Work at a different speed – Oblique Strategies for Design and Designers

This is the first in a series midweek posts on Oblique strategies for design. The quotes are taken from Brian Eno’s and Peter Schmidt’s set of cards called ‘Oblique Strategies’. The original set of about 100 cards from 1975 had it’s origins in wrestling with their creative process. Eno a musician and Schmidt and artist both knew the challenges that creating brings. So each card suggests a course of action or thinking to provoke a shift in creative focus.

There’s no definitive interpretation or right response to these ‘Oblique Strategies’. They are all about getting us out of ruts or dead ends in our creative process. And who hasn’t experienced either of those. Someone once said to me that ruts are like graves with no ends! That’s not somewhere I want to be. I’ll set the context as we dive into these oblique strategies for design by considering our natural work rate.

Humming Birds and Blue Whales

Have you ever wondered whether you have a natural rhythm or frequency to your work and life? Maybe a bit like your heart rate. Blue Whales have a heart rate of 8-10 beats per minute and hummingbird’s are up 1200 bpm.

I’ve known people who are like hummingbirds in life, darting in and out, furious activity surrounds them, frenetic, whirling, maelstroms of motion. Sometimes I envy them and their appearance of productivity and action. If you’ve met people like this or worse worked with people like this, you’ll know that more than likely their wake resembles the aftermath of a tornado. The result is, everything everywhere and nothing completed to a state that might be called a ‘deliverable’.

I’ve also known people who are like the Blue Whale, everything about them is low frequency. Ponderous, laboured, glacial work rate. I watch them walk and I wonder how they don’t fall over. This is the kiss of death to your sanity if you have to work with someone like this, especially if you have a deadline. I secretly wonder if this is a work persona and behind closed doors they’re transformed like Maester Pycelle from Game of Thrones. Seeing him moving around fine and standing tall in his own chambers and then ‘getting into character’ as he leaves was hilarious. It is also a little reminder we can all be a bit like that sometimes.

Learning from both

I suspect I can learn something from both. I know a conscious change of speed to my work life has certainly paid dividends in the past. Like our heart rate I find a natural working pace for different activities. I walk fast everywhere, I cook slowly, I sketch too fast, I write slowly. I’m laughing at myself now for taking ages to write that last bit. I think it’s the being aware of yourself and being able to make the changes that helps.

Strategies for a change of speed

An oblique strategy comes at you from the side and doesn’t need to directly focus on the actual problem itself. Changing the speed you work upsets your natural rhythm and with that upset you introduce unknowns. It forces you to think differently, behave differently and ultimately approach solutions in a way you might not have done before. Here’s some of the strategies I’ve found that help me change my work speed.

  • Set a deliberately longer or shorter deadline for tasks or sub-tasks to be completed.
    This is really good if you know that a particular part of a task is going to expand to fill whatever time you give it. I often use this to break tasks that have a difficult to define end-point. When have I had enough ‘inspiration’ from Pinterest?
  • Play different styles of music.
    I’m enjoying Apple music ‘Pure Focus’ playlist for thoughtful, careful work.
  • Artificial, “DO IT NOW!”.
    This works great for me to get on with a gym set that I’m psyching myself up for, instead of the internal conversation, I create an artificial urgency that requires action.
  • Take a couple of breaths in-between actions.
    This is a strategy I’ve been trying to adopt when I’m painting (gotta have other interests – you know) – I have a tendency to keep fiddling when I need to pause more often and consider.
  • Chew for longer! Savour the flavour.
    Especially true for me when I’ve made it myself and am now ready to get it eaten and get on with what’s next.

Now over to you

Hope this helped spark some thoughts and strategies for you. I offer it as a start for your own thinking about oblique strategies for design. In your context it might appear very different. You can see more on the Oblique Strategies cards here if you like and if you happen to own one of the original sets, you own a rare and valuable thing!

Work at a different speed. Part of the 'Midweek Oblique' series of posts based on quotes from Eno and Schmidt's Oblique Strategies cards. Post content written by Stuart from Design Advocate, a branding and design specialist.
From a series of posts based on Eno and Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies cards.

Credit where credit’s due, the hummingbird photo I used in this post is from Free-Photos from Pixabay.

Till next time and if you’ve got some ideas or stories of your own, don’t keep them to yourself now. Sharing is caring, so like, pin, share and comment.