The mystery of design

Plan Your Next #78

👋 Good morning from Los Angeles! I'm Nate Kadlac, and this is #78 of Plan Your Next. A Sunday newsletter that connects design, creativity, and how you prepare for your next thing.

All of my audio gear is packed at the moment, so you won’t be able to hear my fabulous voice in this weeks’ letter. Frowny face.

Good morning from Echo Park, Los Angeles!

Over the past 3 days, we packed our belongings from our old place in Los Feliz and are now nestled between a couple of hills to the east in a neighborhood called Echo Park.

Standing in my new, brightly lit living room, a blank slate is staring back at me begging to be filled.

It reminds me of an empty artboard in Figma, a design program I use to create pretty things from a blank canvas.

Recently, I was helping out a friend with some design guidance. In the middle of what seemed like an endless desert of options, he simply asked, “what’s your design process?”

Design can seem intimidating, magical, or a commodity that serves a job to be done.

Like many things, it depends on your perspective and how curious you want to be. But for design to truly solve your problem, it needs to listen.

If you’re a non-designer—a term I wish I had a better label for—you might go searching online for inspiration on your next project. You might find some color palettes, logos, or websites that seem to inspire you in the moment. And those designs look good to you because they were really well-executed.

But those designs weren’t listening to your problems. They were listening to someone else’s. If you borrow the colors or imitate the look and feel, they’ll never feel like yours. You won’t own them because they’re not connected you to.

And right there is where the mystery lies: How does someone like me create something that feels like yours? As if it was hiding just behind the curtain all along, waiting to be revealed?

I listen.

I listen to your stories growing up. I listen to what your perfect morning looks like. I listen to what inspires you. I listen to why your favorite movie is “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” I ask questions and pull out images that match your vibe.

I’ve worked with clients who don’t wish to go down this path and ignore the process. These rarely are effective, or personal. Many of the largest companies have the founder’s personality and taste embedded in them.

Many great artists are known for their own style, because they listen to their own stories. Wes Anderson. Shantell Martin. Keith Haring. Tom Sachs. Casey Neistat. You’ll recognize them immediately because they took the time to listen.

Timeless design comes from listening to your unique perspective and designing solutions around that. Short-lived design stems from copying what’s trendy and ephemeral.

Great design seems mysterious because it’s sitting underneath our noses. It’s counterintuitive to search inwards vs outwards. You have all the inspiration you need if you were to lay out all of your stories and adventures in front of you. The mess of your stories contains the differentiation that our brains are hardwired to notice.

Design becomes less mysterious the more you know what you love, and why you love it.

⚡️ Two creative hits for next week

🍎 Paletta for the iPad is an ergonomic accessory for the iPad. If you have ever drawn on an iPad, this might make sense to you immediately. Having the extra grips and space for your hands will hopefully make drawing on an iPad more convenient when not at a desk.

🏠 My Creative Space by Donald M. Rattner is a way to think about how to design your home to light up your creative ideas. It’s filled with science-backed tips which came in handy when I debated whether or not to get a rectangular or round dining room table. Based on the book—and my gut—we’re going with a round table.

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👋 See you next Sunday

If you’ve forgotten who I am, here’s a little bit about me. As always, my calendar is open to chat about your next adventure, crazy idea, or if you’re feeling creatively stuck.

Have a great week,

p.s. If you enjoyed this letter, would you please let me know by tapping on the heart below?