is the design of kevin kennedy

Contemplating Control

control-01I wasn’t nervous when I walked in. Even though this was to be my final review, an attempt to sum up my entire collegiate education, I was confident in my abilities.

The professors were gathered around those thick work tables I had sat at so many times. After they paged their way through my portfolio, one of them casually asked me what area of design I wanted to focus on.

“Print,” I said. “I like the amount of control I have.”

“It’s cool how you just surround some text with these special tags and then they get displayed a certain way.”

That was the allure of HTML, I got to design, but also let people interact. I let go of my desire for absolute control, and embraced a model of guided control. I could set up some basic parameters for a user, but I no longer had total control over their experience, and that was okay.

First I had to learn about style sheets, and how they allowed me to separate the style of a document from its content. Then I had to learn about different rendering engines and test my designs across multiple platforms. Then I learned about javascript, and how I could dynamically manipulate a document without reloading the page.

I was looking forward to this conversation. I hadn’t had many yearly reviews during my career, either because I didn’t stay at the job long enough, or because I was working for myself. After we talked about my time there, I was asked about how I saw my role in the company going forward.

“I want to focus on design,” I said. “I enjoy crafting the experiences, not necessarily building them.”

“I understand that the errors must have caused a lot of inconvenience to you.”

I was drowning. How could I digitally reach out and shake someone into understanding? The project was spiraling out of control and I didn’t know what to do.

I blamed myself. Maybe I could have been more clear in my direction. Maybe I hired the wrong person. I started to feel sympathy for any person that had to oversee my own work.

Somehow the project got done, but I was forever soured on the entire experience. I was lacking something the entire time, control.

The progression of my design education is punctuated by some very specific experiences. The shifting of my mind may have been gradual, but certain moments have clung to the edges.

I retain a belief that I can’t know everything, but also that I can always learn more. I evolved from a position of wanting the most control, to letting more and more go, and then ultimately wanting it back. The end goal has always been an experience, but the variable has been how much of me gets inserted.