Everything I Know About Design, I Learned from Cooking
Once upon a time, I was a cook. I worked at a casual fine dining restaurant on the Plaza, a well-known commercial district of Kansas City, MO. I did this in between graduating from design school and finding my first full time gig as a professional designer.
I had taken this alternate path because I was disillusioned by how difficult it was to get a design job. Really difficult. The U.S was at war, the economy was jacked, and I didn't understand that having a degree wasn't enough. So I dottled awhile as a cook, thinking of possibly becoming a chef.
I did it for five or six years and, glad to say, I liked it. It was hard work. It was stressful work. The rush would come and you had to be on it—sink or swim.
But what does that mean to be “on it”? First, it means spending the earlier part of your day preparing your station—gathering ingredients, formulating recipes, creating special sauces. It also means being disciplined and organized. Everything that you will need when the lunch bell rings needs to be at hand and in a sensible manner. If not, you get caught and mistakes happen (and they usually pile up one on top of the other).
So you now have your station set, but that’s not enough. Being disciplined also means listening to orders and keeping cool under pressure. No one likes back talk, and respecting the chain of command is integral to a smooth running kitchen. Likewise, no one wants to work next to someone with an inflated ego. So add humility to the list.
Finally, it’s about focus. The tickets start rolling in and it’s game time. Flames on, pans down, ingredients ready.
Design can be compared to restaurant cooking in many ways. You also need to prepare “your station” by having your items in order for the day. Whatever project you’re working on doesn’t make itself. I takes research, numerous sketches and mockups with a solid concept to make it work.
Exercising discipline in design terms also means listening to orders. The client has a particular request and you need to deliver. Go outside of spec and it’s bad news bears. The idea of the loose cannon rogue designer that does whatever the hell he wants and the client loves him for it as pure fantasy. In my experience, that will burn you with the client or get you chopped from the team.
Humility. It’s not just an ideal. The creative world is full of egos and hard-to-work-with personalities. As that the environment you want to be in? No? Then don’t add to it. You don’t need be the smartest guy in the room, just let your work speak for itself. Recieve appreciation and positive feedback with gratitude.
Now, we’re back to focus:
- Flames on.
- You have to have those ideas—your creativity—constantly burning.
- Pans down.
- You have to have the necessary tools for cranking out your work, i.e. your computer, a canvas, whatever you use for final execution.
- Ingredients ready.
- The design elements you use to communicate your work; your style, your technique.
Everything else is cook, plate, repeat. ✖