Thursday, August 6, 2015

Isolation - a pitfall of the Sole Practitioner

What is the Hardest Part about working on your own?

I get asked that question a lot.  I don't like to face it, but it is a valid question.

Well, for me there are several, but they all seem to revolve around 2 things.  Face to face communication, and does time get spent.  Humans are social mammals.  We thrive when we have people around us, we shrink if we are isolated.  Personally, I think that ideas grow and get better when they are shared, instead of being developed by 1 person.  If you work by yourself, though, most of your interactions that are not spent getting work or doing work have to be carefully measured.  Otherwise, you find yourself working late, or not working enough.

So, whether I am working at home in the ‘Office’ or at the office in ‘The Dark Internal Room with No Windows’, as a sole practitioner, I find myself at loose ends a lot during the design phase.  I mean, it helps a great deal to pin something up, or spin around in a chair and ask someone for their opinion, and then continue to sketch away, or trade pens, or have someone scan your monitor.  I find that when I am in design mode, it feels like I either set an arbitrary limit of time on design, or just decide, this is the best I have.  There is no one to bounce that decision off.  As a sole practitioner, what is a person to do?

image via unsplash, by Green Chameleon

Well, here is what I have tried (and some of the perils associated with each).

First, where I have my dark office, there are other designers and architects also renting.  So I CAN go ask them.  But they are not working on the same thing, and it takes some time to get them up to speed, and then you spend a bunch of time talking about stuff that is not applicable.  (AND, just to be totally transparent, sometimes you see the awesome commission that they just got, and the 3D model that they have, and you spend the rest of the afternoon wondering why YOU didn’t get that commission…..).  On the good side, they get your situation, and often give you feedback.  Unfortunately, sometimes the feedback is what THEY would design, and why you shouldn’t do what you are doing.  Positives: Intelligent (?) responses, commiseration over situation, another opinion; Negatives: potential to spend too much time getting a response that is not really helpful.

Second, you can ask a good friend to take a look.  Now, said friend is NOT an architect, so the typical response is (in my experience) either: ‘What am I looking at?’, or ‘That looks awesome.  I wish I could draw like that!’  The response to the latter is, ‘Yes, but what do you think of the design?’; ‘Um, I don’t know? It looks….nice? What am I looking at again?”  So, positive reinforcement: you have a cool skill; negative: time spent, no actual help.

Third, you can ask your daughter’s stuffed animals.  Yeah, you heard me.  Positives: They don’t talk; Negatives: They don’t talk, and you [hopefully] realize you are talking to stuffed animals.

Fourth, Your spouse (this may not apply to everyone).  Now, in my case, my wife is also an architect.  And a professor.  So, I get helpful critique and feedback, although I sometimes have to frame the TYPE of response I would like. (ie, please tell me the elevations look nice, and then let’s talk about the shape of the dormers…..).  Positives: Warm, supportive, intelligent (!) feedback; Negatives: NONE (you know she reads this blog).

Fifth: Online/Virtual sharing.  I think that there is TRUE potential here, but I have not yet found it to be the best solution right now.  Things get better every time a company updates their app or program, though, so even over the last 18 months, things have really improved.  I am not talking about just the typical file sharing programs or sites, though.  Those work well for keeping documents, sharing documents, and allowing collaboration.  I am MORE interested in what might allow that quick feedback interaction that is taken for granted in an office.  That “Stop by my desk when you have a minute, would you?  I’d like to bounce a few ideas off of you” type of interaction.

IS there an equivalent?

I hope that you’ll come back next week and find out what I’ve tried, and what reactions I have had to them.

Until then, 

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