Many of us have had that unsettling moment when, working off the computer, we habitually and almost involuntarily gesture for the keyboard to UNDO something. The profound frequency with which we use the shortcut Command-Z leads our minds to believe we can undo actions in real-time, followed by that sinking feeling that you must physically restore to a previous state, moving things around or erasing things in the hopes you can closely replicate what you had before.

It is a peculiar modern phenomenon, and a symptom of being at the computer for long periods of time performing routine tasks in conjunction with more creative actions and decisions. It signals a certain routine mindset inherent to working on a computer, for which we don’t precisely know how our ideas and our work are affected. To what extent does that mindset shape the ideas we concoct and the things we create?

Sometimes, it takes a degree of drive and discipline for us to pry ourselves away from our machines. Of course, the act of sketching on paper or making collages on poster board are certainly not unfamiliar to designers, and there is nothing novel in the idea of brainstorming that way. Most designers are, in fact, trained to do just that. But I’ve observed in myself and others a tendency to gravitate toward the habitual lure of shortcuts, vector shapes, menu items and color swatches.

Suffice it to say, working with one’s hands yields different if not necessarily better results. But on principle alone, the break from computer routines elicits a vital act of recharging and revitalizing the hand/eye/mind connection on different terms: the terms of real space and physicality, the paste-ups and mechanicals of yore. The mystery remains as to what that means for each of us, but it is undoubtedly worth a more concerted effort to achieve that discovery.

Some months back, we decided to have “designer lunches” where we engage our creativity away from our machines, whether it be drawing, collage, calligraphy or just meeting as a group to share and to look. These are valuable exercises, and a good collective experience away from our respective “stations.”

My colleague suggested that I write this article with a pencil and paper, and she has a really good point. But it’s just so much easier to type it. I probably used Command-Z a hundred times.

We’d love to hear from you. What are some methods you use to approach design and collaboration that don’t involve the computer?

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