Exercising A Whole New Mind: Design

photo from Wired posted by Wiley Chin

photo from Wired posted by Wiley Chin

I’ve just finished Dan Pink’s, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future. As a right-brainer who woke up a few years ago realizing how I’d been neglecting my creative side, and that I needed to re-engage it to increase my personal well-being, I was both thrilled at the prospect of the ascendance of the Conceptual Age (replacing the Information Age) and motivated to accelerate the role of the right brain in my life.

One of the great aspects of Pink’s book is the Portfolio section at the end of each of the Six Senses of the Conceptual Age: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning, to complement the left-brain predilections for Function, Argument, Focus, Logic, Seriousness, and Accumulation respectively.  Why these are the right six senses he doesn’t explain (no doubt frustrating to left-brainers), but they certainly feel like a good list. After describing each sense he provides a host of practical exercises you can undertake to engage them. I’m not going to review the book itself in great detail, as that is readily available elsewhere. Instead I’ll focus on sharing the results of my experiences with these Portfolio activities, which may be helpful for others interested in upping the role of the right brain in their lives.  There’s a lot of experiments for each sense, so I’m going to break this into six posts.

Review Summary: I Loved It (But I’m Biased)
Clearly I’m pre-disposed to believe the central thesis, which I find to be self-evident. For left-brain cynics Pink has a whole chapter of evidence. For those who think in black and white (as opposed to my preferences for shades of gray) I’d stress that he’s not saying there is no place for the left-brain, and that’s precisely why he called it A Whole New Mind. Pink is arguing that more use of right-brain skills will be more highly valued in the new world order. There will still be bankers and accountants. And anyone who can combine both will have the potential to enjoy the best of both worlds.

In terms of the book itself, Pink writes extremely well and/or has a fabulous editor. It’s a very easy read, well-structured, peppered with humor, and absent the frustrating, endless repetition typical of so many business books.

Portfolio Review: Testing the Senses

None of these will turn you into a creative guru overnight.  I see them really as just fun exercises that help you to re-connect with the right brain and find what works for you.  Turn what you like into a habit and forget the rest.


  • Design Notebook: use to note good and bad design. Great training for the eye. I’ve already accumulated some blog topics on this one.
  • Channel Your Annoyance: sketch up a solution to bad design and mail to manufacturer. I’m going to try this with yoghurt tubes, juice boxes, and gym equipment. It’s quite cathartic to determine what annoys you and actually do something about it
  • Read Design Magazines: As a retired architect, I already subscribe to a range of architectural porn including Metropolis and Dwell. I think Pink forgot Sunset which is a delight for all the senses. I miss Real Simple for its overwhelming sense of calming layout and life organization (the magazine, not the website!), but I found it was just too overtly targeted at women, which was a little alienating –  maybe its time to see if this has changed.
  • Be Like Karim: excerpts from Karim Rashid’s manifesto are immensely appealing – to a generalist, starting with “#1. Don’t specialize” was a breath of fresh air in a world that overly favors specialization. I loved “Know everything about your profession and then forget it all when you design something new.” and “Normal is not good”
  • Participate in the “Third Industrial Revolution” – create a product tailored just for you.  Used NikeiD once for Christmas which was very popular.  Quite like doing custom t-shirts, calendars etc for gifts.   For 3-D design I’m really excited about the falling cost of design software (e.g. Google SketchUp) and availability of 3-D printing for prototypes.
  • C-R-A-Pify Your Design – a few minor hints on cleaning up the visual appearance of materials you develop – we’ll have to talk about PowerPoint’s another day – huge topic.  Once you know what look for cleaning up a PowerPoint is actually pretty easy. Start with consistent colors and fonts and alignment of elements on a page. Removing all the unnecessary slides, removing all the crap from the slides and endless bullets is key. Strongly recommend Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen and Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology.

What experiments have you tried and with what results?


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