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STRONGER TOGETHER: Tangled Threads—Life Lessons from the Design Squiggle

Last updated: 29/01/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses Daniel Newman's "Design Squiggle" and how it has served as a reminder that no matter how hard things get, all it takes is one strand, one glimmer of hope, to begin unravelling the mess.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

I don’t have any tattoos but have often said that if I did get one, it would be of the Design Squiggle. That ‘Squiggle’, illustrated by Daniel Newman, holds a special place in my mind and has served me well over the years as a constant reminder that no matter how hard things get, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

If you’ve never heard of the concept, picture a tangled mess of Christmas lights or string – that's the Design Squiggle. It vividly captures the essence of both the design process and life's challenges. In the midst of chaos, all it takes is one strand, one glimmer of hope, to begin unravelling the mess.

The Design Squiggle, much like the tangled lights, signifies the inherent messiness of the design process—we have a problem or idea, and undertake research, testing, validation, consultation, and more testing before we narrow down the design into a concept and then in some cases, a prototype. The result is always uncertain, but the messiness we experience when working through the process, while uncomfortable, is critical, as it helps us to eventually land on the final design.

Life, in many ways, mirrors the messy journey of design. At the outset, it's uncertain, an experiment. We explore different paths, discover interests, and learn about the people and experiences that bring us value, purpose, and inspiration. Yet, life is not a linear journey; it involves discomfort, disquiet, chaos, challenges, failures, and the occasional feeling of being stuck at a crossroads. In these moments, when pressure, urgency, and stress build up and I feel like I’m in a tangle, the Design Squiggle becomes my anchor.

I recognise that this is just another period of transformation and if I stick with it and commit to process of working through it, a solution will start to emerge. That is the secret – committing to doing the work. No one else can do it for you. We each need to get comfortable with sitting in the mess and working through the problem.

Instead of avoiding problems, hoping they'll disappear, I've found comfort in a structured approach:

  1. Define the Problem: What is the issue? Reflect on it, refine it, and ensure you have a crystal-clear understanding of what needs addressing.
  2. Learn from Others: Research how other people have solved the same or similar problem. What worked and what didn’t?
  3. Identify Patterns: Note common themes and identify patterns based on your research to guide you in selecting potential solutions to test.
  4. Test Solutions: Explore and test 1-2 low-cost, low-energy investment options to address the problem.
  5. Reflect and Iterate: Reflect on your experiences and learnings, evaluating what worked and what didn't. If necessary, start the process again until you find that tiny thread start to emerge and a solution starting to emerge.

Your investment of time and energy will pay off in the end, with a clearer path forward and a newfound sense of empowerment.

So, if there's a problem you've been avoiding, take a leap. Embrace the Design Squiggle philosophy, commit to the process, and watch as that tiny thread of hope emerges, leading you towards a solution.

Even without a tattoo of the Design Squiggle on my skin, its influence is ingrained in my mindset. It serves as a daily reminder that life's challenges, much like a tangled string, are uncomfortable, messy, and complex. Yet, within this messiness lies the potential for growth and learning.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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