On Design and Fixing Old Cars

So my car just broke something while I was driving — I’m literally writing this while on the side of a highway waiting for the tow truck to arrive, and I thought it would be a perfect time to write this article.

My professional life is dedicated to creating and designing things, but like a lot of people, I have some hobbies as well. In my case, one of them happens to be messing around and fixing my own (old) cars.

I like old cars because almost everything is made of mechanical parts and systems. I’m the owner of a 1990 Mk2 Golf that is currently being restored, and my daily car, a 1993 Honda Civic that went through a small restoration a few months ago as well.

The interesting part is that, with time, I’ve realized that there are a few concepts that are present and apply to both my work and this hobby of mine.

Be patient

I choose this one to be the first on the list because I struggle a bit with it. Patience, in my opinion, is something that is kind of difficult to have (at least for me), but the return of actually having it is pretty good.

Every time I rush things I will probably end up with poor design work or something in my car that won’t work properly.

However, if I have the patience, and if I take the time to at least try to do things right, I’ll probably end up with better results.

Stay positive

As you can imagine, it’s not a great feeling to be on the side of a highway with a broken car, not knowing what the problem is, and not knowing how much money it will cost to fix it.

Now, I only have a couple of mindsets I can have here: a negative, and a positive one.

Negative thinking would lead me to complain about how crap this car is (and it’s not, actually), or about the fact that I hadn’t had a meal in 5 hours and I’m slowly starving waiting for the tow truck to arrive.

The thing is: I have no control over this situation, and if there’s anything I can do about it, I’m sure complaining is not one of it.

I have one option, though: I can filter something positive out of this situation.

“Ok, it sucks to be here. But at least I have my laptop here with me and I can start to write this article!”

In my design work I also try to keep a positive mindset. Because I’m aware that positivity attracts positivity. That way, I feel more creative, happier and more optimistic.

Use mistakes as a learning experiences

One night, I was trying to change the starter engine of my Golf.

It was my first time doing it and I ended up fucking things up — due to the way the starter engine is mounted, it was helping the car’s engine to stay in its place. So, as I removed the last bolt, the engine literally fell down a few centimeters, and as it did that, an electrical plug disconnected (and I haven’t realized that). I was able to install a new starter, but when I gave ignition, the car didn’t start.

This happened at around 3 AM. I was working on the road, I was tired and frustrated, so I ended up “giving up” that night.

The next day, a friend of mine went with me to try and see what the problem was. Well, in just 5 minutes of looking at the engine bay, he quickly found that electrical plug that had disconnected, which was preventing the car from starting. The plug was connected, and the car immediately started.

I was clearly clueless about this, mainly because it was the first time I was changing a starter. My mistake was basic: I didn’t support the car’s engine before doing anything else. But now I learned, and I can certainly assure that this won’t happen again.

We all make mistakes, and as a young designer, I’m obviously making a lot. But the key is to take responsibility, take a step back, see what went wrong, and learn from it.

Don’t force it

This one will be short: rule of thumb, if a bolt, for example, needs to be forced to be installed, I’m probably doing something wrong and I might end up breaking or damaging something.

As a designer, I can apply this when talking about inspiration. If I’m not feeling inspired, I think there’s no way of forcing good work to come out. Might as well take a break, go read a book, watch a video or even get out of the house for some fresh air.

Everything’s better in my head

When my Civic (my daily car) went for a paint job, I was already imagining it with its new color, with a perfect coat of fresh and shiny paint.

Everything was perfect in my head.

Now, for the price I paid, it wasn’t even a realistic thought. When the car came from the paint job I quickly spotted some details that were not as I wanted, and that was bugging me a lot.

The thing is: generally speaking, it was actually pretty good! But in my head, I could only think about those details.

I’ve created unrealistic expectations, and the final result was not matching them.

Whenever I think of an idea for a website, an app, or something else, it always seems better in my head then what will look like after the design is done.

In my opinion, it comes down to accepting it and not creating those huge expectations that lead to disappointment.