Draw Early and Often
Commitment to the Process Yields Excellent Product
Allowing room for the creative process in lieu of “over preparing” material for a design charette is a key to success. Groups in our class that spent a lot of energy preparing material pertaining to the assigned topic of their charette either didn’t use it at all, and found the preparation a waste of time, or they spent the entire charette with tunnel vision goggles on. This means they focused so much on trying to stick to their original plans, that they didn’t let the charette flexibly and freely progress to take its own unpredictable form.
For our first charette, our student team focused solely on structuring the very beginning of the charette to ensure both students and the professional guests were “on the same page” even if our real and perceived expertise levels varied. This helped cultivate an atmosphere of everybody being an equal team player, and no one had more authority in the charette than anyone else. Expertise and age differences aside, starting off with the structured activities also equalized all participants in regards to airtime. After receiving the design task from the facilitators, we had everyone take a few silent minutes to independently consider and respond to the task. This exercise avoided the situation where someone steps up first to speak which invades others’ creative process, and might put them in a dominant role. After time was taken to independently think about the task, we went around in a circle to share what we had been thinking, drawing, and writing about. Feedback was refrained until everybody had shared their initial thoughts to ensure the space started off as comfortable and open for sharing as possible. Then, we went around in a circle again but this time sharing feedback about what we had heard from other people. This was a crucial activity because it forced people to actively listen to what other people had shared, and not just talk about their own ideas.
Beginning the charette with this structure was essential to establishing an equal and respectful atmosphere for our group. Although structure may sometimes seem counterintuitive to the design process when everyone involved is considered to be a mature, intelligent, and competent adult, it proved to be a crucial component for some personality combinations. Some groups featured very down to business, dominating, talkative, goal driven personalities, and with a lack of structure or mechanism for reining them in, the rest of the group was stomped out, shut down, and felt unable to participate. For other groups, members were strong facilitators, aware of their air time, good at posing questions to the group and coaxing comments out of more quiet members. For these groups, the structure proved to be kind of unnecessary, but who knows what might have happened without it.
A theme that proved to be true and consistent throughout our charettes is that a commitment to the process, rather than the product, results in success. In both charettes in which I participated, the bulk of the preparation was focused on how to loosely structure the process, not ideas for a potential product, and the end result of the charette was a tangible idea for a product.
Another critical component of the charette process is to not avoid conflict, but rather to encourage productive dialogue, which isn’t always exclusively agreement and compliments. If there is no editing or revision process after the initial ideas and brainstorms are put on the table, it is very difficult to finalize a concise product. While everyone should be respectful and pleasant, not everybody has to be 100% happy for 100% of the charette. In some charettes, the goal seemed to be to make everybody happy and not cut anyone’s ideas out. This could partially be due to the fact that the charettes were “performed” for observers in the art gallery, and no one wanted to seem rude. Also, the Pacific Northwest is a region known for people not always sharing what they are actually thinking for the sake of peace.
Valuable lessons I learned from my experience taking this class are as follows:
Don’t be afraid to disagree or challenge what someone has put on the table . Strategic and productive ways to do this include asking probing questions or asking them to elaborate, rather than flat out shooting down or disregarding their idea.
Take the time at the beginning of a charette or other collaborative session to understand each member’s goal of what you are doing together, or what stakeholders they represent—this not only helps guide the discussion, but also enhances understanding and provides perspective on each individual’s actions and contributions.
Though the conversation may be great and stimulating, start actually doing something tangible early—whether it be sketching, modeling, or drawing. In our last charette about ecologies, group members kept directing the conversation back to the design task to make sure we weren’t getting tangential. Another group member kept bringing up how much time was left, which made us start physically representing our ideas.