In an interview at Columbia University, the architect Frank Gehry was asked how he reacted to criticism about his buildings. He said he likes to “try it on” like a jacket. If the criticism “fits,” he “wears it.” If it doesn’t fit, he puts it “back on the hanger.”
I learned the value of “trying on” criticism in architecture school. I felt like I had three options when receiving what I thought was a stupid suggestion: 1) dismiss it, 2) begrudgingly follow it, or 3) try it on and see if it fits. Trying it on, I reserved the right to reject it, but I also took advantage of the opportunity to see something new and challenge my own preconceptions. My approach was always to find a fast way to try it on, while also exploring my own ideas for how to move forward. Sometimes I discovered my professor was right; sometimes l became even more convinced that I was right. The interesting thing was that it never seemed to matter much who was right.
Even when there were serious egos involved, it was easy for us both to forget about petty arguments and engage in finding the best solution. Even if it is purely by distraction, visuals are remarkably effective at clarifying an idea and making apparent what works and what does not
Mark Zuckerberg describes what I believe to be the same principle when he says, “code wins arguments.” His developers could talk back and forth forever, but, by coding something, they can quickly test their ideas.
The problem is that speech is too amorphous, and it is too easy to rationalize our own ideas. I heard a professor interrupt a presentation and say, “You can rationalize anything. We rationalized the holocaust.” He would tell us, if something is designed well, we won’t have to rationalize anything. I agree that too much talk is not conducive to good design, but I think it is also a huge waste of time. We often wind up arguing about “air” as a colleague once described it. Talk is expensive because it can exacerbate arguments when there is often an inexpensive way to test and evaluate results. When the conversation gets heated, remember that testing an idea can be as simple as drawing it — and drawing is cheap.
Rich Moore is an Associate Creative Director at XPLANE.