The Power of Instinct
“Designing is making choices” said Karel Martens. As a designer, decision making is a constant thing. Design process is a journey to find the best choice, and it can overwhelm me thinking of the responsibility that follows it. That is why I spend so much time on researching and thinking, nevertheless there always be a pressure and constant questioning of myself when I make a decision. Sometimes, especially when I find myself digging too deep on the topic, I pause and wonder what my instinct would tell.
There seems to be a case where decision making could solely rely on instinct. In the introduction of ”Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, he cites the story of a kouros, ancient Greek sculpture bought by Getty Museum for $9 million—but turned out to be fake. While Getty made the decision to add the sculpture to their collection after a thorough research and scientific tests, a few experts pointed out “it didn’t look right.” Interesting thing is that they could not immediately articulate what was wrong with the sculpture, but the moment they saw it, something alerted them. In the end, however, what convinced Getty was the plausible conclusion of research and tests, not experts’ instincts which would turn out to be right.
This is an example telling us how instinctive thinking leads to a successful judgement. People easily fail to maximise their performance when inundated with information—in this case the result of research and test. But here I have to remind myself not to fall into the trap of thinking that instinct is kind of a magic solution for a better judgement. There is another aspect to it. What this story reminds us is that knowledge and understanding are two different things. What happened to those experts who immediately doubted the authenticity of the sculpture was that their understanding was so deep that they could make a judgement even unconsciously, in the blink of an eye.
The great graphic designer Massimo Vignelli said “I sifted through colors, textures, typefaces, images, and more, to gradually build a vocabulary of experiences that enable me to express my solution to given problems — my interpretations of reality.” He sees the world, and makes judgement based on accumulated knowledge and deep understanding of graphic design. The process of how he makes sense of the world should be the same as the experts in the kouros story. They see something invisible to others. The power of instinct can be acquired only through experience and repetition. It is something to be educated, not a magic solution.