Experience is an interesting thing; whether it's lessons learned from practice or knowledge gained from conversations, it is the small experiences we encounter when working with a variety of individuals, clients, and companies that end up affecting us the most. As a junior designer in the sluggish economy that followed 9/11, I spent a good portion of time around the entire office. Whether upstairs with my art directors and senior designers perfecting production techniques, or downstairs chatting with the owner, bookkeeping, or marketing, I was a sponge trying to soak up as much information as I could. I learned a lot during my one year at this design firm, but little did I know that one small conversation with the marketing director would change how I perceived the details of design.
The discussion in question could have been lifted directly from a Seinfeld episode as we were talking about the mundane; a rather uneventful talk about coffee. I learned that he was a former owner and operator of a coffee shop and while we talked he took a sip of his coffee. A slow and steady drip preceded down the side of his cup. He set the coffee down and repositioned the lid explaining to me that few people in the coffee business knew that if the lid was not positioned correctly—anywhere but directly over the seam of the cup—neither it nor the cup would function properly. Useless knowledge I assumed, interesting, but useless.
Fourteen years later as I buy my morning coffee, prior to putting on the lid, I find myself checking to see where the seam of the cup falls. Because, after all, our mundane and brief conversation had inadvertently changed my behavior just as the constant perfecting of my production skills had changed my design process. A conversation about coffee, not design, had changed my habits and perception of how the smallest of details can make or break a design.