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How to Get a Designer's Mindset?

 
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Hello Jasmine and everyone! I've been a silent observer for a while and am very much a permaprentice. I'm doing a PDC and have found that I cannot stop myself from enacting what I'm imagining little by little as my design evolves. Doing that has shown me a number of ways my intuitions (or even what I would have called "calculations") were misguided, so I keep wanting to "test" my impulses on the land. On my suburban plot of under .10 acres of non-hardscaped land, I don't risk a ton in trying because everything is really small-scale and a learning process for me. Still, I am frustrated by my inability to commit to a holistic design scheme before trialing parts of it. When I follow my body (I love how you talk about that!), I find myself digging in the dirt (or rearranging rooms) rather than plotting on paper. Do you have advice for how to get myself out of my habits and into a broader designer mindset? Thank you!
 
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Cj Jones wrote: Do you have advice for how to get myself out of my habits and into a broader designer mindset? Thank you!



Awareness often seems key to being a good designer and your pottering and testing of impulses sound like you are very aware of what you're doing and being sensitive to what works and doesn't. However, I agree it's good to not just do that out of habit, and giving a broader design process benefits from seeing everything in a more joined up way, linking more inputs and outputs and crucially not getting into overwhelm or failing to get good ideas come to fruition. Give yourself specific stages of survey and observation, where you don't tinker, just map physical factors using your body and actual measuring/quanitfying eg how rainfall moves across your place. Only then, with your survey notes quietly germinating in you, begin systematically checking out key ideas with analysis tools eg assess the Positive, Negative and Interesting outcomes of various ideas; or taking each element one at a time, plan it to have multiple functions, and then take a step back and look at them all as one system (rather than trying them out piecemeal).

The next stage of design decisions can be a simple as selecting key patterns to achieve the qualities you need to make something work with minimal energy inputs and then you return to tinkering for the detail (you're probably doing this anyway!)




A final idea which I always do first, is to make a Vision board from old magazines etc. Combine images of specific things you'd like with images you just are drawn to or like the feel of. The vision board is like a compass to navigate the design steps of survey, analyse, design, implement, maintain,evaluate and tweak. It's not set in stone, though keeps you on track for the big picture and somehow seems to help actualise ideas (through harnessing subconscious with colour and imagery etc). It's good to aslo write a mission/vision statement. This too can be applied to the whole place, your whole life, or an aspect of your place you're playing around with. The statement is best kept concise (150 words max), and can refer to the process of how you'd like to do things and it can name specific elements crucial to your plan. Keep the vision board and statement in a place you'll see them regularly. And if other folks are involved eg family, they can express their ideas and prefernces that way to. A great method for harnessing diverse ideas and opinions in a group and making space for synthesis.



 
Cj Jones
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Thanks so much for this thoughtful response, Jasmine. I very much like the positive, negative, interesting assessment and also mapping stacked functions so I can see how they interweave. Will incorporate both of those ideas into my practice. Thanks again and I look forward to learning more from your interactive book!
 
Jasmine Dale
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Applying the Positive, Negative, Interesting (PNI)test comes from Edward De Bono I think, he's a wealth of useful, accessible thinking tools when analysing choices in a design.
PNI also can be applied at the survey stage and when evaluating your design (whether at the end of the day, week, season). For a simple sounding tool, it yields significant information.
I always find 'Interesting' reveals stuff I wouldn't have given significance unless I'd asked myself, and these outcomes are often nuggets of gold for keeping my projects on track and in balance with what makes me happy and what is worthwhile, or not, to undertake.
 
Cj Jones
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On the subject of unexpected results/effects of the smallest levels of tinkering being "interesting," I think I could write a novel... : )  My garden has been a relentless mirror, teacher of hard lessons, and source of awe since it let me nest on it 3 years ago.
 
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Hi
I find that design thinking takes a very conscious and committed decision on the apprentice and even on experienced designers sometimes. Design is great but embarking on a design journey can take a lot of effort, and within ourselves we know that. So it may take some time before we commit to follow a formal process with all it's implications.
As you, Cj, point out in your initial message, often enough our first instinct is to go 'into action' and make, when we are lucky, a design up in our heads thinking that this will be just enough to do whatever we are set to doing.
But of course this is not enough and it is actually a very limited approach (unless one has a very clear vision of what has to happen and how) in my opinion, a formal design process can help us follow the steps one at the time until we find a satisfying conclusion, so to speak. Also, designing on paper help us make on paper mistakes (from which we can learn) that could be expensive if implemented.
However, I don't think that you have to restrain yourself entirely from trying to build the design on the go. I think this tells lots of how you are in this respect. I have met experienced designers who are still like this even after years of practice and prefer trying to envision a design idea 'on the spot' rather than drawing or writing it. Maybe after they ask someone with good drawing or writing skill to put it down on paper.
So one doesn't need to force oneself into following one way, but may be explore several ways and see what works well for him/herself.

Also design means finding connections between elements, if you can do your design on the land using simple materials, like cardboard, boxes, ropes etc to simulate the real elements, this can give you a very good feeling of how the design will play out after and you can rearrange things if you aren't satisfied. Can't always do this, for several reasons, but sometimes it can work out well. It can also be useful if you want to show your design ideas to third parties..even a client, because sometimes many people are not used to read complex maps.

Also there are is number design processes out there and one has to find the one that feel more comfortable using (and some are more useful for land based designs while others more for social design situations)
Hope this helps.

By the way congrats for your book Jasmine, I think it can be a useful tool for anyone engaging in permaculture design especially at the beginning of their journey but also after....PDC students will love it!
 
Jasmine Dale
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Antonio has flagged up a very important point there about the power of 'mocking' up a design using any object around. We usually (for gardens or buildings) stick poles in the ground etc and spend considerabletime  pondering on layout, feel, access and so on before committing.

Another one that's really useful is making models, especially to scale. With a piece of land / garden make a sand tray or similar and as you learn the contours etc you can keep tweaking the model. Using a table lamp at the right angle for your latitude is also very accurate for testing out where and when it will be shady and sunny on a site.

Here's a model for a big house using clay and sticks, that we then combined with photoshop to play around with layout and gleaning exact calculations for timbers, windows etc



The clay model, table and chairs etc is just about visible.




 
Cj Jones
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Thank you so much for dialoguing with me Jasmine and Antonio. Yes, I am thrilling in how learning various methods has shocked me out of my routine way of doing things. It's affecting all of my life. And, Antonio, I appreciate you saying that some have, let's say, material planning methods, while others are more cerebral and even spontaneous in their design process. One of the challenges for me is that my suburban plot was heavily landscaped when I got here. That means until I get out and undo some of what's there (or at least think my way past it), I can hardly see the base map on land or in my mind. Unthinking what I see has been a huge challenge. But I'm getting there! And, Jasmine, thanks for the reminder that anything around can help you plot. When we moved in, I found lots of rock, cinder blocks, wood (lumber and logs), and pavers on this land. A treasure trove. I gathered it all up and it's been incredibly useful in figuring out ways I can work with the occasionally steep slope my house sits on. It made me commit to not bringing anything else onto the land--so making all retaining elements and beds from what I've got for cost and also least work moving it. I am doing a PDC project on my own for my human and feline family (for several reasons, one of which is healing from a trauma), which means I am the physical as well as the creative constraint. Making those initial decisions about limits was crucial to seeing what was possible. I've yet to make a sand tray, but think it would be incredibly useful.

Anyway, I'm really grateful to you for the insights!
 
Antonio Scotti
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Hi Cj,
reading through your reply you say

I can hardly see the base map on land or in my mind.


Well maybe I am a bit misguided by what you write, but if it can be of any help, a base map is a map that portraits what is already there, before you do any intervention, any design at all. And it is the base layer for the following analysis/design efforts. There you will sketch ideas (in a copy of the original base map), observations, sectors, etc.
The base map is where you actually indicate where the more fix features of the site are, like a house, a fence, pipelines, big trees, pathways, but you can add all the extra info that is convenient to you. Also it doesn't need to be to scale, but it is better if it is.
So you could actually start drawing what you see straight away, upon stepping in your property for the first time.
Best regards
 
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Jasmine Dale wrote:Antonio has flagged up a very important point there about the power of 'mocking' up a design using any object around. We usually (for gardens or buildings) stick poles in the ground etc and spend considerabletime  pondering on layout, feel, access and so on before committing.

Another one that's really useful is making models, especially to scale. With a piece of land / garden make a sand tray or similar and as you learn the contours etc you can keep tweaking the model. Using a table lamp at the right angle for your latitude is also very accurate for testing out where and when it will be shady and sunny on a site.

Here's a model for a big house using clay and sticks, that we then combined with photoshop to play around with layout and gleaning exact calculations for timbers, windows etc



The clay model, table and chairs etc is just about visible.



I am pretty dumb so I do this a lot with what I call CAD Modeling...or Cardboard aided design!

I have my farm mapped out by LIDAR so I can get maps of it in 2 foot increments instead of 20 foot, which really shows me where the water is moving. Here is a CAD Model of two fields I have that I want to put some access roads into, some swales to install, and even a small pond. The first picture shows an satellite view of the fields with the black lines showing what the model represents. The second is of the model, made to scale including elevations.



Field.png
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Travis Johnson wrote:

Jasmine Dale wrote:Antonio has flagged up a very important point there about the power of 'mocking' up a design using any object around. We usually (for gardens or buildings) stick poles in the ground etc and spend considerabletime  pondering on layout, feel, access and so on before committing.

Another one that's really useful is making models, especially to scale. With a piece of land / garden make a sand tray or similar and as you learn the contours etc you can keep tweaking the model. Using a table lamp at the right angle for your latitude is also very accurate for testing out where and when it will be shady and sunny on a site.

Here's a model for a big house using clay and sticks, that we then combined with photoshop to play around with layout and gleaning exact calculations for timbers, windows etc



The clay model, table and chairs etc is just about visible.



I am pretty dumb so I do this a lot with what I call CAD Modeling...or Cardboard aided design!

I have my farm mapped out by LIDAR so I can get maps of it in 2 foot increments instead of 20 foot, which really shows me where the water is moving. Here is a CAD Model of two fields I have that I want to put some access roads into, some swales to install, and even a small pond. The first picture shows an satellite view of the fields with the black lines showing what the model represents. The second is of the model, made to scale including elevations.





Wow, I really like both models. Is that really made with cardboard, Travis? I am enjoying all the discussion here. Makes me want to rewatch my PDC lectures if I can still access them.
 
Antonio Scotti
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what I call CAD Modeling...or Cardboard aided design!  


Love that!
 
Travis Johnson
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Gina Capri wrote:Wow, I really like both models. Is that really made with cardboard, Travis? I am enjoying all the discussion here. Makes me want to rewatch my PDC lectures if I can still access them.



Yes it is. Obviously the frame is made from wood, but cardboard has a thickness that scales to 2 feet easily, so you just keep tracing and cutting layers of cardboard to get the elevational changes that match the LIDAR Map. Then what I do is take drywall compound (because it is cheap) and then fill in between the cut layers of cardboard. It is kind of subjective, but you already have your 2 foot increments so how inaccurate can you really be. This just takes the "steps" out of the cardboard model. Then I add in the roadways, the swales (indicated by blue paint) some haybales in the erosion control areas, trees, etc. You will even note I used a Monopoly Game house as a cabin where we want to put our off grid cabin (it is in the lower, left hand corner of the model on a hill). From that spot, you can actually see 14 different hilltops.

This is what that exact spot looks like via video on youtube. It starts by looking towards the back, left hand corner of the model, and then rotates 180 degrees.



 
Cj Jones
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Travis, that's fantastic. Was this your first foray into cardboarding or is this something you've done before?

Antonio, thanks for your response. Yes, I started with a non-scaled survey document, which helped. But what I meant here is that I could not see the physical land well when I stepped onto it. There was a mess of overgrown non-native vines on all the fencing and 12 non-native evergreens planted 2-deep in a 12X5ft space (I kid you not) by the misguided previous owner. I had no access to an aerial view, which would have helped, because the property is too small to zoom into it on Google Earth. My backyard is quite shallow, maybe 15ft from the house to the back fence on two levels, so it was hard to move about physically and I could not make sense of what was the 'base' and what was not permanent, especially regarding tree cover. Overall, I felt like I had to clear some of it assess it well.

But I am loving all these ideas and agree that I could have jumped into it sooner if I'd been braver and more creative from the get go. :  )  Thanks, everyone!
 
Travis Johnson
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Cj Jones wrote:Travis, that's fantastic. Was this your first foray into cardboarding or is this something you've done before? !



No I do a lot of CAD design work using cardboard. It is a fast, easy, and cheap way to get scaled ideas down into 3D images for me to understand. All it takes is a utility knife, a hot clue gun, and some paint to make things stand out.

Here is an example of a 6 in 1 bucket for my Kubota Tractor. It is a clam shell bucket, dozer blade, regular bucket, tilt bucket, scraper and spade nose bucket, all in one. The beauty is, a person does not have to take a 2 dimensional idea on paper, and try and visualize it, the 3D cardboard does it for them. Using split push-pins, I was even able to allow the bucket to move in its cardboard form. I paint the cardboard parts in contrasting colors just to highlight the different parts just so it is easier to visualize.

I once got a Federal Grant to build a Heavy Haul Road on my farm, and did a scale model out of cardboard to show the soil engineer. In an instant, we were all in agreement on what the finished project would look like, where the erosion control measures would be put into place, and how the road would be situated. It just takes a lot of the guesswork out of a project, and as I said, it is fast, and easy to do, with a minimal of tools.



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Cj Jones
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Just amazing, Travis, and overcoming the guesswork would really help me get a handle on my water issues. Ok, I'm sold on scale models made of stuff I have lying around. Will make that my first winter project. Thanks all!
 
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