Design Process Phase 0: Acceptance

Some design projects are doomed to failure before they even begin. No, I am not talking about really stupid ideas. I'm referring to when you skip the oft ignored but essential starting point for every creative project: acceptance.

What is Acceptance?

One of the reasons I love the The Universal Traveler's map of the creative process is that it is one of the few that includes the mental step of acceptance. Acceptance is the pre-flight phase of the creative process where the decision is made to commit your mental (and sometimes physical) energy to the task. The Universal Traveler describes it as follows:

Acceptance is a voluntary agreement to adapt yourself and your needs, at least in part or for a trial period, to something else. Acceptance is an act of self-giving.

Fundamentally, acceptance is a prerequisite to commitment. Both design students and professionals bump up against problems with lack of acceptance, as their projects may have been assigned to them by a teacher or a boss, respectively, and not chosen by their own volition. These projects get half-baked solutions and are pushed aside at the slightest distraction. Even personal projects taken on by choice can suffer when acceptance is withdrawn part-way through due to project fatigue. I would argue that acceptance level management among all members of a design project's team is crucial to its success. Acceptance is not only important to designers, but to anyone undertaking a new project (including marketers and software engineers), because creative problem-solving requires buying in to the problem and committing to solving it.

Why Stay Conscious of Acceptance?

It is important to pay attention to your level of acceptance of a project because lack of acceptance blocks flow. For those unfamiliar, flow is a term coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the former head of the psychology department of the University of Chicago and the leading researcher in the field of positive psychology. In his research into what makes life worth living and the source of happiness, he discovered a mental state that appeared when people were at their most satisfied. This flow state is one where you are completely immersed and engaged in a single task, akin to what most people describe as being "in the zone." Time disappears and nothing exists outside of the task at hand. Creatives are at their most productive when in the flow state, and a lack of acceptance puts up a mental block that prevents extended, 100%-focused time from occurring.

With some close self-monitoring it should be easy to spot when your acceptance of a project is low and your involvement isn't sincere. Staying aware of your acceptance will allow you to better appraise your limits so you know which kinds of projects you should take on and which you should avoid, meaning more successful projects and better overall output.

Fully Accept Your Projects

Before you begin working on your next project, think about whether you have fully mentally accepted it as your own. In some cases where it is possible, it might be best to pass on the project to someone else. In the more frequent case where you have to (and will) work on the project regardless of your personal preference, accepting it and fully committing to it will benefit your state of mind during the project as well as the end result. Remember that "[t]he most profound choice in life is to either accept things as they exist or accept the responsibility for changing them.[^1]"

[1]: The Universal Traveler, Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall

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