How I Learned to Love Math

My dad was an accountant. You know all the stories about psychiatrist’s children being messed up? Doctor’s children all unhealthy? Yeah. I hated math. I HATED math. But…
I play the piano. When I was a kid I didn’t have to be told to practice. I played and played for hours. I devoured sheet music and looked for more. The nun who taught me piano lessons would whack me on the knuckles with a big wooden ruler if I got my scales wrong, sending me home in tears after every lesson. I still played.
Then on to play in big bands, swing bands, jazz bands, rock bands, piano bars — the whole enchilada. It was all about math.

The Lowest Common Denominator
All those notes I played, all those musical bars I filled up with way too much stuff. I’ve realized its not about what I play at all. The notes are not nearly as important as what I DON’T play — what I call playing the spaces. How do I take that piece of music, play that with other people, and play only what’s absolutely necessary? That’s hard. Playing tons of stuff and lots of notes, big fat chords and tons of pretty things, that’s easy. Distilling it down to its essence.

Communicate Only What’s Needed
Graphic design is all the same. Don’t clutter. Leave the space. Get rid of the extra stuff. Be concise. Common denominator. Use the math.
Its the same concept, and that’s why I love (at least that part of) math. Design to me means just that — getting rid of all that extra stuff, so the message is crystal clear. Its what Garr Reynolds talks about constantly — zen design. I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but I’m glad I got into Powerpoint. I hated it. (Like old math). But now I see that doing the presentations I have, I’ve been forced to think in a new way about the message, about communication. About having one slide, one chance, one second, to get it right and say just what needs to be said, and nothing more. Really hard, but really worthwhile.


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