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Finding That “Eureka!” Moment in the Design Process

By Jeff Pelletier
November 13, 2017

The design process is nothing short of ridiculous.

Let me just get this out there: so much of architecture and design is scheduled, precise, detailed, and something we have done a pretty good job at standardizing. The creative part of the game, though — yikes — that is messy and completely organic. You gotta slog through the bad ideas to get to the OK ones, and then sift through those to get to the great ones. Or, sometimes, you just knock it out of the park from day one. And, other times, you wake up at 4 AM and scream, "Eureka!"

My design process is probably pretty normal. I have a bunch of rules of thumb in my head I use for all sorts of things. I start with site design, dial in the program, and then chug through an idea or direction. I always want to wrap the design around a big or organizing idea. Diving in, though, it takes lots of messy sketching to get to some good ideas. Once I do, and this happens on every single project, there comes a point when I know we’ve done it. We’ve found the plan “that sings” (which is something I tell the clients to be on the lookout for).

Sometimes, we’ll be close but something just feels wrong. Even the clients could be in love with the plan, but we just know something is off. Inspiration or a solution can strike at any time. I love to travel, as I get inspiration from nature, cool neighborhoods, other people’s homes, and pretty much everything I see. Sometimes, it just takes seeing something to make me realize the solution and get excited. I’ll usually pull out my handy sketchbook and sketch away or make a note to myself. Either way, there’s nothing quite like that feeling to know you’ve solved a problem.

This process is one of the reasons why we always design in pairs here at Board & Vellum and often bring in larger groups for what we call "flashcrits." It is easy for one person to fall down a rabbit hole and keep pursuing an idea that will never sing. We function in a very collegiate-crit-style culture where no ideas are sacred and we can quickly think as a group to help narrow down the parameters, and weed out the good ideas from the bad. It is one of the best things that I love about working here and, I think, one of the best ways to solving that challenging design problem.

When you look at your project, be looking for that "Eureka!" moment. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.

This post is part of the ArchiTalk series originally spearheaded by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he has selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s posts. This year, the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme was selected by Stephan Ramos of ROGUE Architecture and is: "Eureka!" To read how others interpreted the theme, please explore the links below.

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Eureka!? Finding myself amid the "busy."

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
Gee, golly, gosh EUREKA: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Eureka! -- Things That Suck

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Eureka

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@BuildingsRCool)
Searching for that Eureka Moment

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Naked in the Street

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Eureka moments and what do if clients don't appreciate them

Larry Lucas - Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
Eureka for George in Seinfeld Episode 181

Would you like to read more from the team?

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