Next week I have to give a presentation at college. The subject is ‘Failure in Design’. Since we have been told not to discount any of our ideas as rubbish just yet, I’m assuming that the point of the exercise is to get us to embrace failure as a design resource.
What is failure?
Do you need to have a goal in sight to be able to fail? If my goal is to clean the house from top to toe in half an hour, get super fit in a day or learn 3D printing software (my current nemesis) in 10 minutes I am going to fail, no matter what your definition of the word is. If there is no goal in sight and you are just going about your day, doing tasks as you come across them, can you fail? Is it even possible for us to be that aimless? If we are succeeding at simply making goals (no matter how unobtainable they might be) how can it be possible for us to fail? We might not reach the goals but the fact that we defined them in the first place is a win.
If you feel like you are failing because you are not meeting your targets or goals, can you simply make them smaller? I stand a chance of doing the dishes, going out for a walk or spending 10 minutes learning a new thing instead of trying to do it all at once. There is reams of info on this site about slowing down decluttering and getting rid of just a few things a day. We know that approach works so if failing is something you want to avoid, break your goals into chunks. Small ones.
Mistakes feed evolution and we can learn from our mistakes. Planning to fail can take the pressure off a perfectionist mind set and allow you to start. If you have a goal so huge or difficult it feels like it will never happen, try planning to cock it up. I’m finding this is working with the 3D printing software. I’m spending 10 minutes at a time just moving things around and trying to break them. It is really helping me get to grips with the way it works. I’ve started to plan failure with my bread making too. Sometimes I get a gorgeous sourdough loaf, most times I get something doughy and heavy. When that happens I turn it into delicious croutons. Having a plan B (and sometimes C and D) means whatever happens, I don’t actually fail.
What happens when you haven’t avoided or planned for failure and you simply just do something wrong?
- First look at what can be salvaged. Is any of it useful, can it be recycled?
- Next think about what could have done to avoid the accident. I find this very hard to do without really beating myself up so I try to limit the time I spend being horrible to myself.
- Lastly what positive spin can you put on it? Your bread burnt but hey, the oven works! You got nail varnish on your skirt, but you hated it anyway….
Working with failure
In my day job I have a time limit on the work I do. Because of this constraint I tend to filter ideas very quickly and only work with ones I am confident will work and the client likes. At college I can actually devote time to working into the mistakes and seeing what can be done with them. This means I have a huge pile of clutter in my corner of our studio because I’m saving every thing I make in case it helps me develop more ideas. It is making me very uncomfortable indeed but I’m there to break out of my comfort zone so that is fine. I tried electroplating this week and accidentally made a range of large bogies. I can’t think of any use for them right now but they did teach me what doesn’t work. And that is fine.
View this post on Instagram
You can’t fail
Writing as someone who beat herself up for weeks because she was just 3 points away from a distinction in her Advanced Driving Test I know what failure feels like. I didn’t hear it when people reminded me that learning advanced driving is a brilliant thing to do, and I still passed. All I heard was my horrible internal dialogue replaying what I did wrong, again and again and again. I am expert at making a win feel like a fail.
I’m learning though, that berating yourself endlessly does not make things any better and I’m trying to accept failure more on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean I’m doing bad work or dropping my standards, it just means I’m accepting that failure is part of how things work and any failure is actually an achievement.
Want to talk about it?
I'm Lisa Cole. I'm a designer and writer who lives in Bristol. Less-stuff is about my journey to live a more organised life. I document little things I can change to live more sustainably. I'm not a minimalist!