I've talked to a lot of designers over my career. Many of them knew exactly what they wanted to do from a young age. They had some kind of mechanical inclination and an innate desire to take things apart and to create. They have the ability to focus and noodle over an idea in the methodical, inexhaustible manner of a diesel engine. In the world of the tortoise and the hare, they're the tortoise. This article isn't about them.
There is a whole other group of designers that run the race in a much different manner. If I keep with the engine analogy, they're more the Ferrari's of the world. They run fast and hot, hugging the corners with a jaw-dropping ability to win the race with awesome speed. Ideas for these designers come fast and furious. As capable as they are of the exhilarating win, they can hit the wall and explode into a gazillion little pieces. This story is about these Ferrari-like designers. They are designers that live with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder—ADHD or ADD for short.
Part of the Human Condition
My research, since my diagnosis a year ago, has led me to believe that ADHD is on the continuum of the human condition. A belief which is supported by the fact that every time I describe typical symptoms of ADHD to someone, they claim that they show signs of the same problems. I mean, seriously, who doesn't forget their lunch on the counter or misplace their keys every now and then? I am sure you can't point a finger at a single person and have them deny that they've gotten so engrossed in a task that the world melted away and time warped. We all have scatter-brained moments complimented by intense focus. So, what is it that separates somebody with ADHD with their bouts of forgetfulness and ability to focus from the herd?
In short, it is frequency and impact.
Frequency is an easy one to explain. The frequency in which things like car keys teleporting from the place they were last seen to the top of the 7 foot-tall bookshelf (true story) is far more common for someone with ADHD than someone without ADHD.
The tougher part to explain is impact. The psychological impact of losing one's keys shouldn't be a big deal. It should fall under the category of "shit happens" and thrown into the mind's circular file shortly after you finally do find said keys. It isn't uncommon for a person with ADHD to believe they're stupid due to their ongoing struggle with convergent thinking (aka taking tests). When you go your whole life where weekly, if not daily, you're going through these exercises in frustration, the impact on your psyche is cumulative. This is the hardest part to express. It is an emotional reaction that borders on visceral. It affects the rest of your day and rather than recovering, it feels as though it snowballs and makes things worse as the day goes on.
The Good, the Bad and the ADHD
For many, their experience with ADHD is that most all of the "bad" parts of the disorder can be managed through awareness, discipline or even drugs. It seems like everywhere you turn, someone is talking about the problems of ADHD but not the benefits. The part that I want to ensure is understood is that there are many facets of ADHD that can be weapons for a designer's success. Some might even argue that a designer with ADD has an advantage over those who don't. Again, research shows that a brain that is wired by ADHD is also tuned for creativity. Matthew Kutz, a 13-year-old student with ADD, explains it very succinctly:
"Being ADD means you see things other people miss. When you see a peach you see a piece of fruit. I see the color, the texture and the field where it grew."If you follow the belief that creativity is having the ability to envision disparate pieces of information to bring them together in new ways, then you can see by Matthew's example how someone with ADHD could very well be wired specifically for a profession in Design. I am actually starting to head down the path of believing that there is a design methodology that can be harnessed based on the way an ADDer views the world. Using Matthew's quote above to lead credence to this thought, a designer with ADD could conceivably teach others to see the color, the texture and the field where the peach grows instead of just a piece of fruit.
So what? Now What?
I typically avoid taking on the task of suggesting how people should deal with symptoms of ADHD as I'm not a psychologist. Tackling the spaghetti pile of emotions that comes with wrapping your head around the idea that you have a disorder is not something that can be untangled with a laundry list of tasks doled out by some dude on the Internet. I would like to suggest that you consider that ADHD can be an advantage to a designer if managed properly. A person with ADHD is commonly associated with a strengthened ability for divergent thinking and can thrive if provided an environment that compliments that mindset. In the context of design, divergent thinking is coming up with creative solutions to a problem—or as many of our colleagues call it, Design Thinking.
Now that I am aware of ADHD and the behaviors associated with it, I see it in people everywhere. There is nowhere I see it more frequently than when I am in a room full of "creative types." I believe the reason a person with ADHD is drawn to the world of design is because they're wired for it on a basic level. There's a strong argument to be had for the idea that ADHD is a driving force in the world of design. So, go back to your desk, push aside the candy bar wrappers, crank the tunes and find the flow. Because if you're an Attention Deficit Designer, I believe you've found the perfect job for yourself.
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I will definitely be spreading the opinion of this article with my fellow design students.
As a 20 year old man, I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 7.
I can definitely say that ADHD and ADD are not the same thing at all. There are distinct patterns between the two.
But enough of that I think the 'Hunter Theory' that has been put forward is a definite possibility I am commonly asked why I always look around me and behind me whilst i walk from place to place. Its just something that I have always done.
As someone who knows the biggest advantage that someone with ADHD has in the design world or even outside is the energy that they can offer and the insights that they can give. I tend to approach projects with a different angle to my course mates.
What you describe is along the same lines as the "hunter theory" in the world of ADHD. That being, human genetics was tuned for thousands of years to be out in the woods,or on the plains hunting and gathering. Some believe that those with ADHD are direct descendants of a hunter culture. The last 150-300 years of placing our kids in rows and asking them to sit still for 6+ hours a day doesn't play well with a brain that's tuned to be constantly looking for the dangers of the open plains.
If you have trouble focusing, turning off the media stream is a good idea. But it doesn't necessarily change one's wiring.
Turn off the media stream and learn to concentrate. You'll be surprised by the unique rewards.
I was diagnosed many years ago, in adulthood. ADHD.
Yes ADHD and ADD are used interchangably. But to a doctor or researcher, they are not the same thing.
AD/HD is the proper blanket term. It addresses the two main areas of impairment.
The first is Attention Deficit. (Which is itself not accurate. It's not a deficit. It's uneven attention. Hyper-focused and then easily distracted. And not under your control.)
The second aspect is Hyperactivity. Which is further broken into "Hyperactivity" and "Impulsivity". In adults the "Hyperactivity" tends to be internalized. Restlessness. Talkative. Etc.
So the proper term is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. AD/HD. Which is usually written as ADHD.
It covers two main subtypes.
The first is "Predominantly Combined Subtype" These folks, 80% males, have problems with Attention and with Hyperactivity & Impulsivity. (That's me.) It's called AD/HD. Or ADHD.
The "Predominantly Inattentive Subtype" folks, 50% males, 50% females (roughly) only have problems with Attention. They tend to be quieter, daydreamer, introverted, lost in thought. ADD for short.
And even then these are not clear boundaries. It's a spectrum.
So yes, we all use the terms ADD & ADHD interchangeably, but a doctor would say they are different.
I love what you said about how everyone has the symptoms. This is a video that goes into that more.
Yes, ADD is just an older familiar term that covers the various types of ADHD.
GeorgeP and others: here is a great, positive, and realistic book on ADHD, written by two top-notch scientists and clinicians. Hallowell, Edward M. and Ratey, John J. "Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder." New York: Anchor Books, 1994 and 2011. It is a realistic text with some great, great broad commentary on how best to live with ADHD. It also promotes the best positive aspects on having ADHD. There is even a chapter for your spouse or significant other, helping them understand who you are and where some of your actions and tendencies come from. This is my #1 recommended best read on the topic.
I love this article. I have long suspected that there are major benefits to my creativity from the way my brain works. I know that I think about creative problem-solving in a very different way than my peers, taking larger leaps and considering way more possibilities in a shorter period of time. This is not about intelligence, but rather about my ability to consider many different things in quick succession, isolate important standouts, and follow them up until they either succeed or fail. It all happens very quickly thanks to how my brain works.
Be very cautious of medication. Adderall has permanently changed how my brain works. It was helpful when I took it, but I wish I had known that it would put a blunt edge on the sharpest of my brain.
Overall, however, for all the suffering and difficulty this has caused in my life, I am very happy to have the ADHD brain. I wouldn't trade the way my mind works for anything. It's who I am and I am going to make the best of it in my life.
In my very unscientific polling, I've found that most people I find to be creative are L eye dominant. Hopefully someone else reading this will try it with success.
First, Jake. ADD and ADHD are the same thing in that they are two uses of the term. The technical usage is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). There are varying manifestations of ADHD, one of them being the lack of the "H" (Hyperactivity). People simply shorten to ADD...which does make for confusion.
GeorgeP...there are many books. I would recommend the website totallyadd.com before the books though. On the site you'll find a PBS TV show called "ADD and Loving It". The show and the site is about finding the positives in the disorder.
Jean....the list is much longer than many people know. Einstein, Edison, Greg LeMond, the list is long. I will be looking into PlayAttention. Thanks for mentioning it.
Michael....I agree that fast and furious may not be the best solution. But it has it's place.