Frankly Speaking: The Power of Experiential Learning

Posted by Guest Author on 6/27/16 11:44 AM  |  5 min read time

By Frank Brault, Product Marketing Manager – Entertainment at Vectorworks, Inc.

Whether you’ve just graduated or, like me, you've been out of school for quite some time, your formal design education may be on hiatus. But for us designers, why should the end of our schooling mean the end of exploring the creative possibilities? There is design inspiration all around us — even when you’re just putting on pants.

Frank_Header_600x350Alright, I realize that my last statement was a bit of a stretch, so let me explain. The other day, I was in a store trying on a new pair of pants, and everything about the space worked together to create a perfect design. It was more of a little world than a dressing room, really. The soft, warm lighting, the modern interior design, and even the plant sitting in the corner created a holistic experience that I stored in my mind for later inspiration. The effect of the little design decisions created by the lighting and the interior design added up in a way that put me in the mood to like those pants. And because someone took the time to think about my experience beforehand, you better believe I bought them. That’s the true power of design; it can influence and even completely change how you’re thinking and feeling! Learning how to do this with your own projects is a skill you can always grow and refine through experiential learning.

Beyond your local clothing store, there are plenty of places where you can learn about design through experiences, even while you’re just out having fun. There are the obvious ones, of course. If you’re a lighting designer, take note of the lighting at concerts and festivals you attend. Landscape professionals should keep an eye on green spaces. And architects should be checking out the built environment. However, those are not the only places (or even necessarily the best places) to pull inspiration.

To find out what I’m talking about, you just need to be aware of your surroundings as you do things you enjoy. You’re not aware of the designed environment around you just because it’s your profession; you recognize and respond to great design because you love it. Likewise, you should pull your design inspiration from the things that you love, not solely the things you've studied in the past. As you go about life, maybe stop for a moment and recognize how certain environments and settings make you feel and then reflect on why they make you feel that way.

For example, if you find yourself back in your hometown, look around and notice what’s changed over time and what’s stayed the same. While you’re reminiscing, you might notice that certain aspects of the area’s design impact you in different ways. What is it about the way light filters through the space that gives you a specific feeling and affects your memories? How is the shape of the space you’re in conducive to enjoyment? Has the change in the seasons altered how the site influences your mood? By taking the time to focus on these features, you discover more about your own design sensibilities and mature your skills as you file away these observations for use on projects.

Your observations don’t have to be about past experiences, either. You might be heading out to someplace completely new (road trip!). If you find yourself out in nature, take a moment to discern how the landscape supports or hinders your enjoyment of the space. Did the interaction of the trees and rocks attract you or put you off? Either way, you learn something about how the environment impacts how you perceive and make use of a space. And the best part about this sort of thinking is that, with your design-oriented mind, these ideas all come naturally (and for free).

Whether you’re at a restaurant, going for a walk, or just trying on a new pair of pants, inspiration and education are all around you. All you have to do is be aware of how your surroundings are affecting you. These observations don’t have to be groundbreaking; you just need to dip into your subconscious reflections enough to articulate and remember them, filing them away in a mental Resource Browser. That way, just like you have a wealth of content to use when you’re designing in Vectorworks software, you’ll now have a library of aesthetic experiences to draw upon when you’re conceiving design solutions.

If you have one of these “ah-ha!” moments of experiential learning, share it on Twitter with me @FrankOnDesign and help your fellow designers find the motivation to seek out these experiences for themselves!

This article first appeared in our bimonthly academic newsletter, For the Love of Design

Topics: Education, Entertainment, experiential learning, For the Love of Design, Frankly Speaking, Academic Newsletter, inspiration

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