I love resolving dichotomies.

If I were stranded on an island and if there were only one food I could have, it would be feta cheese. And if I were stranded somehow and could only have one creative tool, I would want it to be dichotomy resolution.

Dichotomies are dualities that oppose each other. Dichotomy resolution is finding a unique solution that brings those seemingly opposing ideas together in harmony.

You get it, it's the idea of "having your cake and eating it too." In French they say, not surprisingly, "Butter and the money for the butter." Turks describe it as the best possible seat on the bus, behind the driver, next to the window and it costs 5 cents.

Toyota Design has a special name for it too, the J-factor. Simon Humphries, President of ED2, Toyota's European Design Headquarters, explains it as, "Often successful Japanese design is based on the synergy of seemingly competing aims, think small yet functional, simple yet intriguing."

So how can you resolve dichotomies? Here is a step-by-step guide:

1. Listen for dualities.

Next time you're in a meeting or having a conversation, listen for opposing ideas. You want to catch a need and a want separated by a 'but'. Classic but Modern is a favorite--this is when you want to keep your heritage but you want it to be contemporary.

2. Define each duality.

What are the qualities or characteristics of each duality? If you understand these, you will have an easier time mashing them up. I use dictionary definitions where applicable.

Classic: a. outstanding example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality, b. a guidepost, modeled upon or imitating the style, c. something noteworthy of its kind and worth remembering, d. of an era

Modern: a. contemporary, relevant to its current time, b. of, relating to, or characteristic of contemporary styles of art, literature, music, etc., c. reject traditionally accepted or sanctioned forms, d. emphasize individual experimentation and sensibility

3. Look for inspiration.

For inspiration, find examples of companies that successfully make modern and classic co-exist. How did they do it? What could you learn from them?

Herman Miller's Eames Rocking Chair is a great example. Herman Miller kept the classic, single-shell form but instead of the original fiberglass material which is not environmental sustainable, they switched to polypropylene, a safer plastic material.

For companies, like Herman Miller, which have a long heritage and history, the "classic + modern" dichotomy is a constant constraint and an opportunity. Volkswagen's Beetle and BMW's Mini Cooper are great examples of classics modernized. So are customizable Converse One-Star high-tops. When you buy them, you're buying a dichotomy resolution--an iconic design classic first introduced in the market in 1917, updated in a way that is only possible with today's technology. French fashion house Chanel is a beautiful case study in making classic and modern co-exist.

4. Bring dualities into harmony.

Next, imagine how you can make these two opposites co-exist in harmony. Intentionally mash classic and modern. To do this pick something that makes your product, brand, experience a classic and mash it with something contemporary and relevant to our time.

Classic can be a classic form, detail, color as it can be set of timeless values.

Modern can be technology or material, as it can be today's cultural values and trends.

This is what the branding consultancy Work-Order did when they tweaked the New York Times "T" to include a little triangle "play" button. It's subtle, it's a wink and it marries their Times heritage with modern, digital technology. It is updating the familiar, so that we still recognize it, while helping us do something new, which is connecting us to their video content.

5. Brain-storm to generate multiple ideas.

Remember when you resolve dichotomies you make opposing qualities co-exist. It is not either, or. It is both. If you are having your cake and eating it too, you're on to a great idea that can generate long-term value.

6. Prototype.

Once you have a few ideas that rise to the top, do some sketches, renderings, quick prototypes, just enough to demonstrate the idea. Do they bring opposing ideas into harmony, for example, do they feel classic and modern at the same time? Test and refine until you have made opposites co-exist and generated new value.

I often think coming from Turkey, a land of great dichotomies, East and West, Old and New, Secular and Religious, is my secret training. That is why almost every project we do as a studio, we seek, pick and solve for dichotomies. One favorite being the potato peeler from the Giada Collection for Target. At $7.99, with a sleek, sculpted, ergonomic handle, it was great design at affordable prices. Too bad it is no longer in production. But the Resolve Office System is, which only has 20 parts with which you can create an almost infinite number of work environments. That is less is more.

What are dichotomies you've solved or in the process of solving. I would love to hear from you.

Published on: Aug 30, 2017
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