Fail & Fail Often. What Makes a Good Designer?

Trash Can

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” – Henry Ford

I wanted to write an article about my creative toolbox. Something that could help others with their design processes, helping them become better designers, or some words of advice on “how to do” or “try something like this.” While trying to come up with said toolbox, top 10 something or list of tips and tidbits, I made the realization that I was focusing on proficiencies rather than what makes a good designer.

Landscape architects often worry about their tangible skills. Am I a master of my hand-graphics? Am I good enough at visual simulations? Do I know enough about plants? Can I create the perfect design?

thinking, creativity

All too often, we chase a mastery of some skill. Is it this mastery of something that makes us good designers? Unlikely. I think that in many ways, one never masters design. Even the prodigies and our design idols don’t get it easy, and the reason is blatantly obvious: no two design situations are alike. Design is contextual.

So, rather than focusing on what toolbox skills you should have, which are still important (maybe for another post), I wanted to focus on the traits that make a good designer. To pursue this thought, I had to ask myself what drove me to become a landscape architect and designer. I came up with my general curiosity. I like to learn about the world around me – no matter the subject.

I think that it’s curiosity that steers someone to become a landscape architect or designer; however, what makes us effective is cultivating our curiosity to solve real problems. Effective design solutions come from our experience, research, and inspiration within our own field. Understanding concepts from beyond the design industry, like psychology or engineering, further expands our ability to be good designers. Regardless of how, learning and expanding our base of knowledge is key to developing effective design solutions.

Do the best landscape architects, the idols as I called them earlier, have better education, skills or larger budgets? Perhaps, they work in a more favorable location than us, like Southern California or Texas. Is that the difference?

Of course, those aren’t the differences. In addition to their curiosity, they are motivated to push past perceived failures or limitations. They are experimenters, disrupters of pattern and constantly push for new ways to address challenges. They are unafraid of failure, and they use it as learning opportunities to shape solutions.

I challenge you to become curious and unafraid of failure. In doing so, I wish you many failures. I wish that your grand plans drive you insane, that your bold ideas fizzle and your fireworks fail to ignite. Fail and fail often. Because out of that mess comes courage. And out of courage comes good design.

About the Author

Gordon Lemmel is a Landscape Architect for Peaks to Plains Design. Gordon serves as the Idaho-Montana ASLA Executive Board’s Secretary and the Billings Heights Kiwanis Vice President. With over five years experience, he has been a crucial component in Peaks to Plains Design’s award winning projects. Gordon surpasses clients’ expectations on every project he undertakes.