Canadian designer Bruce Mau has outlined a set of 24 design principles that is changing the way I see modeling. His principle of Design The Time of Your Life suggests that time is all we actually have.

We’re busy.

Almost everyone feels they are running behind from a lack of time. This takes a toll on our enjoyment of life and drives our thinking and decisions for better or worse. For Bruce, design is about shaping the quality of time in an experience. What would this look like in terms of our work?

I’ve been working on a practice exercise to develop my understanding of working in brass. The focus is on shaping multiple pieces to a set dimension. The exercise also teaches me about good tool set ups and working procedures. My intent isn’t really to build another model from this work. I’m simply learning how the material behaves and how my thoughts and attitude impact the results. Mistakes are inevitable and, in this case, welcome. Trust me when I say there have been many. I’m fine with them. Last night I realized I milled two slots in the wrong place, which was naturally frustrating. In the past I would have let my attitude go toxic but since it’s only a practice exercise, there really isn’t anything at stake. Instead I understood, for once, that the learning process is working exactly as it should. I know what happened to cause the error and can fix it if I choose. However, fixing the mistake isn’t the point.

Understanding how my attitude impacts the success or failure of the work is the greater point. Understanding the invisible system behind the way we define what’s possible with the work is the point. Developing new habits is the point.

We’re not encouraged to think this way. The hobby is tightly focused on the objects and visual outcomes instead of the processes that produce them.

To design the craft in this way, is foreign to most. Some will say it feels too much like work. That’s fine. It’s your choice to make. As a writer, I can’t make anyone change, I can only share examples of the impact change can have. I’ll continue with these practice sessions because I want to develop good working habits and understanding of ways to improve the modeling. Knowing I can design the time at the bench, in specific ways is liberating and will shape the craft in ways I find more relevant and satisfying.



  1. Dan Placzek

    I’ve been away and just caught up with your posts. The cameo, “almost blundered,” and staging transition posts were outstanding. I appreciate the sharing of your experiments and hiw you stretch what we can do with a simple hobby.

    By the way, one of the reasons I got behind was because I am reading again your posts on ground cover.

    Dan Placzek

  2. chris mears

    I love reading your writing here. There’s no other way to put it.

    Off to bed here, tomorrow morning will come too soon, and I’m glad I stopped here before logging off. We’ve talked before about ways we could change how we interact with the hobby. Too often, that kind of suggestion is interpreted as an invitation to modify the calculation of how much stuff we should have but it is, as you note, about how we wish to live. Like you discovered in your brass example I feel a change too wherein I see this as almost necessary mistakes without which I would have made no progress in learning to do something. Instead of seeing something as a failure, as if I was supposed to somehow have received some divine guidance to magically make me good at something.

    Most of all, to separate the act of doing this hobby from serving outcomes; learning to appreciate the experience because it’s over when it’s finished.

    Thank you, again and always, for writing what you do.


  3. mike

    Thank you Dan. I’m glad you enjoyed the work and hope it’s helpful. -Mike

  4. mike

    So often the unspoken conversation assumes that any time spent must result in some tangible object: a model, an addition to the layout, solid progress of some kind we can point to. I no longer feel compelled to spend my time like that. If that puts me in a category that’s outside of model railroading, then I’m perfectly fine with that. Other people’s definitions of how I should spend my time no longer sit well with me. I appreciate the understanding and encouragement offered by you and others for this work. I appreciate that you see a larger purpose in it. Thank you Chris.