Designers need to put ideas in context

Creativity is best fostered by constraints, as our panel agreed in last week’s debate (see Feature, page 16). As a designer confided that fear of the “blank sheet of paper” had steered him from fine art to study design at college, so an ad man said that, as the creative team finds itself more and more cornered by constraints, so creativity starts to soar.

It’s the puritanical streak in us that makes us believe suffering can achieve great things, and designers in particular thrive on the pain. But very few folk can claim the divine inspiration members of the Romantic movement of the late-18th and early-19th centuries were so smitten with. Even artists have their constraints these days.

One point not raised directly in the debate was context – a “constraint” too often overlooked by designers striving just to please the client. This oversight is most obvious in 3D design, where the client is rarely the end user. Time and budget are, of course, considerations here, along with “buildability”. But too little thought generally goes to the comfort and delight of the real consumers.

Take office design. At last month’s Workplace seminars in London, Despina Katsikakis, managing director of architect DEGW, said that furniture designers and manufacturers are too obsessed with the object and have scant regard for how it will be used. As DEGW is renowned for using progressive ideas on office design to help global clients, such as Arthur Andersen, through major shifts in their management strategies, Katsikakis’ views carry weight .

While most bits of office kit are said to have the flexibility to accommodate new ways of working – hot-desking, hoteling, home-marketing and the like – in many instances it’s just marketing. In reality, neither the manufacturers nor their designers look at the complete picture. With some exceptions, the claims of “flexibility” in the manufacturer’s brochure don’t always translate to production, and rarely do makers of different bits of kit appear to talk to each other.

Interiors too are more likely to be about placing objects in space, rather than making best use of the space itself to enhance the quality of life, and hence the performance, of people in it. Meanwhile, few of those objects are as good as they could be, in respect of sustainability and maintenance, unless the law demands.

Pressure is great for boosting creativity, and the best designers generate their own way beyond the brief. But if more creatives put context on their own agendas, design would be setting new standards of excellence to meet new challenges – and clients can only be impressed.

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