Design Your Life: Start Small

Ever felt like your life just wasn’t…right? As though there was something missing, or you weren’t as engaged as you could be? Being a creative is a two-sided coin. Often, creative minds are anchored by strong emotions and even stronger impulses. On one hand, it can be exciting to be open to the whims of your imagination, to embark on every new adventure, explore every opportunity and pursue excitement and innovation at every turn. Sounds fantastically thrilling, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, the flip side of that coin is that creative thinkers do not tend to be very organized. This makes life in the “real” professional world a little more complicated. Often times, creative thinkers can find themselves frustrated and disillusioned by trying to assimilate themselves into a functioning, working life. The very mechanics of our brains make it a challenge to abide by rules and regulations. The linear, rational workings of the outside world directly conflict with the swirling, whirling internal creative storm. This can cause dissatisfaction and a feeling as though you are missing out on some integral part of life that everyone else seems to get beside you.

There is no one single solution for every creative type, but an interesting approach may be to take what you learn from your creative training and apply it to your life. There are certain rules and guidelines associated with any type of creative expression. While the very essence of creativity comes into play with breaking those rules, it is imperative that you learn them in and out, backwards and forwards, first and foremost, so that you can see exactly how flexible or rigid they can be. Given that those of us who decide to make a career out of an artistic expression, we learn those rules and guidelines throughout our training, in hopes that one day we will be skilled enough to break them and blow everyone’s minds in the process.

The six basic principles of design offer a really interesting solution, as all of these principles can be applied to not only creating a beautiful work of art, but to crafting your life in a way that feels right to you. By implementing some of these principles in different areas of our lives, we can begin to design a life that fits.

Principle #1: Balance

How many times have you heard that you should always strive for balance in your life? Well, that is also the first principle of design. Through balance we find visual harmony, with no element outweighing the other. Our eye can travel around a piece in a way that leaves an impression of the piece as a whole, not just a single part. The same rule can be applied to our lives. What are the main components of your life? For most of us they are relationships, work, hobbies and perhaps some form of spirituality. If you were to look at your typical day as a pie chart, how equal would each component be in relation to the others? Are you taking enough time for your relationships? Are you spending enough time on your hobbies? Has your work overtaken the other areas of your life (it’s a common issue these days)? A simple assessment of how balanced your life is currently is a great first step towards any good design. From there you can gauge what aspects of your life truly bring you joy and if they are receiving as much of your focus and attention as the rest. 

Principle #2: Proximity

Proximity in design is how close or far two elements are from one another. The space between two objects in a design can greatly influence the entire composition. Think of it this way: if our braided Victory Rolls How-To had the victory rolls below the braid, or off the side, would the visual impact of the end style been as good? Nope. It was all about placement and proximity. In terms of incorporating proximity in your life, the translation is pretty simple. How close are you to the things that bring you happiness? If you love exercise, but live 45 minutes from the nearest gym or yoga class, chances are you won’t be going as often. Love to read? Keep your books within easy reach or, walk to your neighborhood library. Two birds, one stone. In a more cerebral sense, how close are you, really, to the things that bring you joy? How often do you incorporate hobbies into your everyday? How many times a week do you meet with or call your closest friends/family members? Proximity doesn’t have to mean physical distance; it can also be translated into emotional space as well. The closer we feel to someone or something, the more likely we are to integrate it into our everyday routine. 

Principle #3: Alignment

In design speak, this one is pretty straight forward. The alignment of objects in a design can create additional shapes out of negative space, making the piece more interesting as a whole. Applying this principle to our lives is a little more objective. What (or who) are you aligning yourself with? The people and things that we incorporate into our everyday lived have a subtle, but constant impact on us that builds over time. This is where the idea of negative space comes into play. If you are aligning yourself with a certain type of activity or person, those influences will begin to permeate into the outside areas of your life, creating a space that maybe you never intended. By aligning ourselves with people and activities that reflect the things in life that bring us true happiness, we can fill that negative life space with the effects of those relationships and actions. This means that the time you spend on these “alignments” will have the overall effect of bringing more joy into your life, over all. 

The Principles of Design

Principle #4: Repetition

Repeating a shape, color, or texture in a design creates a pattern. It is no different in our day-to-day lives. The things that we do over and over again, create a pattern and patterns are notoriously difficult to break. Take smoking, for example. While the chemicals in cigarettes are certainly to blame for the root of the cause of addiction, many former smokers cite the familiarity, the routine, the part of their day that their cigarette breaks had become as being one of the hardest things to overcome when trying to kick the habit. As humans, we are hardwired to adopt a routine. Repetitive behavior gives us a sense of normalcy, comfort, and safety. Many of us develop a routine as a way to control our time; we wake up at the same time every morning and follow the exact same routine before heading to work or school. Repetition creates habit, and this is not limited to our actions. We can also incorporate repetition into our daily mindset. One simple trick that many people swear by is starting and ending each day with an expression of gratitude. This could be something as simple as “I’m so thankful that I woke up this morning” to “I am grateful for coffee. Every day. Multiple times a day” or even something as broad as “I am grateful to work in an industry that I love.” By incorporating this small little practice into our daily routine, it builds a new pattern—a pattern that helps us to see the good in every day and over time, our lives as a whole. If you want to take this a step further and keep a notebook of the things that you are grateful for each morning and night, it can act as a great pick-me-up for the days when it’s hard to find something to be grateful for.

Principle #5: Contrast

Contrast in design is a powerful tool. Two opposing elements placed side-by-side make for a striking visual. This principle can be directly applied to our lives as well. After all, if we had everything that we wanted handed to us all of the time if life was a never ending orgy of happiness and personal fulfillment, the things that we feel so grateful for now, would begin to lose their impact. Put simply: without the sour, the sweet ain’t as sweet. 

This will sound crazy, but when we are listing off the things that we are grateful for (because we are implementing the principle of repetition, remember?) we should include the things that don’t make us happy. The things that make us angry, that frustrate us, that make our jaws clench push us harder. They force us to confront our own fears, insecurities and shortcomings. The things that make us unhappy are sometimes the very things that make us grow the most, and if nothing else, they serve as a fantastic contrast to the things that we love, making our appreciation that much more powerful. 

Principle #6: Space

The use of space in design is more important than you may think. The amount of negative space in a piece can shift the focus from one element to another. The space in which each individual element exists can enhance or detract from the overall effect. For creative thinkers, our space and surroundings are intricately linked to our creative output. If our surroundings are comfortable, expressive and inspiring, our work will be reflective of that. Taking sometime to address your work and living spaces can have a major impact on your life as a whole. Paint colors and furniture styles do more than make a room “look good;” the elements of design in a home or business serve to evoke a feeling in those who inhabit it. As creative thinkers are often extremely sensitive to their surroundings and the emotional impact of those surroundings, it’s imperative that we take a good hard look at the space that we regularly inhabit to ensure that they are working to inspire us, not make us feel enclosed or repressed.

Apart from physical space, we can also learn to implement personal space. Most creative minds belong to those of us who are slightly more introverted than the general population. The success of an introvert is dependent entirely on the amount of personal time and space they create for themselves. Working in a creative profession that requires a great deal of socialization can be draining on an artistic mind. Taking the time to regroup and recharge is imperative to maintaining balance (see principle #1) and building routines (see principle #4) that support the best possible quality of life for a creative mind.

While there is no common type of creative person, and as such, no “one-size-fits-all” solution to improve the quality of life for all, it can be interesting to apply a little creative thinking and an alternate approach, as these are the methods that creative minds excel at and understand the most. Yoga, doesn’t work for everyone. Ditto for meditation. Not all people will experience bliss from taking time to indulge in a chocolate bar everyday or run 5 miles. There are different approaches for different people. But working towards a life that makes you feel fulfilled and content does not have to be approached in a linear, prescriptive way, either. If nothing else, we should be encouraged to explore the possibilities of applying the skills and techniques that we learn in one aspect of our lives in other areas, as well.


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