What If the Book is Just Purple?
It was a rainy June day in Amsterdam. I was soaking wet, shaken from almost getting stuck on a drawbridge, and grateful that I had finally found a bathroom. I found myself sitting around a large table in a comparatively small room with a group of classmates, listening to a presentation from design book publisher, Valiz.
I was enjoying the presentation, though I did feel a bit alienated by the way in which they were talking about how theoretical their work is. That all shifted when one of the presenters made a comment that has stuck with me to the point of inspiring the name of this essay.
When speaking about how they work with designers, one of the presenters said:
“We don’t want to work with a designer
who wants a book cover to be purple
just because it’s purple."
My attitude shifted at this point from feeling a bit alienated to feeling like there was not much of a place for me
in the world of design.
I’m a very pragmatic person. Theory, symbolism, and hidden meanings seem to go in one ear and out the other.
I think what the presenters at Valiz were trying to say was that every design choice needs to have some symbolic hidden meaning rooted in theory. I don’t think I agree.
My work tends to be very literal. My design choices are either functional, rooted in a very concrete, easy to understand reason, or completely arbitrary.
What brought me comfort was knowing that I’m not the only person who thinks this way. In a surprise to myself,
as I thought I had completely left high school behind, I remembered a day in my 10th grade English class.
Mr. Mullin was quite eccentric, and notoriously bad at staying on topic — to the point where we’d have entire classes in which we’d only talk about the book for the last five minutes.
Somehow, one day, we got onto the topic of this meme that was circulating at the time. The meme makes
fun of how English teachers often go too deep into tiny details in a text. For example, what the text says: “the curtains were blue," what your English teacher thinks the author meant: “the blue curtains represent depression
or loneliness or a lack of will to carry on," what the author actually meant: “the curtains were blue."
Well, Mr. Mullin got quite excited about this, and suddenly stood up on a chair and yelled: 
“Mr. Mullin thinks the curtains are blue!" 
addressing his opinion that, sometimes, the curtains are just blue, sometimes, details in a text have no 
meaning at all. So what if the book cover is purple just because it’s purple? What if the curtains are blue
just because they’re blue.

The meme referenced by Mr. Mullin. [Mad Genius Club]

Understanding How My Brain Works.
The past few years have been eye opening for me when it comes to understanding how my own brain works. I’ve always felt like I was weird or different from everyone else around me. I’ve always felt like I perceive the world differently.
During the pandemic, there was a surge of awareness of the neurodiversity movement on social media. Anuksha S. Wickramasinghe wrote of her experience being exposed to neurodivergent creators on social media that very similarly mirrored my own experience:
“It didn’t take long for me to be shuffled onto Neurodivergent TikTok.
The app knew with certainty I belonged there, even if I didn’t
consciously know it myself. ... I saw creators who looked like myself
talk about niche experiences I could relate to, from doom boxes
to hyperfixations to extreme perfectionism. They shared a language
 to understand my experiences —the language of neurodiversity.
Although it would be another year before I received a formal
ADHD diagnosis, I began to realize that I wasn’t alone."
Seeing neurodivergent creators on social media also led me to getting an official ADHD diagnosis (though I had suspected it with not much understanding of the condition for a few years prior).
A Neurodivergent Perception of Graphic Design 
I cannot separate myself from the way in which my brain works, therefore, I cannot separate my perception of design and of meaning in design from myself. 
Throughout the process of building a body of work, I have come to realize how the way in which my brain works impacts both my perception and production of design. 
First, I find that I am better able to use my creativity the less open-ended a project is. My ADHD won’t let me really get started on a project until I know what I am doing, and open-ended projects leave me in that space between being given an assignment and knowing what I am doing. ADHD is known to affect decision making abilities. Being in a situation where I feel that I don’t have enough information can be almost paralyzing. 
According to Jeff Copper, ambiguity can serve as a roadblock. 
“The ADHD brain wants to procrastinate when there’s 
something unpleasant about the task at hand. That
unpleasantness, I’ve found, is often rooted in ambiguity.
You might be totally unclear about the task in front of you.
Or you might understand the end goal but have trouble
wrapping your head around the steps needed to reach it.
Either way, avoidance makes all the sense in the world
when the unpleasantness of uncertainty is present."
ADHD is also known to cause impulsivity, but this can be a positive thing. For me, impulsivity (or some may call it intuition) looks a lot less like making bad decisions without thinking them through and a lot more like getting an idea in my head that I cannot let go of. I cannot recall the last time I made a list of ideas for a project. Les Steed describes this as: 
“a vague feeling about what will happen ... there’s
this sixth sense I feel that guides me on the right path.”
Often, for open ended projects, these intuitive or impulsive ideas revolve around an arbitrary system I create for myself. I have no explanation for the decisions I make, and I often wonder how my peers can build so much symbolism into something like a choice of typeface. I experience a phenomenon called Alexithymia, which makes it hard for me to put my emotions into words.6 I think this also comes into play when I am asked to put my design decisions into words. I often just can’t. 
I also tend to notice things that other people don’t and I don’t notice things that most other people do notice. This can be extremely frustrating but also useful when it comes to putting together ideas and commenting on the work of my peers. People with ADHD are often “highly adept at pattern recognition,”7 sorting things into categories, and isolating information. This is evidence that the patterns of how and what I notice can be attributed to my ADHD but can also be a strength. 
In Conclusion 
Much of my way of making and perceiving design can be attributed to how my neurodivergent brain functions with ADHD. While ADHD can make a lot of things more difficult for me than for a neurotypical person, these characteristics make me the designer I am. Welcome to the neurodivergent side of graphic design.
3. Wickramasinghe
4. Copper

5. Steed
6. Hogeveen & Grafman
7. DRM
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