Monday, June 23, 2008

Lessons from Design Star

Design Star is an HGTV version of American Idol. Instead of a recording contract the winner gets their own design show on HGTV in an upcoming season. Someone suggested that watching Idol might put some of my writing issues into perspective but I couldn’t relate to the “dying to be a singer-performer” thing at all. However, a promo for this current Design Star series struck me as a possible substitute for several reasons: I have redecorated rooms in lots of different houses and I could see working with a homeowner as a designer/decorator as similar to a freelancer writing a piece for a client.

Note: Somebody is going to jump on the “it isn’t really reality” debate and for my purposes it doesn’t matter.

Last night’s show number 3 was the second design challenge. The eight remaining candidates were randomly paired to design one of four identical rooms in a historic home. They had to choose a “garage sale find” to incorporate into their design. As for each challenge the teams get a cash budget, time divided over a few days, an overarching criteria about feel or period or use and a mandate to create a finished room.

The resulting makeovers, in light of how strong the previous week had been, were under-impressive I must say. Not one of the four rooms was truly finished and client- or even camera-ready. No team built their design with the “find” in mind, every one of them squeezed it in as an afterthought even though it was a major element of the criteria. None of the teams had a completed design before they started buying and building. Too much “on the clock” time was spent on things that did not contribute to finishing the rooms. The candidates demonstrated a lack of ability to discern between standing out and being outstanding.

So my personal take away; and it might help them too:

1) Keep the main thing the main thing. Check yourself, ask: Am I working to the finish or is this a tangent? Am I making progress or am I stuck?

2) Use the criteria given; look at it as an aid not as a something out to get you. Almost to the person the designers rankled at last night’s criteria. The biggest issue last night was the lack of considering the “garage sale find” a major judging criteria.

3) Create with the user in mind. If no one will use it, buy it, or read it why are you creating it to take up space? Even a prototype fulfills some purpose.

4) Start with a plan. Know where to begin, what you need, and what is “done.” It can be flexible but open-ended is an abyss. To look finished you have to be done not just stopping because time is called.

5) Work with your team when you are working; and the team includes the designers, the judges, the criteria and the “user/owner” (unidentified in the context of the show). Most of the teams had personality issues between themselves or dabbling in other team’s issues that were counter-productive and had no business “on the clock” or “on the camera.” This was an enormous time waster. The teams had 16 off-camera hours to work on that stuff and didn’t; they obviously have been avoiding the people they had issues with as much as possible and so it showed up on camera.

6) Don’t over-personalize creative differences. It’s not so much about who is right as it is about playing well together and the resulting room. Granted this is difficult for a group of designers who are used to working solo, being in charge, and having only their reputation on the line. But so far, too often the creation of the room has gotten set aside as the designers focused on saving their “reputation” (see #1).

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Melissa Donovan said...

Don't you just love it when you learn something new from a totally unexpected source? This is one of the reasons I love Idol. It's actually helped me become more comfortable blogging, which is a pretty public endeavor. I like those design shows too. Trading Spaces is an old fave.

G's Cottage said...

@Melissa - the person who suggested that I watch Idol was pointing out that the contestants are worrying about much of anything except becoming the Idol. Their point was that I spend too much time getting "set-up" to "try out." In some ways Idol does not relate well to wanting to write as well as DesignStar because like the designers there are some preparations to be made. But writing is the main thing and tying up those ends and getting to the writing, like getting the design plan down so the room can be transformed, is a necessary but in a sense secondary evil.