Of Aircraft & Carriers

When I was a junior officer in the Air Force, I was amazed at the complexity of air operations and the men and women in command of orchestrating them. The idea of running a base, dealing with hundreds of people (most of them just out of high school), maintaining aircraft, flying missions and fighting an enemy all at the same time was beyond my comprehension.

Then midway through my career I took class in naval operations, and my whole perspective changed. Naval operations were orders of magnitude more complex than our Air Force operations. Not only does the Navy have to contend with all the same issues the Air Force does, but they have to do it on the ocean, away from land for months at a time and in hostile territory. A typical aircraft carrier task force commander is in charge of thousands of lives and hundreds of ships and planes, plus an entire underwater submarine force. What I once thought was complex really wasn’t.

That’s the way I’m feeling about design work today. I just returned from dinner at a friend’s who is new home builder. He not only has to work with the future home owners to define requirements, he actually has to build the home, work the equipment, keep up with the latest building codes, and often come up with creative design ideas when clients say, “just build something kind of like this.” All this while working with finger chopping power tools, driving bone-crushingly heavy equipment, working in every kind of weather and eating lunch from a tin pale. The level of complexity in his design work is orders of magnitude greater than mine. My printer may jam or email go down. I might fret over a typeface decision or a color scheme.

Do you ever think that designers take themselves too seriously? Like we’ve made our work harder than it really should be? Doesn’t this unwarranted complexity limit our creativity? Has design become more complicated or less or too complicated? Could design’s heart be a bit prideful in an unbecoming sort of way? Are we treating clients (never overtly of course) in such a way that we’re communicating a “this design stuff we do is just too complex for you to understand” attitude? I wonder. Your thoughts?

2 Responses to “Of Aircraft & Carriers”

  1. Szarka

    Just to close your circle – I’m a residential architect, so I worry about both the sort of aesthetic symbology common to all design AND the codes, best practices, current costs and achievable methods that your builder friend has to juggle.

    I absolutely think that designers take themselves too seriously at a macro level, and not seriously enough on the micro level- look at Samuel Mockbee’s work with the Auburn Rural Studio for an example of how to do it right.

  2. Frank McClung

    Thanks Szarka. Having been born and raised in Alabama, I’m a familiar admirer of Mockbee’s work at the Rural Studio. I hope that the rest of design will find something as hopeful and quit wasting time primping in front of the mirror.


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