Michael Wolff: The story of four rooms

Design consultant Michael Wolff encourages young designers to trust in their ability to create something new.

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We’re all born with the ability to create something that wasn’t there before, says Michael Wolff, the a co-founder of one of the world’s most iconic design companies, Wolff Olins. Speaking at an exclusive Design Indaba master class, the internationally renowned design consultant delivered tailored advice for the aspiring designer in the form of a fable - The four rooms of creativity.

Budding creatives first occupy what Wolff calls, “the room of great work.” Here, designers are equipped with the knowledge made by those who came before, and by emulating these tried and tested methods, designers can “look” like one of the greats. Next is the room of reason, where Wolff found that there is logic in design. But, utterly reasonable work is boring:

“So I found that couldn’t create in the room of great work, I could only copy,” says Wolff, adding that the room of reason only steered him into mediocrity. “It steers you into satisfying too many people.”

The third room is the room of precedent. Here’s where designers do what’s been done before but only slightly different. “That’s why all petrol stations look the same, that’s why airlines look the same,” says Wolff. “It works.”

According to Wolff, no designer can function in a creative space without a respect for these three rooms, but the most important room is the fourth: the room of not knowing.

“You’ve been into the other three rooms but you trust your personal creativity to produce that wasn’t there before,” he says. “So, I suppose in telling this little fable I’m encouraging you to trust that ability in you.”