February 12, 2009

breakin' the rules

in college, my design professors always warned "know the rules before you break them."
that was somewhat confusing advice. you're telling me to break the rules, but i have to know them first? why?
someone challenged just that from me. "that doesn't make any sense" said science boy. "if you don't have to follow the rules, why should you bother knowing them?" i couldn't argue with him (on this and many other points). i couldn't argue, because i didn't really understand. 5 years into my career, i think i'm beginning to understand. it's a matter of functionality.
i failed to see that life is full of "know the rules before you break them." this is how we progress in science, technology, living arrangements, social situations, even design. we learn a set of rules, we understand them, see how they function...and if we choose, we break those rules. sometimes we do so with failure, but when we are successful we move forward.
i can think of a million ways this adage comes into play. when we know the basic rules of something, it gives us a foundation to build upon. the rules are a starting point. it's like knowing that flour is a thickening agent. ok, now i can use it to make my sauce thicker. of course, it's more complex than that, but hopefully you get the idea. in design, you use the "rules" of what works to establish a foundation. then you move past that foundation, building upon it. you are breaking the rules and doing things you aren't supposed to, but your beginning foundation comes from those rules. in a way, i think this stretches the rules, re-defining them, sometimes creating entirely new rules.

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