On Feb 2, 2016, my Dad was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. He died peacefully at home on Aug 16, 2016. On the morning of Aug 20, I sequestered myself away from a crowded house of family members for about three hours to write the words below that I read that afternoon at my Dad's funeral service. I included my interests in design and programming.
With a laser focus and a quiet intensity, Dad prioritized his life around three key areas: family and friends, the home or property, and work.
Dad led, mentored, and taught by his actions. He wasn't showy. His valuable wisdom was freely available to astute observers.
In his spare time, Dad enjoyed a wide variety of interests, and many of these activities he shared with others. He used books, magazines, and radio and TV programs to learn more about his hobbies.
To me, this meant always be learning and never stop trying new things. The phrase, "You cannot teach an old dog new tricks" does not apply.
I think that Dad would have been a good product designer with his skills of observation and problem solving and his joy of tinkering.
A computer programmer that I knew had a saying taped to his monitor that read, "It's simple to make something complex, but it's complex to make something simple."
We have all observed artists, authors, athletes, etc. who make their final products look easy. But what we don't see is the massive amount of effort that they exerted over many years.
Dad worked hard to make life easier for those around him.
The word "design" can have many meanings. It does not mean only how something looks because aesthetics without utility is art.
Good design is intuitive and useful. Good design makes something work. It solves a problem.
The legendary designer Dieter Rams created a list of 10 principles that he thought applied to good design. Some of these can describe Dad's life.
To make things easier at home and to support his hobbies, Dad created tools and configurations. It wasn't always obvious why things were easier around the home because good design is unobtrusive.
The law of diminishing returns states that the level of benefits gained is less than the amount of energy invested. It may not be worth it to spend the time that's required to achieve that final 5 to 10 percent. In my opinion, this was a law that Dad disobeyed often.
Many times, I observed Dad, using a considerable amount of time, perfecting a mundane task. I thought to myself, "That was good enough, Dad. Let's move on. It's not that big of deal."
It's possible that Dad thought that the phrase "Good enough" was a polite way of saying acceptable mediocrity.
It's possible that Dad did not want a half-way approach to creep into any aspect of his life for fear that it would become normal behavior in the important areas, such as work and family.
If something could be done better, then the time spent was worth it. The task should be completed with care. Good design is thorough down to the last detail. And Dad focused on the details, regardless of size.
He liked things to be orderly and neat. Dad's quest for perfection could lead to some frustration that became evident around close family, but overall, he was patient and kind.
Dad had kindness. Even in his final days, he was concerned about the well-being of others.
Dad had patience. He liked to grow tomato plants from seeds. He liked to invest in the stock market. He disapproved of shortcuts. He knew that good things took time.
In today's increasingly ephemeral world where relatively powerful computers that we call mobile devices are discarded after only a year or two of usage, Dad was a bit of an outlier with his preference for objects that had longevity. Good design is long-lasting.
Dad lived it. His marriage with Mom lasted over 50 years. He worked at the Barnesville Hospital for over 50 years. Old TVs, radios, computers, anything that worked and was still useful, Dad kept. Doing otherwise was wasteful.
He repurposed found items if he thought that the objects still had life. Good design is environmentally-friendly.
Dad hated to waste anything. One evening while fishing at the Barnesville reservoir, I watched Dad take a long time to retrieve successfully a 25-cent fishing bobber that got tangled in a shrub.
Dad liked to laugh. He had a sharp, sneaky sense of humor that would seem to strike from nowhere, during a casual conversation.
He enjoyed listening to stories and telling stories. He saw no problem with retelling the funniest stories over and over.
He was not a socialite, but he cherished his time with family and friends.
While Dad may not have traveled afar, I considered him worldly because of his intimate knowledge of the local flora and fauna. This enabled him to be a skilled hunter, trapper, fisherman, birdwatcher, and gardener. With his love for nature, Dad knew that the world was bigger than what existed for humans.
One of my favorite Dieter Rams design principles states: Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.
I believe that describes how Dad approached life.
A design firm that I like to follow has a slogan that states, "Reduce to the essence." To me, that means remove the superfluous, remove the extravagance, and focus on the elegance.
Dad lived an elegantly simple life, and we benefited.