When I was bike racing, I spent a lot of time out on the roads training, doing directed activities that put enjoyment on the back burner in favor of making myself more efficient and faster. That kind of riding feels a lot like work, and is a quick ticket to burnout. So every once in a while, my friends and I would go out for a soul ride. This was usually a sprawling, undirected, fun ride with no pretensions of seriousness or training; the only race was to the next stop sign or to get home before dusk. I always found that kind of riding to be energizing, a remembrance of the two-wheeled lifestyle and the exploration and freedom cycling afforded me as a child. Now that I've retired from racing, I view every ride as a soul ride, a chance to get out and forget daily worries, chat with friends and occasionally sprint for the next stop sign.
Much of design is like training. It can be hard to see the benefits from one project to the next, or one unappreciative client to another, and easy to forget the reason why you chose this profession over something else. I see design as a lifestyle. When it starts to feel too much like work I grow impatient and frustrated. And I need the design equivalent of a soul ride.
Over the last two years at frog I've done a couple of projects that I'm really fond of. Not only because the work turned out great, but also because of how the team came together, how effortless the process felt, and how that enhanced the final result. In particular I remember working with users, collaborating with them to improve the medical product we were designing and sharing their excitement that together we were making something better. That, to me is a soul ride moment, a space where it all makes sense.
Gaining respect and being taken seriously seem to be persistent themes in design forums. Certainly we spend a lot of time practicing our craft, training for the next task. That focus is great, but can also burn you out. I encourage my designers to think holistically about the design practice, to think of it as a lifestyle and to focus on the non-obvious elements that provide them pleasure. Ultimately, it's those wonderful moments that will keep them interested, make them better thinkers, and shape their careers over the long haul.
Nick de la Mare, a Creative Director at frog design San Francisco, has spent his career designing digital, physical and experiential systems.
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