The Virtue of Hard Work in Design

My first job, at the tender age of 14, was working at Hy-Vee as a bagger. One of my (many, so many) bosses there loved to say “Work smarter, not harder.” I remember him reminding me of this once as I was attempting to move a display from one area of the store to another, but I wasn’t using the proper tools (in this case a hand truck) to move each piece of the display, and it was taking me longer than he clearly wanted it to. During my architectural career, I’ve often harkened bank to this mantra – work smarter, not harder – and it has obvious implications in the practice of architecture. We want to make things as efficient as possible in the industry so we can free up more time to do the fun stuff of profession as opposed to the technical “work” of it all.

That said, as South Dakotans, I think we genuinely appreciate hard work and a strong work ethic. But why? First, there is a certain satisfaction to exerting a serious effort of something and seeing some reward at the end. It may also instill a sense of pride when reflecting on what you are capable of. The desire for utility is thus only to provide other opportunities to work harder in the rugged hard-working mentality of many South Dakotans. We don’t simply rest on our laurels when we’ve achieved a certain level of effort, we strive to achieve more by continuing to work harder.

As I’ve progressed through my career, my opinion has begun to shift away from “work smarter, not harder” as I align with this South Dakota virtue of hard work in and of itself – and that hard work may actually be the “smarter” approach in the end. Sometimes working harder reaps benefits that “smarter” of more efficient work may not. I’ve already alluded to some of this as part of the posts this month, in regards to the role of hand drawing vs. automation and how automation can, unchecked, lead to a lot of unintentionality and ambiguity in design. Additionally, there are processes that, seemingly redundant and tedious (i.e. hard), help us check our work to ensure we are not issuing drawings with errors in them and that they are properly coordinated as seen through a perspective other than the designer (who may have tunnel-vision on the project).

In regards to the importance of hard work in design (as opposed to the technical production work of architecture), I think it is important to note that the effort needed to exert towards an endeavor is sometimes a good indicator of the success and merit of the thing to be achieved. A colleague of mine has often remarked that “what we do” as architects “isn’t that hard.” After doing this architect gig for a number of years, there are certainly aspects that certainly are easier than they once were, but I’d challenge that if we are following the processes that generate good design, it absolutely should be “hard” or at least an good amount of effort given towards finding the best solution. Easy is not testing a design solution, massaging it, questioning it. Hard is asking for others’ opinions of your work, starting over, trying again.

Let us all endeavor to do the necessary hard work to achieve the best design we can for our clients and our communities.

Feature image cartoon drawn by yours truly

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