The Ethereal Decision-Making Process for the Creative Mind

March 25, 2013 — 11 Comments

The decision-making process can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. Me? I prefer simple because it’s simple. That seems pretty obvious to me but I am constantly amazed just how often I see people who make the decision-making process sooooooo complicated.

But don’t mistake simple for easy. That’s why there are millions of ways that people process decisions – or at least I think there are millions of ways. Have you ever sat down and thought about your own decision-making process? I haven’t – which is part of the reason I decided to write this post.


left and right brain

Identify the purpose of the decision
Seems pretty obvious that the first step in solving a process is identifying the problem to be solved. This is not always true for those of us in the design professions. We can readily identify the goal in mind but the problem? That’s going to take some effort, priorities will need to be set (both the designers AND the clients) balance needs to be struck … either way, you need to work towards identifying the problem. Sometimes the first challenge is to determine if there is a problem to be solved and IF that problem should be solved.

Data Collection
What elements will have an impact on the decision? Contributing factors – both real and perceived – have to be identified. Understanding all the moving parts, setting priorities, considering timing, budget, skill level to execute … Since I view part of my job as a designer as an educator of the process, I endeavor to collect as much data as possible so I can present as many viable options as possible.

Determine guidelines and principles to judge your options and alternatives
This is where experience comes in handy for the designer. The standards and principles you use to evaluate the options is more times than not a result of what has worked out in the past. Designers are constantly experimenting with new ideas and concepts so understanding the things that are important to you will help you follow the same line of thinking from one problem to the next, something that will allow you to duplicate your successes without duplicating your solutions.

Charrette and Identify Alternate Choices
There are always more than one way to solve a problem. Going through the moves to create multiple solutions creates the opportunity to evaluate the end results. There is no “one and done” in the design world. Architects are constantly re-evaluating what they’ve already done in hopes of making the outcome better. It is at the same moment our greatest strength and weakness.

Cause and Effect
Using your own principles and standards, review the possible results of your decision. Since most of what architects do (from an aesthetic standpoint) is subject to the priorities and standards of others, there will always be someone who thinks what you’ve done is garbage – don’t let that stop you from following your own methodologies. Again, this is why (I believe) architects become stronger designers as they age because they have a better sense of who they are and what is important to them. They are less likely to be swayed by current mainstream opinions.

At this point, it’s time to put your decision into effect. For most, this is always an exciting moment. I know that I’d like to think that how I visualize my solutions is always how the turn out – but that wouldn’t be true. Through experience, it’s either right on the money or close-enough that I don’t have too-many “Yikes” moments. There are decisions that turned out exactly how I visualized them but even then, it’s not what it needs to be. Remember the location of the lights in my own dining room? I didn’t get that one right and even though I eventually fixed it, I’m still bothered that I didn’t initially make the right call.

This is the most important step in the decision-making process. You have to constantly and critically evaluate if the decisions you made yielded the outcome you expected. If you plan on duplicating past successes without resorting to recreating past solutions, you have to understand the results.


This decision-making process is a complicated one and until I sat down here to write it out, I’m not sure I could have told you what procedures I follow. I have been trying to figure out a way to initiate a conversation surrounding the idea that I think the older you are, the better architect and designer you become. At it’s core, the reason I believe this to be true is simply because I think as an older, more mature individual, you have a better understanding of what makes you tick – your motivations – and you settle into making decisions that embody what you now understand as core values. I am not so far removed from my younger days that I have got everything figured out – far from it, I think the best designers never think they’ve got it all figured out. The combination of looking for new paths along with applying your personal mores and values, help guide you in making consistent decisions. By making consistent decisions, you can evaluate the outcomes more critically and with a greater chance of success. This is one of those ideas that it would take a lot – a very strong argument – to convince me otherwise. I would think that any of the younger designers who read this blog might bristle at the idea that someone young can’t be great … but

that is not what I am saying …

I am saying that you will be greater as you mature … and who isn’t excited about something like that? 

Hopefully this is something someone other than me thinks about. If not, I apologize for the last 5 minutes.


Bob signature

[fantastic brain illustration found here]




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  • Very nice treatment of decision-making. Architecture is too complicated to be a young genius, unlike math and music prodigies. Edward de Bono has a lot to say about thinking and decision-making. Here’s a brief overview of one of his books – The Six Thinking Hats.

  • Bob, enjoyed your post and I recently wrote a post trying to decipher the decision making process and know how difficult it can be to put into words what you do by second nature. I think you might enjoy the book The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Age Mind by Barbara Strauch available at Amazon.

    It gets at the fact the we, like good wine, ARE getting better as we get older. Always good to read this things in print.

  • I whole-heartedly agree with your maturity argument, even as my sixteen year old is rolling his eyes in a very intolerant manner. Remember the day I attained licensure and received notification by email. As I’m doing the Rockie dance, fists raised in the air (with sound track playing in my mind), thought I knew all of everything. My boss walks in with a smile on his face. He calmly says, “congratulations…you’re now minimally competent.” I think we’ve all seasoned. Hopefully well. I know now that there’s more I don’t know than what I do know.

    • I know I have said this before but the only difference between me at 45 and at 25 is that I am better at making things up as I go. I am sure my experience has helped, I know what I don’t know, but now I ask better questions.

      “minimally competent” … that’s a reduction – hah!

  • 1irishdell

    I have to agree with you Bob, and thank you! I find this to be the very reason that my husband is doing so exceptionally well at UH -COA, he is the oldest one in his class, and believe that he would not be as successful if he would have gone straight out of HS, like most of his fellow students.

    • Thanks – for the comment and the info on the brain graphic (I updated the post to include the link you provided – cheers)

      Either going back to school as an older student – or simply being older – seems to include the benefit of focus and discipline, glad to hear your husband is making the most of his time at UH-COA.

  • Ken Weinert

    Thank you for 3 things – first, the article itself; second, a new quote added to my collection (Understanding the things that are important to you will help you follow
    the same line of thinking from one problem to the next, something that
    will allow you to duplicate your successes without duplicating your
    solutions.); third, expanding my vocabulary (charrette).

    • Three things is pretty good, I’ll take it!

      (and charrette is an awesome word – you’ll find that the opportunity to use it comes along pretty frequently)

  • ” I think the best designers never think they’ve got it all figured out” They are the ones exicted about the “next’ project, that will allow them to express what they have learned brom the last project.

    Love the Left Brain/Right Brain graphic.

    • Thanks Robert –

      I can not take credit for the graphic, I found it in several places and sent out some emails trying to determine who made it. It’s pretty nice.

      • *UPDATE* I received the source credit on the graphic – a link is included at the bottom of the post