I found myself contemplatively looking out of the window when I realised the house opposite was built in 1905, a date which is very proudly exhibited on the top of the building. I needed to put this in context of the world happenings; Albert Einstein finished his scientific paper on the Quantum Theory of Light, Las Vegas was founded in Nevada, ‘Bloody Sunday’ demonstration as part of the Russian Revolution took place, the Panama Canal was still under construction, … , and the building of this house.
My thoughts then immediately went to the beautiful use of the stone and the proportions of the façade. Having not had the pleasure to visit the inside, I wondered what it would look like, fantasized about the lavish orchard or garden… but most of all, the question that really started to vex me was “Are we producing designs that will withstand the test of time, just like the designers of this house managed to do 115 years ago?”
“Are we producing designs that will withstand the test of time, just like the designers of this house managed to do 115 years ago?”
This, together with questions such as, “but what does your practice actually do?” or “what is your architectural style?” and “graphic design and architecture/structures? What a strange combination!”. So, I am going to attempt at describing at what we mean by design and how we hope that a different mindset at defining this may produce work, graphic or architectural/structural, of a different quality and sensitivity, and how we are hoping to continue growing personally and professionally.
So, what is our design process?
The etymology of the word design is of Latin, French and Italian origin first used in the late 14th century meaning "to make, shape" ultimately from Latin designare "mark out, point out; devise; choose, designate, appoint" from de "out" and signare "to mark" from signum "identifying mark, sign". In no part of this meaning does it refer to architecture, engineering, graphic communication, planning or any other discipline that we now associate with design, but in fact, it is related to making ‘a mark’.
Back to my question then: “what mark are we leaving on our society? And how are we, as an inter-disciplinary group of professionals, making that mark?”
Similar to Charles Morris’ argument that in every language is the study of semiotics, we believe that design is a visual language and therefore our process is based on three intangible aspects: semantic, syntactic and pragmatic. In briefly considering each of these aspects:
- Semantics is the search the meaning of whatever we would like to undertake. This involves getting to know our client well, the products or services, the position in marketing, the final user, etc. The complexities of these signs need to be understood to define the parameters within which we operate within the realms of a project. Semantics is the bases of the natural process of design.
- Syntactics is, for want of an easier word, the grammar of a language, the articulation of phrases and the formal relation between signs. Applied to architecture this could refer to the composition or configuration of an architype, etc.; in graphic design it is the grid used, typefaces, illustrations, etc. The consistency of the syntactics is paramount.
- Pragmatics focuses on the communication of these principles – the relation between sign and behaviour. This visual design language should be easy to understand with minimal explanation. The clarity within the design process then translates to clarity of intent within a project which in turn gives clarity to the result.
Therefore signs, language and behaviour are not only an invaluable tool for the semantic specialist, but we believe that we as designers ought to be concerned with problems of meaning, language, and communication too. By way of elucidating how we do this, I have listed our ‘design rules’ and describe what meaning we prescribe to timelessness, context, appropriateness, discipline, digitalisation, responsibility, and wellbeing, and how we apply these to design.
Design is not a style or fashion. We promote the projection of an ideology encompassing awareness of the production process and the destination of its products. Styles, on the other hand, are purely ephemeral manifestations of the speculative desire of producers, possibly reflecting a culture of waste, temporary solutions, and design for the sake of novelty.
We attempt at challenging the interaction between intuition and knowledge, and bridge passion and curiosity, while responding to the clients’ needs rather than wants. Our ‘design style’ is beyond fashionable modes and temporary fads. We like design to be timeless as much as possible, one which is committed to society and values, centred around the message rather than visual excitement.
We attempt at challenging the interaction between intuition and knowledge, and bridge passion and curiosity, while responding to the clients’ needs rather than wants.
Context and appropriateness are consequential conditions and are both an integral part of the design process. In architecture, the context relates to the environment where a building is going to be located and how it relates to its surroundings and culture. In graphic design it relates to the destination of the object, whether it is in 2D or 3D. In all cases, the market and economic conditions framing the project at its inception need to be understood.
We feel that evaluating the context well, including its constraints, leads to good design and the correct interpretation and transformation of its requirements in a creative way.
This notion is consequent to what has been said above – it is the principle that prevents us from taking wrong directions and indicates the right material, scale or expression that is required to solve a client’s problem. The solution must be appropriate to the problem and context.
Whether you believe that the ‘devil’ or ‘God’ is in the details, the fundamental meaning behind this mantra is that all design requires discipline and attention to detail. The final work is the sum of all the details involved in the creative process no matter what the project is. For us, discipline is closely associated with quality. We believe that we either produce work of quality, or we step back. The work we produce is a commitment and a continuously painstaking effort to be true to the creative process.
“Design without discipline is anarchy, an exercise of irresponsibility”, Massimo Vignelli.
“Whatever computer graphic technologies offer, freehand drawing remains the most apposite tool to transcribe the abstract into the figurative; for the bridge between mind and paper is still best crossed by the hand. It is essential to ensure that the mouse does not eat the pencil.” Richard England
While we believe and practice this, it is inevitable for digitalisation not to affect our process in any way. By using integration modelling among the clients, consultants and contractors (where possible) expressing thoughts in 3D, ‘clashes’ may also be detected at an early stage in a project where they are much easier, cheaper and less time consuming to rectify. It is also difficult for parametric design to be done by hand. Our process enables simulations and other computational processes to be intertwined with the fine arts.
This is one of the most important principles of our practice. By responsibility we do not only mean ensuring the integrity of a project and valuing our clients’ trust to solve a problem economically and efficiently. We are also socially responsible for the public at large who is also the final user of our designs. We strive for our civic consciousness, our sense of decency, or way of conceiving design, and our moral imperative by using intellectual elegance to conceive a responsible solution.
Central to the framework within which we develop the design process is the focus of human well-being.
By putting our client and their needs first we are able to create bespoke solutions that engage and enhance the human element of the project. For us, the inter-disciplinary approach uses collaboration as a method to shift boundaries of design and endeavours in giving the client the best tailored-made solution.
The spirit of our design studio is that Design Is One. This does not mean that we believe in Adolf Loos’ dictum that an architect would be able to design everything “from the spoon to the city”. What we strive to achieve is a truly interdisciplinary team where each member has a true input in making our clients’ projects come to fruition, involving the clients in all phases of the project, and really making it about them. We all have our influences from the world around us which affect our mind in a deep and formative way. The key to this, we found, is to keep continuously sifting through the various influences so as not to fall in the danger of imitation and its seductiveness.
The principles outlined within this design process may be distilled by using the terms collaboration and interdisciplinarity inter-changeably. The disciplines work together through both consensus and disagreement. Tension is inevitable but not necessarily perceived as negative, as it is what often unshackles our mode of creative thinking (Scicluna, 2015). Boundaries get shifted through collaborative interchange of ideas and concepts, breaking limitations of understanding a project through a single lens.
We love what we do and that is how we intend on making our mark.
Scicluna, R. (2015) ‘Exploring Meaningfully and Creatively the Tensions Arising out of Collaborations: An Anthropological Perspective’, Anthropology Matters Journal, 16(1):414-426.