Week 1 Entry 2: Harmful Attitudes toward Design

Amraj Singh Sukhdev Singh - Thu 27 February 2020, 3:03 am
Modified: Thu 27 February 2020, 3:54 pm

The first couple days of physcomp have come and gone, and yet, concerns and anxieties I've had even in the first few weeks of the uni remain, haha.

Often they're irrational, there's a drive to "just get it over with" , that comes from any number of things, which prevents the project from being the best that it can be. I'm hoping that by addressing them early here I can safely recognise when these attitudes pop up during the semester, and take steps to stop them from impacting on the project negatively.

Is that all?

The ever present concern of "wow, I've been here for a while now, is this all I've been able to do" seems to linger the strongest, for one.

Because I know every individual step I took to work on my projects here so far, they can easily seem completely meaningless. There's no intrigue or mystique to what I've made, because I'm aware of all the shortcuts, gaffa tape and hotfixes that went into making something that seems more or less workable ready for various presentation days.

That doesn't mean that the idea is a bad one however, it just means the execution could do with more work. It's a little unfortunate, but university constraints mean that vast amounts of knowledge have to get compressed into limited amounts of time, with several high intensity deadlines at once - putting a hard cap on what can be achieved.


Strive for the best, but don't blow out all the lights and trip the circuit breaker to do so. Really, the only result is that once all that happens, I start to grow to hate the idea itself, assigning blame to its complexity for why stress is encountered.

It's burnout. There's a point where we have to stop, evaluate whats going on, and decide how to sustainably meet the goals we set. It's just that in the moment, it's faster just to keep the pedal to the medal and brute force until something is done... and so it's usually best if you have a teammate that notices and tells you to hit the brakes.

Whether that's usually the case though, well...

External constraints

In reality the above is a side effect of the artificiality that comes with universities being treated more like a job factory than what they really are, a place to fail without crashing and burning. Everyone has a limited amount of time to be here and "succeed" at the job factory, so that they can go out and be useful to society.

There's societal pressure to get a job, because "unless you have a job, you are a parasite and are worth nothing". Society deems there to be no dignity in just existing, so obviously "continuing to be at uni is undesirable" /s.

That leads to a collective subconcious rush to the end, "only the end result matters", and so the perception of the idea and course can transform into an ugly thing, that the course and project is an obstacle that doesn't even matter, the sooner the end is reached the better. But that just leads people to not make the most of their time to learn.

Sure there's lots of limitations, but the urge to rush to the end and "read the last page of the book, so that you can start with the next book" just makes what we do here hollow.

It's best to remain cognisant of that time ticking down, but not be swept away by it... otherwise we just accidentally work against ourselves.

The scale between 0 and 1

While I have a laser focus on all the things I didn't manage to achieve, because observers seeing my final work have been able to get a glimpse of the vision behind some of these ideas. What I've worked on has been relatively acceptable enough that we could say "close enough" and call it a day...

It isn't supposed to be treated like a binary "everything was perfect, success", or "this one thing didnt work, it was a complete failure", but that is the kind of perception that tends to rise up instinctively... and pushes towards the even more depressing idea, "everything I do is garbage", which is only partially true.

In truth, it's more like a radial chart with different stat distributions depending on the project, one idea might have a little more success at area x than another, but the other might do y better.

It's small victories, its possible for parts of the project to fail sure, but also for parts of it to be a success on their own, and ideally we want to take those successful things, and rocket forward with what we learnt so that the next time, the project as a whole is better.

Understanding who this is for

These projects, they're proofs of concept, but my recent experience in interviews seems to show that employers dont care about experiments and explorations of space - when showing them what I've worked on ... the questions all steer towards the inevitable question -"how fast can you get me a finished product". The type of statement that inspires a disappointment at not doing better... like all that time was wasted.

But finished products, they're a myth. There's no such thing as a perfect idea, and this urge to rush towards them just distracts from finding out more about the space and engaging with the project earnestly. As depressing as it is that we don't get that job afterward, we're working on these ideas to polish our skills, understand spaces better, or bring novel contributions forward.

To that end... working on it to impress specific people or get validation from anyone other than the users and ourselves is a little strange. We and the users have to be okay with the project and what it does first, anyone else is just a side bonus.

The conclusion for now

Hopefully with this, I have a small yardstick of some of the more dangerous attitudes, now that I've considered them a little. Perhaps throughout the semester, this list will grow and be more refined, but I at least know what I want to look out for.