The Tetris effect (also known as Tetris Syndrome) occurs when people devote so much time and attention to an activity that it begins to pattern their thoughts, mental images, and dreams.

The name originates from a study conducted where participants would play Tetris for a prolonged period each day. As the study went on, these participants would find themselves thinking about ways different shapes in the real world can fit together, such as the boxes on a supermarket shelf, or the buildings on a street.

The point is that no matter what we do, if we do it for a prolonged period, it starts to bleed into all parts of our lives. This is a blessing and a curse for .

As designers, we are meant to look at what’s wrong with a product, a system or an experience. We focus on the flaws, we unpack them, understand them and paint them into opportunities. We dream of solutions, sometimes solutions that are too big for present day, but we always dream of fixing.

The constant behaviour of dissection, criticism and solutioning at work bleeds into personal lives. We can’t just enjoy something — we have to have an opinion on it — and it’s exhausting for us and the people around us.

I will be the first to say it, I am very good at finding the negative in any situation. I can go to the most beautiful restaurant and complain that the menu wasn’t on thick enough paper — yes, I am that person and I find it nauseating. Why can’t I just enjoy it for what it is? Why do I need to be so , both to myself and to the environment around me?

Our criticalness and ability to solution quickly, is what makes us so good at designing, and it’s not something that we can afford to lose. What we can do is find a way to balance it, and make it a priority to find inspiration and be grateful for what is, whether it’s through objects, experiences or people. When we are busy producing, jumping from meeting to meeting and creating all the damn time, it’s easy to lose focus on the importance of inspiration, and how much we truly need it to be successful.

So, I wouldn’t be a true designer if I didn’t already start to think about some ways to curb the take over of the Tetris Effect.

  1. We focus on design crits, but what if we also had design inspos — time spent sharing out beautiful, inspirational things and experiences once a week.
  2. Gratification journalling is another great way to take a step back and assess the larger picture. Many people think that gratification journalling has to be a structured activity, the same time and notebook everyday, but I have found that it truly doesn’t work. You might need to take a step back and assess what you’re grateful for at a different time everyday, and the pen and paper often cause a barrier. Whenever you feel the need, take a step back and list a few things you’re grateful for — it’s surprising how well it works.

Any other thoughts on balancing the Tetris Effect for designers?

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