As an architect I’ve always known that design was important to me. When I was a young child, perhaps no more than 4 years old, I recall having a bit of a meltdown because my grandfather gave me my cereal with a bowl and spoon that I didn’t like the design of. The flowery handle of the spoon and the fruit painted on the bowl didn’t appeal to me. I immediately selected from the cupboard a simple white bowl and a less decorated spoon for my breakfast. My grandfather, as many a parent might think, thought I was being picky. Looking back I realize I was not so much picky, as I was particular.
Such was not the only instance of design being something I connected with from a young age. As I grew older, I found myself noticing more and more design in the world around me. Architecture held my fascination the strongest, but I was intrigued by many elements of design. Everything from cars, to airplanes, to furniture would catch my eye. Growing up I worked in my father’s cabinetry shop and there started to have a love for the craft and effort that went into woodwork and other carpentry skills. It also introduced me to floor plans, and kitchen layouts. I began to see what made for efficient and well thought out floor plans, and what did not. Little by little, the ideas of scale, proportion, functionality and beauty were all interwoven into my daily life. Even if I couldn’t always say why something worked, or why one design was beautiful, and another not, I knew that design played an important role in not just aesthetics, but in the overall quality something possessed.
In architecture school, these skills and ideas were refined and developed. Design really became everything. One couldn’t look at the world without critiquing what made some designs beautiful, and what made other designs, not. Often it is true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Style is always a matter of one’s personal taste and preference. But there are always overlying concepts that separate the good from the bad. Principles of proportion, scale, balance, symmetry, hierarchy, rhythm, repetition, pattern, materiality and texture all play a part in good design.
These principles don’t just apply to good architecture. They are something that is common to all fields of design. A well designed spoon will not only be beautiful to look at, it will also be comfortable in someone’s hand when they hold it, have a certain weight to it that gives it a sense of quality, and will also be functional to properly be used for eating. The same goes for a bowl, or any other type of dishware. They will not only function well, they will look good doing it. The plating, and presentation of a delicious meal, often reflects the care and thought that went into its preparation and production. Often a meal that is beautifully presented and designed will not only look good, but taste better as well. The same is true of a beautiful table crafted of metal and wood. Clearly it should be built for a functional purpose, but if well crafted and well thought out in its design, it will not only function well, but will be a piece which makes the space it inhabits more pleasing. A well designed city will not only function better, with better flow of traffic, of people and of pedestrians, but it will provide spaces for gathering, for working, for living, and for growing. Good design, in any field, marries form and function where both are equally balanced, each respecting the other.
What makes the difference between a basic $20,000 car, and one that costs nearly ten times as much? Both offer the same function. Both can get you from here to there. But why would someone be willing to spend ten times the amount on a luxury car vs. the standard mode of transportation? Often it is the perceived value and quality that the luxury car provides over the less expensive vehicle. What might lead to this higher perceived value and quality? Again, the answer lies in the design. Luxury cars are often some of the most beautiful forms of design out there. No detail is overlooked. Fit and finish is paramount. Materials are of high quality, not just in appearance but in weight and feel. Everything from artistically sculpted headlights, hand stitched leather seating, hand crafted, powerful, yet efficient engines that rocket you smoothly down the highway, and even the weight and feel of the door handles, all contribute to the overall feel of quality. It is the quality and material execution of that design that makes the once car worth far more than the other. All of this of course is by design.
Of course good design shouldn’t just exist for the wealthy. Good design can be incorporated into affordable, as well as luxury products. Just because a housing development is affordable doesn’t mean that that development shouldn’t be well designed and crafted from the best materials that fit the budget. Design has the ability to provide all in society, no matter their position, their profession, or their background with a sense of dignity and purpose. Often the untrained eye can’t tell why something is good, or well designed, but many recognize it all the same. Well designed things feel balanced, feel comfortable, they just feel right.
– Dallas Davis