After a long hiatus, some thoughts on post-rationalization have percolated. This may be a very brief post. The essence of the thoughts is that it’s narrow-sighted to condemn post-rationalization. It’s an important skill in design work to be able to do something, look at it, and then think about it. You can learn a lot in that process, and it can yield results that you couldn’t have expected if you had only proceeded through the design by building a rationale for every move, and used others’ rationale where your personal experience comes up short. Ultimately, it’s part of an iterative process, but while the iterative process is lauded, the subprocess of post-rationalizing is somewhat demonized.

Post-rationalization can also preclude the “I don’t know what to do” crisis or “I don’t know where to start.” Everyone gets idea-block now and again, but I think it’s much better to do something than to wait for inspiration or an idea to happen to you (fully formed & rationalized), or even to force-rationalize an idea. Sometimes what’s really needed is to get going, and then pause, “post-rationalize” what you’ve done (what you think was successful and why), and proceed from there.

A fear of post-rationalization seems also like a fear of experimentation, of diving into a process where you don’t necessarily know the results.

It is a stepping stone, and not the final step of design; leaving it until a design is finalized is probably what gets hackles up about the very idea.

Even in architecture, there are multiple ways to test ideas at multiple stages in design, post-rationalize them (ie. learn from the test), and move on to scrap the idea or choose to refine it. Of course there is the digital model, but there are also scaled models, and full-scale mock-ups. The full-scale mock-up may be the toughest to do, but is likely to provide the richest learning experience and the greatest opportunity for innovation in something other than volumetric formality.

Inspired by this blog post: “Production makes perfect” and this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert: “Your elusive creative genius.”


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