In the great bustle of day-to-day living, it’s easy to lose track of the lessons we accumulate over the years. Whether it’s a crisis at work, a trauma in our family lives or some other form of struggle, there will nearly always emerge out of the chaos a stream of new maxims that we feel should shape our actions from that point onwards.
Sometimes these are simple morals to adhere to. Values and principles that we need to be aware of, such as being honest at all times or putting ourselves in the shoes of others. Other maxims are more technical in nature, formed from our own past experiences or drawn from the views of others. These kinds tend to apply to our working life and what we do for a living. For instance, for writers this might be something akin to George Orwell’s exhortation that good writing “should be like a windowpane”. For a police officer, it might be to "trust your gut" when you sense something amiss. No doubt all of us will have identified on various occasions our own maxims to follow, storing them away for the appropriate time when we might need them once again.
Yet if only it were that simple. The sad reality is that too often the principles and codes of practice that we thought we had once etched into our minds seem to be unattainable when we need them most, seemingly lost in the ether.
The reason I mention any of this is because I recently came across the below list of business tips for designers. The points listed here are the simplest of exhortations, yet I imagine most would have trouble recalling these without the list in front of us. What the list does is enable people, through the help of just a few strings of words, to recall many of the experiences they have hidden away at the back of their minds, the words making memories salient.
At the RSA we're lucky enough to have dotted around a few prints that contain their own maxims. The most obvious is the piece that was created for the Design team’s current theme of resourcefulness: “You Know More Than You Think You Do”. Another poster reads, “Work Hard & Be Nice To People”.
What distinguishes these prints from your typical corporate ones containing business slogans ("goals", "success", "drive") is that they are laden with real meaning and are situated within a real context. "You Know More Than You Think You Do", for instance, is rooted in a whole programme of work exploring a new take on the purpose and possibilities of design. Likewise, the list of business tips above is the culmination of one man's (Mike Dempsey's) many years of experience in the industry.
At first sight the message of these prints is so obvious as to make you wonder why we need to write any of this down. But the point is that we are remarkably bad at remembering the things that make us good. Getting our maxims down on paper is one means of overcoming this problem. Who knows, perhaps we could all do with jotting a few of our own down from time to time.