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Musings on Design


Ocean Bottega Interiors

Do you believe your eyes?!

The brain is very efficient and it loves it's short cuts. One short cut it uses everyday is a form of symbol recognition. The brain isolates the most obvious and repeating attributes of an object and then catalogues it for future reference. This ability helps us quickly take in and make sense of large amounts of information. Being able to do this enhanced our chances for survival. Precious attention and energy are not wasted in critical moments by analyzing detail not important in life or death situations. So what does this mean to us? It means that we have to really practice looking at what's in front of us or we may be mistaken in what we think we are seeing. 

Most apples are round, red and about the size of a fist. Say we look at an apple for a brief moment and then remove it. Now try to describe or draw it { no literary or artist skills necessary }. Most of us would describe or draw the apple as round, red and possibly with a stem. Just like a fingerprint no two apples are identical. What we may not have noticed is the colour, shape and size variations, aging or scarring and any stems and leaves. The brain being the know it all it is will contradict us every time. That red apple may in fact have been green. 

Whether they are aware of it or not every person who ever attempted a drawing will have experienced the conflict between what they are looking at and what actually ends up on the paper. Untangling what we see from what we think we see can be many a beginner’s undoing so adept are we at this survival strategy. As we’ve learned the brain’s ability to use these short cuts will over ride what is in plain sight. In order to really see we have to make a conscious effort to examine details and deconstruct what is in front of us.

Have you had the experience of having purchased something and when you got it home it didn't work out? Perhaps you didn't notice the sofa's arms where almost a foot wide at each end and now the sofa looks huge and disproportionate to your living room. That coffee table you bought you could have sworn was blue but now your looking at it it’s more green. And that fabric was a lot thicker at the store was it not? So how do we get better at really seeing ? We can easily improve our observation skills by taking some simple steps. 

My number one tip? Slow down. The more we rush the fewer details we take in letting our brain do the work for us with predictable results. Take your time. Let your eyes wander all over this thing you are looking at. Look from a variety of angles, top to bottom, side to side, inside and out. Try this idea with something you’ve looked at time and again without taking your eyes off it for five minutes. What do you see that you’ve never noticed before?

Two? Exercise the senses. How does it smell? Does it make any sound? How does it feel? Smooth, rough, soft, rigid, warm, cold, heavy, light? Taste? I leave that up to you.

Three?  Ask yourself a variety of questions about what you see. Is it made up more of straight lines or curvy ones? What colour is it really? Is it simple or complex? 

Four? Go deep. Where does it come from? Does it serve a purpose? Do the parts have anything in common with each other or do they appear disconnected.  What was someone thinking when they made this? What is it you like or don’t like about it. You’re getting the hang of it.

Any one can use these tips and train themselves to see more effectively. The more you do it the easier and faster it gets. It’s like exercising a muscle. Many artists and designers are naturals at this { and the rest of us learn this lesson in school } but you don’t have to be either to reap the benefits. Be prepared to be amazed at how rich your life becomes as you notice things all around you you’ve never seen before. 

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Copyright Ocean Bottega

Thought for Food

Grab a bunch of objects and put them on a table. The more the merrier if you are feeling super confident and brainy. Look at them for one minute. Now turn away from your objects and with a pen and paper, draw or write down everything you can to describe what you've just seen. Do this until you can't think of one more detail.

Turn back and compare what you've got on your paper to what's in front of you. Take your time looking, five to ten minutes depending on how many objects you have. Use the steps above to observe.

What did you notice that you didn't before? Remember this is like working a muscle, the more you do it the better you get at it. How do you feel about your new observational skills?