Creativity in Letting Go of Certainties

Dannell MacIlwraith
Assistant Professor
Kutztown University

Admit it; designers are control freaks.

I know that in both my work and my life, I have been a very intentional, controlling person who feels safe within a set of clearly defined parameters. But in order to grow, I have been experimenting with letting myself abandon control and accept uncontrollable components within my designs. The unexpected makes life and design interesting and stimulating. The detachment of control has added new systems to my work, practice, and curriculum. The elements of unpredictability, chance and accident have a long (but under appreciated) tradition in design, threading through the Dada movement and the visual culture of John Cage, Stefan Bucher and Daniel Eatock.

Relinquishing some control has added new techniques to my work, practice, and lifestyle. I employ my newfound methodologies in material explorations, layout techniques, and “blind” elements that create chance outcomes.

Chance methodologies that produce unexpected results can be integrated within both analog and digital techniques. These methodologies have included student projects utilizing india ink with air duster to create abstract shapes. These organic/non-controlled shapes are the first steps to animated illustration. ( Within my own work, I have used the weather as means of ‘choosing’ color for a website. The temperature dictates the color scheme for the site; the warmer the temperature the warmer the colors; the cooler the temperature the cooler the colors. (

My research is designed for me to accept the imperfections and chaos of life. There will be unexpected elements to work with and through. Is this a relatable subject to society? Designers are problem-solvers and form the elements of their work. The process of being a “chooser” and deciding on fonts, colors, and layout is authoritative. How can we teach our students to not only be ‘choosers’ but to be open to unexpected and uncontrollable outcomes? By letting go of control, we can gain new experiences and happy accidents.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.1: DePaul University on October 27, 2018.