Danger, Will Robinson, danger, warning, warning!!
Is young Will Robinson facing yet another intergalactic threat initiated by the devious Dr. Smith, or perhaps Will is embarking on a study of the rules of design? No matter, the same dire warnings apply.
Any journey fraught with danger must be preceded by a full and complete disclosure of those dangers. Woe be to those who choose not to respect the rules! But woe is waiting in equal measure for those who blindly follow them as well! So how can this be?
The rules of design are nothing new. The Golden Mean, the Fibonacci sequence, and numerous other systems for guiding our creative endeavors have been around for centuries. These many interrelated systems lay down a basic set of guidelines that keep our designs grounded in the reality of balance and proportion. There is a primal truth buried in these ageless ratios and equations.
The rules are based in the intellect, which must quantify everything. But creativity defies quantification. It is driven by two innate components: intuition and inspiration.
Inspiration is the original spark that ignites the creative fires. It is the very thing that makes time stand still for hours while the process is being played out. Inspiration knows no bounds, and in fact, will utterly suffocate if put into a neat little box and told to conform. Intuition is inspiration’s symbiotic cohort. It is keenly sympathetic and like an adoring parent gently guides the new-born inspiration from a base that is deeply instinctual but tempered with experience and knowledge.
For a young child, there are rules they do not fully understand. But the rules must be obeyed and practiced. If a parent has done their job well, that child will someday mature and break free. With the rules understood on a much deeper level, the now young adult, no longer needs to recite them. The young adult is now free to respectfully disagree with the parent and in fact may freely choose to do so. The same learning process is true for the beginning designer.
A quote from Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats (1901-1902) parallels what I am saying here:
“……formulas are dangerous things. They are apt to prove the undoing of a genuine art, however helpful they may be in the beginning to the individual. The formula of an art remains and becomes more and more rigid with time, while the spirit of that art escapes and vanishes forever. It cannot live in text-books, in formulas or in definitions.”
Ultimately, inspiration must be the spark that ignites the creative fires, and intuition the guiding force that tames and guides inspiration. Although intuition is an inherent trait, it is molded over time in some ways by our experiences and knowledge base. If the rules are given a serious and rigorous study, they may, in time, become fused into our consciousness and in so doing, become an inseparable component of our intuition.
It is easy to get acceptable results using the rules, but nothing with real fire in its soul. Therein lays the danger. Do not be lulled into complacency. The rules can only take you so far. Learn from them, but do not be bound by them. When the time comes, let them go. Give your inspiration and intuition free rein. That is where you will find your best work.