Certainly Uncertain - June 1, 2018
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Rotate Your Thinking

By Rachael L. Paine

Wewere charged to rethink and redesign the culture of graphic design in the context of contemporary practices, application, and usage (Gonzales Crisp, 2017). My investigation led me to look at cultural attitudes of ownership, self-aggrandizement, and control. Is there potential to revolutionize these attitudes to create a space of shared purpose and focused action?

My research led me to hypothesize that a designer’s schema and knowledge patterns can limit innovative leaps forward in the design process. I propose developing processes that remove this rigidity through the relinquishing of control and ownership of ideas. I began designing methods which would implement the rotation of thinking throughout design processes.

To radically introduce these new attitudes, I designed a method of rotation through the design process (Figure A). Starting with a prompt, designer-1 would develop an idea and pass it to designer-2, who would then invest time researching and mapping concepts surrounding the idea. Designer-2 would pass the mapping to designer-3, who would develop a framework within which to situate design iterations. One additional round of passing, and finally designer-4 would be producing a prototype for the original prompt. This proposed process would result in concepts and work that the individuals would be unable to produce independently, serving as a creative form of groupthink.

Figure A: Under the radicalized conditions, I am proposing a forced dispersal of ownership. Methods will be implemented to rotate thinking throughout the design process.

Revolutionized design processes have the power to eliminate the overly-emotional, work hoarding, competitive, hierarchical climate in design groups.

As designers become accustomed to such processes, old attitudes will be replaced, creating normalized conditions (Figure B). A dispersal of ownership will become the norm, and designers in groups will no longer work in a state of fear that someone might steal an idea, get the best opportunity, or win the favor. Creativity and flow of information will serve everyone equally.


Figure B: Under the normalized conditions, I am proposing a database of shared knowledge. Ideas, research, and mapping will be collected into a knowledge database. Processes will be implemented for random distribution of that knowledge to stem new design innovation.

Ideas, research, and mapping will be collected into a knowledge database. Processes will then be implemented for random distribution of that knowledge to stem new design innovation.

I designed an interface prototype for the radicalized condition (Figures D-G). The interface would serve as a remote-access co-working space that forcefully eliminates the ownership of ideas. The space will have a set of rules, ethics, and customs, and will implement Robert’s Rules of Orders to bring certain motions before the group such as “randomly rotate artboards” amongst members, to all “join on one design,” or to “request additional project information” (Figure H).

Figure C: A motion animation of the radicalized co-working space.

Figure H: Although any idea can be proposed for consideration, a few common motions for group work are built into the co-working environment.

Figure G: When a motion is made, web chat is enabled for discussion and voting procedures.

Figure F: At certain intervals, artboards will be randomly rotated. Designers can make a motion to rotate artboards earlier than the allotted time.

Figure E: A designer can choose to swap workspaces with another designer or take elements off their artboard.

Figure D: A designer can see what all the other designers are working on at any time.

Robert’s Rules of Order (Robert, Honemann, & Balch, 2011) is a widely used manual of parliamentary procedure. This book is designed as a set of operational rules to be implemented by organizations. These procedures include guidelines for making motions, conducting debates, facilitating votes, and coming to a place of unanimous consent (Figure I). The original creator of the rules, Henry M. Robert, stated, “Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty.”

Figure I: The digital co-working space is a deliberate assembly of designers and Robert’s Rules of Order lays the foundation for the “rules of play” for participating in the shared design practice.

So, we approach a paradox of sorts. We create a co-working space where no one has individual authority to their own time, ideas, resources, or work, and must submit to the agreed upon rules of the group. But perhaps we uncover real freedom of innovation. When the fear is gone and we release the white knuckling grip of climbing the ladder of creativity, what might we master in turn?

In time, the radical will cease to be radical. Sharing ideas will be conventional. To support the normalized condition, I designed a second interface (Figures K-N). The goal of the software, NODE, will be to take the ego out of ideas. A user will have the opportunity to both give and take from the knowledge database. A user will start a new project by following a set of prompts and sifting through collected ideas.

Figure J: A motion animation of NODE prototype in action.

Figure K: The goal of the software will be to take the ego out of ideas.

Figure L: The software will allow you to either GIVE to the collaborative knowledge database or TAKE from it.

Figure M: The user will be able to choose one element of user-centered design (productivity, comprehension, usability, accessibility, sustainability, serenity) and an artifact type (mobile, web, print, video, illustration, installation) as a starting point.

Figure N: Once you’ve chosen your initial design objectives, the software will be populated with pertinent node maps.

As designers, can we create deliberate processes that grant continued creative pursuit, allowing space for ideas to unfold? I believe we can. There is unlimited potential in trying to do so. If even one designer is influenced to transition their thinking from “I need to have all the answers” to “my curiosity will spark creative ideas in others,” then we are surely moving the culture of graphic design in the right direction.

Rachael Paine is a recent graduate of North Carolina State University’s Master of Graphic Design program, with 13 years of professional experience. After graduating, Rachael plans to pursue a career as a design educator where she can unleash the creative talents of her students.


Gonzales Crisp, D. (2017, August 16). Design as a cultural artifact [class syllabus]. Content posted to GD502_FA17 Syllabus Google Docs Spreadsheet.

Robert, H. M., Honemann, D. H., & Balch, T. J. (2011). Robert’s rules of order: Newly revised (11th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

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