gimme a break

That nice Professor Cox was on TV recently (atop some picturesque mountain, waving around the Hubble’s holiday snaps) banging on about space-time being a Woonder o’ t’ Universe™. That’s true enough but down here in office/studio space, time and/or space are scarcer – time to reflect in particular. What with lunch being for wimps and none of us having an attention span any more, non-essential reflection has become so widely discouraged that it’s a woonder the world is not full of humans behaving like headless chickens plunging civilisation headlong into chaos. Oh, hang on a minute…

It’s all too easy for busy designers to get burned out, stuck in a rut, demotivated or disillusioned with a profession that will always consume more mental energy than is strictly available (that probably contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics but I’m no Prof. Cox). To be the best designer you can be requires the cultivation of a continually positive and optimistic outlook. A tangible sense of possibility is required to fruitfully inhabit the mental zone where problems get solved and ideas get off the ground. Pressure directs us away from that zone like never before. For many an old fart like myself starting out decades ago in boom times, the urgent need to eat and provide a roof over one’s head was never more than a faint rumour. Now it looms intimidatingly large over one and all, and sustainable creativity is under threat like never before.

In Northern Europe the Pausa or Siesta has no firm tradition, although in my first summer job in an aerospace factory my boss Dick Strange (real name) and team would take a 30-minute nap every lunchtime, giving the impression of sudden daily viral outbreaks. If you want a real break now you need to take up smoking. But the tide is turning and there is increasing curiosity in looking at time differently. Running counter to Facebook, Twitter and other pressures to be ‘on’ at all times is an increasing appreciation of time for thinking rather than just doing. Meditation is increasingly prescribed to foster good mental health, and the ‘slow’ movement is gaining ground, from slow food to the The Long Now Foundation (check out the 10,000 Year Clock).

Holidays provide brief respite and temporary denial, but academics and the great designers that inspire the rest of the field take the sabbatical – the grand academic refreshment usually the privilege of the very successful, the obsessively determined, or the independently wealthy. Every seven years Stefan Sagmeister shuts up shop and takes a year out; Marian Bantjes stepped out of a successful design career to return six months later, reinvented. Envious, no? Such opportunities are unavailable to mere mortals. Or are they?

I recently had the pleasure of working with designer Hayley Ho and was struck by her positive focus and thoughtful energy. Not famous, high profile or wealthy (so far) she is proof of the power of the self-initiated break. Hayley saved, planned and took five months out for an ‘80 days’ trip around off-the-beaten-track China in pursuit of artists and craftspeople whose skills may not be around for ever. It was clearly an inspirational and invigorating experience (you can read the blog of Hayley’s trip here).

If you can find a way to afford it, if you should take leave to get into something rather than ‘away from it all’, or even if harsh economics should  impose it on you, there is much creative power in the proper break, approached with reflection in mind.

A cup of tea and a popular chocolate bar will not do the trick – but if I can just get those credit cards paid off there’s a Galapagos island out there with my name on it…





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