Assumptions are easy to make. They are like low hanging fruit that can taste yummy and satisfy the ego. I mean, you do get to sit there and look like a guru if you ‘nail it’ with your assumption. Thank goodness for life-changing experiences and putting my foot in my mouth.
While helping shape their brand, we were invited to go on one of their week-long trips to experience their work first hand. We helped develop their vision and capture the time with photography. While in the San Quintin Valley one day, Arturo(The founder) took me out, and we walked around the neighborhoods talking. I noticed nothing but dirt roads, shacks with square water containers, and satellite dishes patchworked onto tin roofs. Culture shock 101 for me. Immediately I started thinking about how a lot of churches would go on ‘mission trips’ and build ‘houses’ for communities just like this. It made sense to me how that would immensely help folks out. I was about to open my mouth and take a massive L.
Me: ” Hey Arturo, it seems it would make sense for Inalienable to build homes for these folks. Why is that not happening?”
Arturo: “Why do you think it is helpful to this community?”
Me: “To me, it seems apparent folks need homes to live a better life, and it would be cleaner than what I am currently seeing.”
Arturo: “Let me tell you a story…”
Arturo began telling me a story about how, before Inalienable was officially formed (just a church group at the time) was coming down to this community and building homes. He said one year, a local family approached them as they were building houses and asked if they could make a few more in one particular area. The family said they were expecting an influx of migrants, and these homes would massively help. Inalienable got the approval for materials and manpower. A new patch of houses was built. The following year the same group of folks traveled down to build more homes. That same family from the prior year asked if new houses would be added to the same area from last year. Now a new relationship was being built along with new homes. This happened three years in a row. One year Inalienable came down to expect to meet with the family and build more homes in one particular area and see how else they could serve the community. When they arrived, they noticed there were no houses.
There was nothing but dirt. Arturo did some digging and found out the following:
The family who they built a relationship and homes with, was gone. Run out of town? Why? From that first year on, they were renting out those newly built houses out to families they knew who were migrating in. These were supposed to be free homes to help the community out. Then, from collecting that rent, the family moved up the hill in that area into nicer digs but kept renting out the newly built houses below. Rinse repeat year after year. Until they tried to raise the rent so high that no one could afford it. The homes became neglected and beat up after a while. Folks in the area revolted and picked apart the houses and sold the materials. No more homes. No more people in that area.
After Arturo shared that story, I finally asked the question I should have asked at the jump.
“What does this community need?”
Because of that question, I learned what Inalienable was really trying to do. Be in the community for the long haul. Go door to door and ask local families what they need. Face to face. Because of this strategy of asking questions, it was found out that the community needed a community center. An afterschool program. Parents wanted their kids safe while they were working during the day. They wanted their kids to get an education. Not houses. They wanted their kids safe and happy. Not under a better roof.
That conversation happened years ago but has affected me a lot even to this day.
When trying to come up with design solutions, I am constantly checking myself to make sure I am genuinely curious. Asking 100’s of questions. Wanting to learn all I can. Not being afraid to ask dumb questions (there are none). Hearing my client’s voice, understanding their desires. When I think I am ready to make an assertion of a solution – form it in a question:
I sense that you may need a texture-rich design to connect you on a human level with your audience. Do you think that resonates with your vision?
To me, it seems the color red would really make your logo stand out. Do you think I am off in that thinking?
Here is the kicker. I can learn a lot from those I am trying to serve. I can’t learn when I am making assumptions.
There is a difference between A-HA and assumptions. The reason there is an A-HA is that you were curious. Almost like a child. Searching out why a thing is a thing. Then, when you find out why a thing is a thing, there is a rush of “Wooooww, that is soo cool!”.
Nailing assumptions only feed your ego. It’s all grownup and stuffy.
Finding something out and going A-HA feeds your soul. Feeds that kid in you that has always wanted to reconnect with you.
I pledge to build more afterschool programs instead of houses. I promise to be curious, genuinely, as a child. Ask 100’s of questions. Challenge myself to ask if my assertion is on point. Check my ego at the door. Stop making an ass out of you and me.
Wanna try it out? Awesome, see you on Wikipedia!