Future Perfect


“Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.” – Nikola Tesla

There’s a painful optimism that comes with creativity. As a precursor let me first say that this of course isn’t limited to the creative class. There are many positions out there in a vast number of fields such as medicine, science & social services that require relentless drive even when faced with a lack of tangible results. It is the small successes, the sparks and even the accidents that can catch fire and turn into something big, something positive, powerful and even world changing. However it’s easy to get discouraged, depending on how much of yourself you put into your work. If you are fortunate enough to do something you absolutely love without ever having a doubt, then no matter what the obstacle or setback you will always find a way forward. Your passion will outweigh the odds. If treated as an art form, your day job relies just as much on self-expression as practical execution.

In the creative industries, as others, much weight is placed on the final result, and rightly so. You can sell a client on a process but not one without an end product, be it an experience, object or solution of some kind. This is logical. Within my field of Industrial Design, the product is simply the designer’s way of dealing with the world. Like my father before me I studied and entered into a field that is focused on a physical object; the most shallow element being styling, and the most complex being engineered reality. Yet even before finishing school I began to feel a discomfort with placing too much importance on the chrome-plated gizmo, vacuum sealed and ready to be sold in stores nation-wide.

My first job at Motorola put me smack in the middle of the complex and ludicrously fast moving cell phone industry, a game that has changed more in the past few years than in the history of the phone itself. It was here I began to feel around outside of the industrial design box and discovered a place where the product was a sliver of a bigger picture; a crucial cog in the wheel but one that couldn’t stand alone. This curiosity led me to liaise with Motorola’s Design for the Environment group, which despite its title had little design resources at its disposal. My role among many was to mitigate wasteful design and environmental harm by working with driven and like-minded people from a variety of different departments across the company, and to make sustainability just as much a design issue as a technical one. However the possibilities would always excite me more than the often disappointing outcome; that big corporations weren’t ready to put their weight behind doing things differently. This wasn’t a failure because focused effort was and still is put into this important work at Motorola. But for me there was never enough traction, results, or a registration point where I could feel accomplished.

As William McDonough said “design is a signal of intent”…it is a form of communication that has the power to aggregate science, technology and engineering into a format that can cross the borders of language, class and culture. Design can take new ideas and bring them to the forefront of public consciousness, and tell elaborate stories without a single word. It is a layer of simplified human interface that can be wrapped around complexity. This potential is exciting. It makes energy flow through my veins and puts butterflies in my stomach – a lightness that doesn’t come from re-imagining a cellphone keypad. It is here that I’ve begun (or continued) to find what it is that I find fulfilling – that the end is result is not what necessarily keeps me going. The product is not the the answer.

There’s a reason why I opened with Tesla’s quote. Having recently been back at my old school for a review of students’ design portfolios, a few threads of thought suddenly crossed. What I realized was simple. That whole-heartedly embracing what you believe in will ensure that you own the future. There will be any number of roadblocks in the present from those that lack vision, or those that can’t see past restrictive conditioning, some pretense that leads them to believe they know better. In the Industrial Design world this is represented by a static product which is sold as a solution to a problem when it is often the complete opposite. But being a creative will always be about defining what hasn’t yet happened, and no one can take that from you. It will require an irrational level of optimism, which at times may waver from self-doubt or the words of nay-sayers, but this doesn’t matter. The now belongs to any number of people, conglomerates, or corporations that have made their choices in search of their own goals. The present may very well be theirs…but the future is yours.

Process is more important than outcome.
When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there. – (Number 3 from Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto For Growth)

Article Info
Posted by: Leon Fitzpatrick
Thinking About: Creativity / Culture / Design / Product / Sustainability
Location: Chicago
Website: http://www.leonfitzpatrick.com
Twitter: le_professional
  1. Dan Becker

    Nice Insight! – You have a really great point being that if you are passionate about something and determined to make it succeed there is nothing to stop you but yourself…I quite enjoy that we as designers get paid to dream.

    • Leon Fitzpatrick

      Thanks Dan!
      We’re very lucky to be able to envision things that don’t exist yet…the flipside is that many of those things may never come to be. But more often than not you just have to believe in yourself the process regardless of this and continually push forward.

  2. Sang Hoon Shin

    Thanks for the great article Leon.
    I’ve been feeling bit down about what and where my design dream have become lately due to lack of future insight and profit driven (sales) department.

    But, you are right, we are the one who can believe in ourselves and push forward to the next step.

    It was a great read.


  3. Ciaran McCarthy

    Great post Dan. Something to cheer me up on a horribly miserable day in Dublin!

    I like your point about creatives requiring irrational amounts of optimism. The most creative people I’ve met may be grumpy and frustrated at times, but they’re always optimistic. It’s this optimism that picks us up after a disappointing result to a long-term project, or the constant refusal of companies or clients to create innovative work.

    Passion and optimism are the essential ingredients in the making of a creative.

    Great read!

  4. Leon Fitzpatrick

    So glad I’m striking a chord with everyone. It was a simultaneously therapeutic experience to actually get this thought down on paper (so to speak). The trick of course, is practicing what one preaches!
    Thanks for the great feedback :)

  5. Rafael Gomez

    Excellent article Leon, thanks so much! Its incredible how so many of what you brought up; focusing on imagining the future, dealing with complexity, a ‘product’ (i.e.’artefact’) rarely being an answer to the problem, etc, fits in so well with where industrial design is moving toward in the future… in my eyes anyway.

    Industrial design seems to be rooted in product-centric thinking, and that is how many industrial design courses all over the world are still being taught today. Looking back at the birth of industrial design there is little wonder as to why that is. But It seems like we are at the cusp of something different and your article touches on this theme really well.

    I have a feeling (or a dream perhaps?) that many of these larger themes you bring up should form the basis for a new way of dealing with the problems, or rather, the possibilities ahead. By definition, I think the ‘design’ field/s are perfectly placed to be instigators and leaders in this process. Design should be grounded on imagining and creating the future of the human condition; after all, the future will happen regardless, the questions is in what form? As designers we should be asking ourselves; What do we want that future to be…

    Cheers mate!

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