kinko's. In short, know your limits before wasting your time on a plan.

Step 3- Small steps.

When you are starting any new endeavor, it's very easy to get overwhelmed. When I start to put together a plan, I go back to the small parts of my program and work on each piece by piece. For example, I never just sit down and draw a floor plan of a house and say, "This is how it should be." What I do is start by designing each room how I would want it to be and then make smaller tweaks later on when the spaces get connected. In short, I break down the larger tasks into smaller ones so that there is an underlying rationale to the bigger plan. More often than not, examining the smaller details forces you to think about things that you would have not considered if you were focusing only on the big picture. I once worked with an Interior Designer who wanted pocket doors everywhere. I still remember the puzzled look on his face when I told him that all the walls would need to be twice as thick to do this. When he didn't understand why, I asked him where the wiring for all the switches would go. He said, "In the walls!". I then asked him where the pocket doors would go. He said "In the walls!". To make a long story short, the Client didn't want to spend more money and lose double the space. I think the Designer ended up in the walls of that project, but it just illustrates how you should work small and consider the details.

Step 4 - Connect the dots

Once you have put in the time of figuring out all the details, now it's time to piece your plan together. Of course, no plan ever comes together perfectly, but I find it's much easier to tweak some smaller items than sit there trying to solve everything at once. If you've heard the saying 'the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts', then it should be said that a good plan is based on the sum of the research. Once you go to implement your plan, you will certainly appreciate having done the bulk of the work beforehand.

Whether you are designing a house or figuring out how to buy a new car, a good plan is essential. If you are starting out in the world of Design, I hope that you will consider this post when trying to make a strong impression at a new job or on a new project. There will always be plenty of people to sit around a table and criticize an idea or an approach, but a man (or woman) with a plan is a valuable asset to any team. As for me, I will try to plan more blog writing time into my future days.

1 comment:

  1. Nice insight in the creative and productive processes.
    Personally I tend to help my friends, but many times I've seen my good intentions pave the road to my personal hell of multitasking.
    So, it's good to know someone worries alike, and tries to implement a system that actually works.