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October 2008 Issue

Travel as Creative Fuel
The lessons of great places are best learned through “design immersion.”

By James Richards, ASLA

Travel as Creative Fuel
James Richards, ASLA

You’re a young designer. You want to become good—very good—at what you do. Or perhaps you’re a seasoned professional, hoping to rekindle that fire in the belly that has driven your best work. A word of advice: Travel. Frequently. Widely. I know of nothing short of cutting a deal with the devil himself that will jump-start passion and accelerate creative skills faster than packing a bag and, in Mark Twain’s words, lighting out for the territory ahead.

Many academic programs offer “study abroad” programs, affording young designers the opportunity to pursue course work while immersed in a foreign culture. The traditional “study abroad” model has its undeniable benefits, and many have grown immeasurably from the cultural immersion experience. But the travel model that’s been most beneficial to my work as a designer has been a different, more intense kind than typically offered by customary travel/study programs.

I call it “design immersion.” Its fundamental characteristic is rapid exposure to the most instructive landscapes and best creative works a region, country, or continent has to offer. These trips are characterized by an ambitious itinerary and almost-perpetual motion so that the traveler is immersed less in a particular culture than in the visual language of design, which cuts across time and cultures. It is, in my experience, the designer’s single best avenue of growth outside academic walls.

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