Seeing

strawberry

They say that drawing is about the ability to see the details before being able to put them on a canvas. But very often we are going so fast through our days that we might not take enough time to see the beauty of the things around us. This way, a strawberry becomes an object empty of content, viewed entirely from the perspective of supporting one's life and not as something being there to diversify experience. Whether it wants to give us a hug or not becomes secondary, because we learned to perceive and interact with that object in a certain rule-conforming way. By viewing objects of the same type similarly, we lose our ability to find what is special about them. Birds become just birds, no matter if they have beautiful plumage, sing well or make noise playing with the leaves of the tree. We start to see people not as who they really are, but as a version of a person we knew in the past, who acts or thinks similarly to them. We claim to know everyone simply by evaluating how they look, behave or do in IQ tests. Recruiters look at a high-profile university degree or rich history of past jobs and quickly assume that a person must be a top candidate. They too often tend to judge people from a single, short interview, despite not having the slightest clue of who they really are. Sometimes they even tell us straight how much we are worth, based on a piece of paper they couldn't find time to read through. Looking for desired characteristics makes them unable to see and experience their entirety. Should a candidate leave, they are baffled for not knowing how to fit this in a profile.

In cases like these, our knowledge of the world so far and the angle through which we saw things before is already affecting our ability to not just look, but see. It becomes much easier to look through things, to put them in a mental drawer and to move forward than it is to really see. The “I've seen that before”-mentality makes us look passive, instead of actively seeing through the lens of our inner curiosity. This way we are robbing ourselves of our emotions, which could have strengthened our ability to face trouble. The point in time at which we stop questioning and start relying on assumptions is when we stop seeing. It is then only through an outside impact that we can start to notice what we miss. It is our task to associate with people that allow us to see more from life and experience the unexpected dimensions of it, so that we are able to see both wide and deep.

A web designer that hasn't learned to see is underperforming. He can't see layout as a whole while abstracting away the concrete text and imagery, leaving only “shadows of interplaying contrast levels”. What he can do is to look at individual components in the context of the whole and judge their level of similarity or consistency. Just putting four boxes of different colors next to each other doesn't make a good design—it's just a beautiful decoration. A visitor will look at it and be pleased, but he won't be able to see how it improves his life, the same way the designer was unable to see through the eyes of a regular user. We can't name great design something which is widely available, because design is a word with a meaning in flux. We can see this in places with large collections of recent products, whose creators won international design awards. It's interesting to see how the judges' understanding of what is a truly great design has shifted the last year compared to the previous one. It seems that nominees and winners were able not only to look at a common product, but also see things that were invisible for others. They were actively seeing beyond the known.

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