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Article: Monday Must: Sticking Through Those Tough Projects

Monday Must: Sticking Through Those Tough Projects

Hi there! My name is Alisa (she/her) and I’m an avid creator and designer- not of beautiful, delicate garments like the folks here at Mary Young, but of all things steel, wood, and plastic. As a 4th year Mechanical Engineering & Sustainability student at McMaster University, I’m all about bringing big ideas to life.

The creative process is one of the purest ways of connecting your mind with the world around you. Every project starts from a single idea, whether it’s a voice memo detailing the next big hit or sticky notes covered in late-night equipment sketches (see: my bedside table). Regardless of medium, the feeling of pride and fulfillment when those fleeting thoughts transform into something meaningful to society is riveting- it’s that metaphorical gold medal we’re all striving for. With that being said, the creative process doesn’t come without its difficulties and droughts where it can feel like nothing is going as planned: stakeholders back out, prototypes break down, whatever it may be- we know that frustrating feeling all too well. As difficult as those moments are, the payoff of knowing you made a difference in the world is always worth it! Here are some of my strategies, or “musts”, that get me through those tough projects.  

Follow the design spiral.

In engineering design, we often use a concept called the design spiral. The process consists of these 4 stages: planning (what are you trying to do?), analysis (what’s the best way to do it?), prototyping (let’s bring it to life!), and refinement (how can we make it better?). By iterating through these stages when you’re stuck, you actively go back to your original problem and remember what you’re trying to do and why you’re doing it! With roadblocks and long hauls, it can be so easy to go astray and get lost in the details to the point where you aren’t pursuing your original intentions anymore. By frequently circling back and looking at the big picture, you’ll often rediscover or reignite the passion and drive you felt when you first started the project, launching a new source of inspiration.

Use the call-a-friend option.

Sometimes, all we need is a look at things from a different perspective. Talk to people who aren’t involved in the project! Your friends and family have a wide variety of experiences that, combined with your knowledge, just might show you what you’re missing. Even if they don’t have your level of expertise, all the creative process needs is critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By breaking things down into simple ideas that others can understand, you’ll also likely gain a better understanding of the situation yourself. 

Make your project fun sized.

If the task at hand makes you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or extremely stressed, try breaking it up into smaller sub-tasks! Diagrams, bullet points, and lists are fantastic ways to just get something down and start moving through the issues in your project, one simple thing at a time. By doing so, you are able to see the natural step progression of the project and inherently set reasonable goals for yourself! These milestones are important to both you and your progress, so be sure to celebrate the wins :)

Draw inspiration from where you’ve seen success.

The engineering world is a big fan of biomimicry. Biomimicry is the process of echoing elements of natural models to solve human problems, or simply looking outside for real-world inspiration. Mother Nature truly does know best as systematic processes in nature have been refined over eons- if you reflect upon how animals, the earth, and our other natural counterparts complete similar objectives (for example, airplanes that mimic birds or velcro inspired by burrs), you just might find a guided solution to what you’re looking for. On the other hand, success doesn’t only exist in nature! Be sure to do your due diligence and research for inspiration to cultivate and manifest the ideas. Mood boards, sketches, and quick builds are some of my favourite ways to innovate and forge ideas when brainstorming.

Write down anything and everything.

As you’re following through all these strategies, make sure to note down anything and everything you think of! It is much easier to erase or get rid of random thoughts than it is to remember what you said or wanted to do five minutes ago. When I’m building, I like to keep all of the parts that I’ve fabricated in case they come in handy later! This also helps to save material and money. When I’m writing, I ctrl-x all of the sentences I scrap and put them at the bottom of the document. Ideas that still relate to your project are invaluable and can be connected together or removed and inserted into different parts later on!  

Best of luck with the project!

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