I was recently having lunch with two friends who are both creatives. As we weaved through our conversations, eventually we landed on the subject of sensitivity. One of my friends mentioned that her mother used to say to her, “You’re just too sensitive,” as though it were a character flaw. Something that definitely needed fixing. I found myself smirking because my own parents have told me the same thing and recently mentioned it in the context of “You know what your problem is, you’re too sensitive.” As an FYI, nobody I know that’s not sitting in front of their therapist goes soliciting others to find out what their problem is. As far as starting points go, it’s not a good place to launch from. Nevertheless, I’ve come to understand that those who are rattled by, don’t understand or don’t want to understand their own sensitivities, dismiss it within others. This might not seem like a big deal but if your gift to the world in any way involves a shred of creativity, sensitivity is the underlying current and currency through which your choice of expression is made manifest. In case this sounds too hairy-fairy, here’s a TED talk by a researcher who gives voice to the same universal truth through her research (Almost 23 million views…she’s definitely onto something.)
I can’t imagine how else I would be able to do my job as a designer in the absence of sensitivity. In my world, I have to listen to the client’s needs, understand them and distill it into a visual language that often has no precedent. That process requires a great deal of sensitivity. When I do branding work, I often pour through hundreds of images choosing only a dozen that embody the “look and feel,” of a given brand. Or choosing a palette that reinforces that same “look and feel.” Even the specificities of how I treat type and typography within every project syncs up with sensitivities that are appropriate to what I’m working on.
Every piece of music that ever moved you, a film that may have inspired you or a piece of poetry that has left a mark on your heart were all the byproducts of someone else’s sensitivity. That’s how they were able to connect with you. Because they made you feel something. To me, that sort of currency is priceless and in some cases timeless. I can still remember with great clarity the first time a piece of art made me cry. About 18 or 19 years ago, I saw some of Michelangelo’s sketches of the human form at the National Gallery of Art and tears ran down my face. I felt that I was standing in front of something that possessed greatness…not just in the execution of technical abilities, but that he had imbued his work with a type of beauty and feeling that several hundred years after his passing, I could stand there and feel something very real. I’m not sure there’s any greater gift to leave the world than with a piece of our hearts, even long after we’re gone. It’s for this reason that I wish our society would value sensitivity and nurture it as a way of bridging one another, vs. building coats of armor that mask our humanity.