A Sympathizer is a Synthesizer

written by andrew

lion in cage

Growing up in suburban Philadelphia in the 1970s, we didn’t have a lot of fancy. Not like kids these days. Black and white televisions. Shag carpeting. Avocado sofas with plastic covers. Keds. Orange fridges. Tang. Not much.

But one thing we did have? Fireworks!

A friend of mine and I, in those days of yore, would collect small firecrackers and blow things up. In particular, we liked to use firecrackers to blow up the little crab apples that fell from the tree in our backyard. We’d take one of those rotten little wormy green-red apples off the ground, dig a deep hole in them with a stick, and force a little firecracker inside. Then, we’d light it and chuck it.

Boom! The apple would be destroyed to kingdom come. I can still smell the sizzle of the fuse, the sweet gunpowder as it blew aloft, the tart apple juice wafting towards us.  It was so much fun. And also kind of sad.

This is Day 4 of the Seth Godin gig called #YourTurnChallenge and the question posed is this: Teach us something that you do well.

I admit that I enjoyed every minute of blowing up those apples. But I can now admit that I also felt badly for each individual apple we blew up. See, back then I had this feeling that every single object (even bricks, rocks, and books) was imbued with a spirit. Those apples were alive, in some way, connected to a larger thing, to a universe that belongs to us as much as we belong to the universe.

Those apples were designed to belong with us.

Some people call the association of spirit with inanimate objects magical thinking. But it was how I grew up. And I still feel that way. To this day, I find it hard to throw things away, to say goodbye, to close accounts, and even to delete files off my stupid Desktop.

What does this have to do with “doing something well”? I think it’s sympathizing. Whether it is listening to a person talk or watching an animal walk or staring at a stone, I can imagine how that person, animal, or object is and is being. It’s a trait that, in my 20’s I wanted to turn into a career as a psychiatrist.

As a designer and principal of a design studio, I apply this ability to sympathize by listening to clients and understanding their pain points. It helps me understand how users of a website might experience its interface and take in its content. And I think it helps me connect disparate design concepts, elements, and logic together to synthesize and see larger systems of structure and connection.

Designers sometimes call this Design Thinking. I think of it as creating. After all, it’s what the world does best.

Above (sad) photo thanks to Paula Borowska via Unsplash.

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