What a designer can learn from baking sourdough bread

A couple of weeks ago I started baking sourdough bread. I never thought baking would be a thing for me but I was always fascinated by good bread. You don’t need a lot of ingredients to produce it, yet it is a true craftsmanship and not many bakers know any more how to bake bread that doesn’t taste like cardboard. So basically after watching some YouTube videos and reading some articles and books on the matter I was hooked. I needed to try it. No, I wanted to master it. And my sourdough journey began. Although baking is far from my actual profession – being a designer – I found a lot of things that are important for my craft as well, maybe any craft one truly want to master.

Patience

If something bores you after one minute, do it for five minutes.

Everyone knows that if you want to produce something great it takes a while, yet we often rush things because we have no time which more translates to: we can’t wait any longer and we want it now. Basically every time I tried to be done with something fast or if I wanted to skip the learning phase of a software, let’s say Photoshop, I quickly realized that it simply went to shit. You can’t skip learning how Photoshop works and just produce the best image optimization result. You can’t skip the essential feeling for knowing when your sourdough starter is ready to let your dough rise. You have to wait. You have to practice. And there is no shortcut, don’t even think about it. Just practice until you’re ready. I believe there is an old Chinese saying that goes like this: If something bores you after one minute, do it for five minutes. If it’s still boring after that, do it for ten minutes and so on until it’s not boring anymore.

Humbleness

Be humble when it comes to someone else’s profession because someone else already knows a ton more about it that you do.

Have respect for the things you do otherwise you can never produce something of true excellence. Not very long ago I was still wondering why someone would want to become a baker. I mean, baking!? C’mon, how hard can it be!? Well, turns out that baking (bread) is something that is really hard and asks for all of your senses in order to create something decent. You also need to know a ton about fermentation, kneading, flour and so on and so forth. To look at it from a different angle – you’ve probably been in an art gallery at some point, looked at a painting thinking: well, that doesn’t seem to be hard to produce that, I can do that myself. Nope, you can’t. Because you don’t see the journey the artist needed to travel in order to end up with such a piece. The result you see is probably worth a decade of practice. In a nutshell, never underestimate a craft! Be humble when it comes to someone else’s profession because someone else already knows a ton more about it that you do.

Precision

Whatever you plan on doing, do it with precision if you want to talk about it, present it or in general share it with others. Only then can you achieve something of value, something with a soul. When I started baking sourdough bread I was intimidated by all the things I didn’t know (I still am). Where could I even start? I started reading about it, I watched videos and I tried it, over and over. Every weekend is a new test and a new improvement over the last. A sourdough bread demands a high level of precision and craft and you have to use all of your senses and combine them in order to create that perfect crumb, that perfect loaf. And you’ll never be there, but it’s the spirit that counts, because it will make a difference. Try to be more precise every time. Catch the right moment when the dough is ready for baking and do your research to improve your work every time. That also translates well to design. Only if you truly master your tools, only if you design your layouts with a precise grid or in a precise system it translates well into code. Only when you give the developers all the information first, they will be able to execute it precisely. Go the extra mile and write a documentation. Make the effort to set up a system for your design and the result will truly benefit from it.

Focus

Multitasking is bullshit and if you do something half-assed you better stop doing it anyway. Focus is important to achieve excellence and focus will calm down your busy mind. Even when you work on multiple projects or bake more than one bread, focus on one thing and then move to the next, because you always loose energy and creativity while constantly switching between tasks. The same applies to conversations – you always have people that interrupt you or that move from one topic to another and back in a matter of seconds. Breathe, smile and move back to your initial argument until that topic is resolved and then move on to the next. If they can’t focus on one thing, it’s alright but make sure that you need to do things your way and make a point in saying that you need to focus on one thing after the other. There is nothing you can argue against that. At least I cannot find a reasonable argument against it.

Timing

Try to find inspiration in other things than design and apply it to your thing.

Oh well, timing is important. If you don’t like burned bread you better watch the time. If you want your dough to rise, you better give it time. If you want that perfect crumb with nice air holes, you better knead your dough long enough. When it comes to design there are a couple of situations where timing plays an important role. When you’re in a discussion with a client you need to ask your questions at the right time. When they are still in need to tell you their story, it’s time to listen and not to ask questions. When you have a close relationship with a client, your gut tells you when they had a busy or bad day, so you better not ask them for more money or show them that nice idea that you would like them to sign off. Ask at the right time, when they are ready to hear it and you have a chance of actually realizing it.

Maybe not all of these points apply to you and that’s OK. The point I want to get across is, try to find inspiration in other things than design and apply it to your thing. Be curious about other crafts or hobbies people practice - maybe you find something interesting in them for you as well. With baking sourdough bread I also found a replacement for my meditation app as it also serves as a king of mindfulness training. I can do something with my hands which is nice compared to sitting on a computer everyday. That being said – time to bake!

Coffee