Co-founder of Wolff Olins, Michael Wolff is a leading identity designer. At a D&AD President’s Lecture, he described current design work as generally lacking in courage. He challenged designers in the audience to question formulaic thinking and to take chances with their work. According to Wolff, it takes boldness and a willingness to be disliked in order to break through with original ideas.
Listening to this interiew with Michael Wolff reminded me of an excerpt that I once read from Walden by Henry David Thoreau . “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away.” Whether expressed by a contemporary designer expert in communicating brand identity or a Harvard-educated writer and poet who lived over a hundred years ago, it is a message with a timeless quality. Trust your ability to think independently and your sense of self-reliance. Family cultures, corporate cultures, and nation cultures are full of well-intentioned people who want us to fit in, to conform, and to not rock the boat. They want us to feel safe and accepted. In order to move forward, we are going to have to challenge the status quo.
To nourish efforts in original directions, Wolff recommends developing three design muscles for support.
Inquisitiveness: The ability to take a bird’s eye view in order to question everything. Why is it that way? Does it have to be that way? Should it be that way? Are there other options?
Appreciation: The quality of seeing our environments through the lens of empathy. Being sensitive to the psychological needs of others and designing solutions based on compassion.
Imagination: The ability to let go of labels and notice the world with fresh eyes. Discover the way children do for the first time and create without using preconceived connections.
Let us build our design muscles in support of our independent thinking and our self-reliance. Let us be courageous and break through past formula into creativity.