Brittany Campbell
art director + designer


Precalculus and Prototype Camp

This weekend I was able to attend the first Prototype Camp in Chicago. It was focused around the phase of the design processes known as prototyping, specifically, prototyping for web sites.

Although I would like to do a recap of the conference I won't because I don't think I would be able to do it justice. I do want to talk about one thing that I may be taking out of context.

At the end of the conference there was a panel featuring Shay Howe, Jared Stool and Ryan Singer. Ryan Singer of 37Signals was talking about this idea. Now, he is a developer so he was using this idea to describe something that I wasn't very familiar with. However, I was able to take the basic model of this idea and apply it to graphic design.

He said there is always a goal that we have. We will always be moving towards that goal but we will never reach it. This was hard for me to understand. I think everyone else in the room looked a little confused because he drew a picture on the white board for us. He drew an x and y axis. There was a star at the top of the y axis. He then drew a curved line that approached the star but then ran almost parallel to the y axis once it came close to the star. He explained that while we will always be approaching that goal, it will never happen. Sure, we will come close but it won't happen.

I vaguely remember this idea being taught in my precalculus class. I think these are called asymptotes but I flunked out of precalculus so I can't be sure.  In high school I remember thinking that this was an absolutely stupid concept and that I should get out of this class immediately. How could a line that is approaching a target keep going on for infinity but never actually meet that target? It made no sense. It's actually really bothered me my whole life. Up until yesterday. I was finally able to take this concept and interpret it into a way that I could understand. It's an interpretation that I hope anyone reading this post will understand.

So. As a young designer, not unlike other young designers, I take a lot of inspiration from previous designers. I look at things that have already been done and try to incorporate existing styles into my work. It may not be right, but this is how a lot of young designers learn and eventually create their own style.

So lets take this idea of approaching a target but never reaching it and apply it to emerging designers. Let's say I really look up to Jessica Hische, not unlike a lot of young designers today. Maybe I want to make a brochure in the style of Jess. But my skills are not as good as hers. I am aiming to make something that could be like hers but right now, with my skills, I can't do that. I may be approaching that target but I won't hit it. Not right now anyway.

So  it's a little daunting. I even felt a little incompetent while I was thinking about this. I want to be like somebody but according to this drawing on the board, I never will be like that somebody. But is that a bad thing? I mean if all the designers who want to be like Jessica Hische could actually be like Jessica Hische then this world would just be full of really pretty book covers and not as much design diversity as I think we need.

But while I approach this target, trying to mock Jessica's style, I might encounter another style. Something unique. Something that's my style. That line that was continually approaching the target may take a turn and start it's own unique path.

So at this point, I'm on my way home from the camp sitting on the train. I think I'm pretty clever for making this discovery. I'm thinking up all these ways to present this idea on the blog. Then I realized, this is just design evolution. Just like the evolution of the species, designers have to evolve in order to create diversity. So, in the end, all of the designers out there who look up to veteran designers, we're just a bunch of mutants. To be honst, our design heros are probably just a bunch of mutants themselves. And you know what, it's a wonderful thing.