Recent innovations in technology have enabled us to always know where we are. Global Positioning Systems are in our phones, laptops, and cars. Traveling to an unfamiliar city? No problem, download the local transit App, plug the address of your hotel into your phone, and you never need to ask a stranger for directions. This convenience has drastically changed the way people interact with a city. It removes the random element, that beautiful moment where you discover a little café at the end of an alley you never meant to walk down.
The most creative people I meet are often those who are able to constantly manipulate the way they look at the world. They are people who use their experiences and thoughts to continuously regrind the lens through which they see the world. “Designer” it is not a job you have from 9-5. You don’t show up to the office and apply “Innovation” to anything. “Design” is an interest in the world around you. It is a constant search for a new point of view, a new understanding, and a new relationship. It is through this search that we find the context in which we can create meaningful new experiences.
For this reason, I have started traveling with blank maps. Before a trip I purchase a large poster size piece of heavy paper. Something that looks like it will last the journey.
And then I start walking.
Once thoroughly confused, I unfurl the large piece of paper, walk up to a stranger, and ask them to point to our location on the map. A blank stare. I repeat myself, and assure them that no matter where they point, they’ll be correct. They hesitate, then point, looking up for affirmation almost immediately, fingers tentatively pushing against the paper. Then as I begin to draw in our surroundings they start to smile. Buildings go up in seconds, intersections, street signs, the stray cat on the corner, and suddenly… they look up and see their surroundings in a new way.
Then they ask the next question: “Where are you going?” Now it’s my turn to point to a blank spot on the map, “here” I say, “don’t think I’ve been there yet, any advice on how to get there?” Most of them look at me strange, but they’re starting to understand. They point down the street, and tell me about the little hole in the wall bar where the regulars play dice, or the café where on Tuesdays Frankie plays until 11, and on and on.
Before I walk off there’s often one last question: “Can you send me a copy of that map when you’re done?” And with that a local has a new way of looking at their neighborhood and I have recorded the slice of a city inspired by conversations, interactions, and experiences. The glass is re-ground, and the lens refocused.