Interviewing Alexandra Martini, author of the book “Inspired by Method – creative tools for the design process”.
Photo of Alexandra Martini by ©Hoffotografen Berlin
Alexandra Martini is a designer and professor for design at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, Germany. She teaches interdisciplinary space, materiality, perception, methodology and the experimental creative process. Martini studied design at the University of the Arts (UdK) Berlin, the Escuela Superior del Diseño Elisava in Barcelona and the Royal College of Art in London. She established a reputation with her Berlin office for design MARTINI, MEYER. She led workshops on the creative process at the Association of Arts and Culture of the German Economy at the Federation of German Industries. In terms of design policy, Martini has been active for the Berlin Senate, the Goethe-Institut, and UNESCO.
What is a designer teaching future designers with so much enthusiasm?
Good design is an attitude. No matter in which scale, technology, political system or social context we collaborate, we should to be aware of these factors and deal with them. We are usually exceptionally good at something when we are doing things that we enjoy. It is important to me that each individual gets to know their strengths in the course of training and professionalism keeps the courage to try things out. With this attitude we create projects with which we identify. It is important to find and develop your own attitude in creative training/study. The five dimensions of the method introduce budding creatives to design contexts, potentials, possibilities for specialization and interrelations. With this book I would like to share a tool and a useful resource with the professional design community. It is a reference book, workbook and companion. Teaching, research, science and practical experience are interwoven. The book is full of helpful tips. The 5D-method I developed unites scientific research on innovation, professional practice and educational experience into a method for inspiration. The book is designed with the user in mind. What helps to create ideas? Beyond methodological guidance, it is often the concrete things we clarify, from tips on organizing your work or the checklist for presentations.
At the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, in Germany, what are the major concerns with students and which are the main goals seek in them when they’ve reached at the end of their academic path?
At the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences, we combine the qualities of an art school and a university of applied sciences in our design studies (product design, interface design, communication design, as well as media sciences). Maximum reliable education and maximum freedom of choice and self-determination. For example, students in design can earn 50% of their credits in another design course. The configuration sets the scientifically demanding exchange within the design course. In my own studies I was lucky to get to know several art colleges and programs, which turned out to be a great enrichment. One of the strengths of transdisciplinary design teaching is that designers achieve professionalism (as in the well-known T-Model) with a broad horizon and an internalized sensitivity for interfaces (greyzones).
How would you describe the academic environment in Potsdam and what is the student profile?
The FH Potsdam has a BA and MA in design. Doctorates are possible in media sciences. I also teach in the master’s program Urban Future, which is a completely transdisciplinary course. Students come to us from all over the world, some of them very young, others with exciting previous experience. The important thing is that we have the feeling that someone wants to develop seriously and is willing to invest time and energy. Designers are team players and networkers. Individuality is important and phases of self-determined work are important. Everyone determines his/her individual profile through our course selection system.
Does the city benefit from their graduated designers? Is the Berlin proximity a good or a bad circumstance?
Berlin is and remains the German creative metropolis, and of course creative exchange benefits from this. In Potsdam there is a lively small but fine design scene and, like in Berlin, the creative industry is now taken seriously by politicians. But Berliners also benefit from Potsdam, because many of our graduates start their businesses in Brandenburg or Berlin.
You have come to the conclusion that this new book was something in need for different reasons and as a result of your impression about the lack of substance at the level of the creative process, not only in schools but as well as at design offices. How did you get to that conclusion?
Designing involves individuality and a systematic approach, which we may apply consciously or subconsciously, depending on the project. In principle, we create a different variant of a methodical approach for each project. The 5D-method for inspiration is an incisive little tool that you can use in any design process. It takes away the fear of starting a new project. Helps you to reflect what you do and maneuver in the design process. That way we can shape the future. For example Design Thinking is successful because on the one hand it enables people to act strategically and creatively who do not need to be professionally trained in design and on the other hand because the process is clearly structured. Structure gives stability.
Inspiration is a powerful word with so much wide range of significance and so high level of spirituality. What does it mean to you?
Inspiration springs from the pleasure of perception, from the fertile soil of thinking, and from the composure that allows you to deal with what comes. Inspiration is simply beautiful – and quite useful.
Why did you think it was important to develop a method for inspiration?
Professional creatives are expected to have a quick grasp, be team players, produce good ideas quickly and juggle them into agile processes. Where is this taught? What is inspiration? Can there be a method for this? Inspiration is an essential part on any successful creative process. The method offers you an introduction to the creative process in the form of creative-scientific inspiration. It will give wings to your imagination, allowing you to recognize inspiration when it comes and use it for yourself. By using the method you encourage and reward curiosity and openmindedness. Generally we can say about methods: They provide stability and help to increase the probability that what is desired will happen. Methods do not guarantee maximum results. They can show us a way, but they shouldn’t make us think less. We have to think ourselves. We can use this method to charge our store of intuition. Intuition is the sister of perception. Just as perception generates inspiration when it falls on fertile ground. In the book eighty-four principles for dealing with space, time, light, color, structure and material as a starter pack for your project complement the method description. You will find a collection of materials from realized studies, experiments and projects that can serve as a source of inspiration in the creative process, in terms of both in method and theme. In creative processes we come across trial and error, failure, surprising outcomes, adaptation, rethinking, rejection and iteration. It can take time and might be uncomfortable at some point, but it can also be a lot of fun and we are happy about the best moments when something is right.
What is the 5D Method able to do in a way to bring more coherent approach to projects?
You can train your ability to act, think and reflect in a coherent, interconnected way, accepting the idea that linear is not always best. In the future creativity process competence and flexible thinking will be an essential professional skill. I didn’t invent the magic formula for successful projects, but the systematic approach that allows everyone to experiment in the five dimensions creates both security and thrilling possibilities. The method leads step by step from the simple to the complex.
What kind of research and what sort of analysis did you do, leading you to structure such a method with its different phases?
I have been teaching design at art colleges for fifteen years. One thread that flows into the method is the traditional “hommage method”, (where you analyze a creative work and develop something referring to it) which I systematized. Generations of students from art and media studies, architecture and urban planning, interface design, communication design and industrial design have worked with this method for inspiration. Each generation refined the method so that it now has its place in this book, where you can call on all its different facets and get to know how it works. In addition, some important key insights from research into techniques of creativity and innovation research flow into the method for inspiration. In the analyzing phase, you create analogies in the form of visualizations. Analogies transfer insights from one domain to another. In innovation research, they are ascribed to divergent thinking and heuristics, the “art of discovery”. Here I see this as distinct from transformative thinking, which gets you to think in 3D in the zone between image, line, and space. The material laboratory is the phase in which you are a productive inventor. When you experiment, you go through an invention process. Inventing is a creative process of generating knowledge. It is based on iterative cycles of evaluation. You try something out, evaluate it, and continue. Failure is part of the process. Chance plays a significant role in inventing, but not in a haphazard fashion. In bringing together the steps, the synthesizing phase, aspects of planning, work organization, and marketing are added. Because at a certain point every designer becomes an entrepreneur. Last but not least, the method format originates from my own practice as a designer. In my independent work and in the design office Martini, Meyer have conceived and realized interiors, design, and communication in the form of prestigious company rooms, products, and corporate identities. My natural propensity to see spaces in lines, develop scenarios from concepts, and rethink images into processes and sensory experience is extremely helpful. With this book I offer you the opportunity to enjoy these experiences for yourself and train your inspirational power. Designers identify niches and connect new things. In the meantime, most people know that design does not mean beautification. Creatives make a relevant contribution to the important questions of our time.
It is for all young budding creatives, that want to deepen their knowledge professionally. The method helps to analyze, experiment and realize your ideas.
The book has three parts: A, the description of the method, B little exercises forming a school of perception and three essays on teamwork, methods and 3D visualizing (with plenty helpful weblinks) and finally part C, showing simple and impressive images of student examples, inspiring to experiment.
Inspiration needs “sweating”?
Creative ideas are intangible creative outputs and therefore often not easy to grasp in their development process. Creativity is always context-dependent, whether in everyday life, management or even in design. In this book I refer inspiration to design processes in academic and professional contexts. It is always about finding out what is the next sensible step in the project. This does not always have to be hard work. We want to move on. Sometimes after drawing and prototyping, what I call “mode change” helps, which could be then to take a walk. “Mode change is a method to maintain flow in the creative work.
Figure at page 37
How relevant are aspects such as talent, skill, knowledge, coherence, consistency and passion in the creative process?
The mix makes it. In a project passion alone does not help. It’s all about the balance between discipline, accuracy, rapid prototyping and the courage to be unfinished, manual skills and the knowledge of one’s own actions. In the creative process the courage to rupture is also important. And sure, passion, poetry, dreaming – why not?
It is about finding out where in the project you want to go, what you want to change and develop. The five dimensions of the method are adaptable in their nature, because design acts like us individuals in the context of society. If we as designers are well equipped with methodical and technical skills, we increase our chances of being at the forefront. This increases our chances of realizing more exciting projects.
The creative loop is a key element in the creative process. Having formulated and defined an idea, the loop takes us up and round through a process of research and evaluation in to a new cycle of creativity. (see figure page 37)
Is it correct to say in a simplified way that experimentalism is always oriented towards the object and its qualities?
No, not quite. The experiment may also include or be applied to immaterial processes. In the Productive Dimension we experimentally investigate how something should be developed, i.e. different ways of working can be interwoven and tried out. Interviews, observations, cultural probes, etc.
Photo of Alexandra Martini by ©Hoffotografen Berlin
Other photos are a courtesy of ©Alexandra Martini, BIS Publishers