A useful definition of "design"

Page 1 of 2  

There have been many threads on Design but I've not seen one that defines the term. Maybe a discussion of design should start with a definition of the term. I found this one while going through book reviews on WoodCentral
Steven Aimon, in his book "Design!" provides a useful definition "Simply put, design is the arrangement of visual elements in space"
Visual elements arrangement in space
We know what a desk, table, chest of drawers or a chair generally looks like and what each is supposed to do. We have a general idea of basic shapes, sizes and components dictated by the piece's function - function being important if we're talking about furniture that can actually be used - and lived with (as opposed to some "studio furniture makers'" "inrerpretation" of a table, chair etc.).
But, given each is about the same size and with the same number of drawers, it's the things that make one chest of drawers more attractive than another that we search for.
Let's start with the "visual elements"
There's a big box with a top, bottom, two sides - and a back you'll seldom see (unless your spouse is one who likes to re-arrange the furniture on a bi-annual or annual basis). From the front we see only the front outline of the box, the edges of the top, bottom and sides. Inside the big box are a series of smaller boxes typically arranged in horizontal layers stacked on top of each other. There may or may not be visual elements separating the drawer boxes. There's likely drawer pulls and something to hold the big outside box off the floor.
Aside from the wood, a big "aside" I'll admit, all we have to work with are a bunch of boxes, with actual thicknesses in the 1/2" to 3/4" thickness range, maybe even 1" thick. Going with a "face frame" the big box visual element can be added to in order to increase the apparentt thickness, and the mass it implies. If that doesn't do it there's always molding and trim. If you want to lighten up the look of the big box then you can chamfer some edges or round them over to make them look thinner/lighter or to make the outline of the big box a bit ambiguous - maybe to make one or more of the smaller boxes more noticable.
Now we've got the little boxes to work with. They can be emphasized or blended together. Drawer dividers can act as visual frames for the drawers. Or, you can go with overlay drawers and chamfer or shape their edges or even add cock beading to make each a visual element. To further distinguish each drawer, you can vary their size or better yet, graduate them, shortest on top and widest on the bottom, or visa versa - but that falls under "arrangement" so let's skip that for now.
Drawer pulls can also be used to either draw attention to the drawers or act as another visual element. Where on each drawer you put them falls under "arrangement".
Edge treatment was touched on earlier, but how they work to change the look of the piece wasn't. Edge treat- ments add new surfaces for light to play with - either to create another plane or two OR to cast a shadow. Shadows can also be visual elements. A plane inset drawer doesn't cast a shadow. An overlay drawer does. But a flush drawer with chamfered edges will have shadows.
One more thing to keep in mind when you're thinking about visual elements - shadows. You don't normally think about shadows - but they can be an important visual element - defining edges and outlines - or not.
Got you thinking yet?
On to "arrangement".
Assuming that there needs to be smaller boxes inside the bigger box, their arrangement is important. For the chest of drawers "box", lets assume you need six drawers, or better yet five. You could stack them on top of each other, and maybe graduate them. Or you could put two side by side - twice and a long one on the bottom. If you go with the side by side thing, what about the left one narrower than the other on the top row, reverse that for the second row and the one long one on the bottom. OR - two narrow ones flanking a wider one on the top and two the same width below. Or ...
You can also use an arrangement that surprises. Sam Maloof does a chair with arms, but the arms are too low to actually rest your arms on when seated. He used the "arms" as structural elements of his chair. The chair seat acts as one leg stretcher - and the "arms" as another. That re-arrangement of parts makes his chair interesting, even if you don't know why. Structurally it's just as strong as the traditional stretcher arrangement.
This can go on and on. Hell, there are four or five types of graduated drawers.
So on to "in space"
The one most often overlooked part of "design" is the "in space" part of design. When "space" IS considered it's usually because the "space" is limited. "Can't be any wider than ... in order to fit in that space."
But "in space" should also be thought of in terms of the context of the space the piece will occupy. A big, overpowering piece in a small room can be a disaster, no matter how good the woodworking, the proportions, and even the wood. By the same token, a small delicate piece in a room full of Greene & Greene pieces just won'tfit in.
"In space" should not only be thought of as the volume the piece will fill, nor just when space is tight. "In space" should also be thought of in terms of context. What space will it live in , and with what other pieces.
just something to think about when designing your next project - or not.
charlie b
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

.......to perform a function.
Functionality, IMHO, has to be a part of 'design', otherwise it would be called art? I subscribe to the 'form follows function' school of design. Rob is big on Bauhaus.
just my 2 centimes
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

called
I was thinking the same But let me add to that one more thought:
Without function, the first three describe "art". Design is not normally a word used to describe pure "art". Therefore, I beleive that function is an integral part of design not simply an asterisk and a footnote.
-Steve
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Agreed. Yet there is the movie poster.... as an example. In my mind, pure design, but the function can't be as simple as selling a movie, can it? I guess that's where the classifications come in: Graphic design. Furniture design. Interior design. Etc.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

IMHO design *is* the marriage of form and function. Some people collect movie posters, frame tham and hang them on a wall. In that context, I would argue that it is simply art. I think few would argue that the poster's effectiveness at selling the movie would have any influence over their desire to hang it on their wall.
I guess buy extension, pure art is form whose function is none other than presentation of the form itself.
-Steve
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
charlie b said:

Since this is already pretty long (not a criticism), and not many will want to read it twice, although they probably _should_, I'm snipping out all but my unsolicited observations.

And occasionally achieve.

OK.
What furniture? You have furniture? I'm still planning ours...
Seriously, though, you immediately point out one limitation of conventional wooddorking.
        The Box.     Made from flat sticks and panels.
Yes, the Non-Organic, Conventional Box. Ornated, radiused, ogeed, (are those words?), veneered, inlayed, but still at heart, The Box.
And a wide range of tools designed to work with..., you guessed it, flat stock and panels that comprise... The Box.

More stinking boxes. And a stand to facilitate sweeping the roaches out from under. (Yeah, I know.)

Always...
OK.
More about freaking boxes. <g>

But if it's not comfortable or functional, it's superfluous eye candy.

And they're all... The Box.

OK.
Which is also, generally, The Box.

Balance...
So can a really ugly small piece...

Yes, it is... Or not. <G> Great post BTW.
Charlie, I'm really not trying to belittle your observations, which are quite valid, but only point out that we generally think of furniture as... The Box. Granted, changing this mindset is a difficult thing to accomplish considering the medium and tools with which it is worked, but integration of organic elements is something that I find to be a challenge. You're not going to design a piece of classic furniture "organically", but if you tried, then it wouldn't be what it's master intended - it would be something new. Or something like that...
Besides, I wanted to elicit a grin or two at your expense... <g>
Greg G.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Prefaces prior to responding:
(there seem to be some early risers n the group)
(I've got pretty thick skin so don't worry about offending me or hurting my feelings with any criticisms, though I'd prefer constructive criticism)
(elicited grins are always good - even at my expense)
Response:
So function should be added to the definition - it is furniture we're talking about. How tightly the form must conform to the function still has some wiggle room.
Maybe "function" is what distinguishes "art" from "craft"? (he said, shit stick firmly in hand and stirring). That being the case, all advertising illustrations/pictures/ images are craft?
"Art" is an arrangement of elements in space that has no function?
Yes, I have furniture. In the house it's mainly chinese - traditional stuff, in rosewood, which I inherited. In the shop it's almost all stuff I've built - "shop furniture". But if you've visited my woodworking site, you know that I try "house furniture" ideas and techniques when making my "shop furniture". The drawer unit under the drill press has overlayed ,graduated, half blind dovetailed, cherry drawer faces and a cheery top - with lots of hand rubbed shellac. The small router bit cabinet has coopered doors with knife hinges and the honey locust it's made out of is french polished. Did I mention the sliding dovetail construction of the carcase? Not braggging but rather pointing out that making "shop furniture" is a great place to try stuff you think you may want to use in future "house furniture" projects. Trying something new on expensive stock and for something that SWMBO will have to approve before it gets into the house is a bit risky and frought with anxiety and pressure. But "shop furniture" - well, sinces it's JUST shop furniture... Should you make an occasional mistake, it's a great time to learn to turn them into "features".
While most furniture is basically a box or group of boxes, some of the Art Nouveau stuff does a good job of obscuring the underlying box pretty well - to my eye.
How the box is de-boxified by curves, tapers, edge treatments, overlays, carvings etc. is superfluous if it's a) not functional and b) not comfortable (to look at or use?)?
"Balance" was also introduced as a design criteria. and I'm assuming the term is used in its broader sense rather than just meaning that the piece won't fall over by itself.
Adding "organically" to furniture design criteria would be doing something new?
But perhaps The Wood can serve that purpose? Wood selection, grain pattern selection AND orientation (and maybe even joinery selection) surely sets solid wood furniture making apart from other design areas. A nice form, with good proportions and details, that functions properly - BUT has the grain running every which way and conflicting with adjacent parts ain't "good design" in my book.
And that's probably a topic to discuss at some point. Since wood is expensive, we often try and stretch it, shooting for "least waste" and thus missing our real target. Cut lists are for production shops. Having a bunch of different types of wood with different grain patterns may be the starting point, or at least a major component of solid wood furniture design.
got to play school bus driver for a neighor.
More comments, insights, suggestions, addendums please
charlie b
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

As much as I aspire to think of myself as a craftsman, I dislike the work craft. For me it elicits the image red and white yarn woven into a plastic matrix to form a really tacky Christmas themed tissuebox cover.

Avoiding the 'C'-word altogether:
Math is to Engineering as Art is to graphic design

Perhaps that is too restictive. Is not music art? Music occupies time, not space.

I'll buy that for furniture with interior space. A candlestand (pedistal table), hat rack or a chair have exclusively exterior space. That is, that which they support/hold/display, is on/under/outside of the structure.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Stephen M wrote:

...
...
Not according to our present understanding--spacetime is one entity... :)
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Duane Bozarth wrote:

If you've ever heard E. Power Biggs' perform live, were at Radio City Music Hall when the giant Wurlitzer was there, or been in a cathedral when a BIG pipe organ was playing, you know that music can truly occupy a space - and then some. (There was also a group called Blue Cheer, that, with the help of HUGE Marshall amps and even HUGER speakers, could occupy a large space AND nearly deafen its occupants. But that gets into what differentiates music from noise ...)
As for furniture that has "no inside space" - perhaps they have fewer design constraints. On the other hand, balance becomes somewhat critical.
But, rather than go down the Art vs Crafts path, I'd like to stick with design, and specifically furniture design. What defines the term?
Is Kitchen furniture design a special subset of furniture design? Perhaps how domininant "function"'s role in the design criteria might be a major criteria. Maybe kitchen furniture design is more difficult because it is dominated by function -and yet SHE wants it to look really nice. Often those two criteria can conflict, the resolution arrived at through heated "discussions" and some give and take.
Regarding paintings being 3-D but not very interesting when viewed from the side - I've looked at some of Picasso's oils from the side and up close it's still interesting. But that's really not the topic I'd like to pursue.
charlie b
ps - the spacetime - music for strings was great!
ps - as for shit stirring sticks - the Chinese provence of Dung specializes in making the best ones on the planet (see reference to Dung in my Pointy Stick Compendium Project - first paragraph, right after Pique de Point and Ponte Sticco.
http://home.comcast.net/~charliebcz/PointyStick/PSdesignsources.html
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Maybe he's talking about music written only for strings?
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

That would be String Theory.
Tom Watson - WoodDorker tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1/ (website)
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
[snip]

That's what I had on the brane when I wrote that.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Whoa there....!! Music does occupy space. As stereo adds the third dimension, it occupies space. (..and I'm not implying that the shape of the oracle doesn't add its own minimal phase-shift in order to allow to hear sounds 'from behind'....but that's for another day.)
*Waves at charlie* "I brought my own shit-covered stick."
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

not
dimension, it

Sure, in that same way that oil paintings are 3-dimensional, but the Mona Lisa would not look like much from the side.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Stephen M wrote:

Sound doesn't exist w/o space for the audio waves to fill, however. The representation of a 3D object in a 2D projection is a reduction in one dimension, but there's no parallel for audio.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On Tue, 08 Nov 2005 11:29:47 -0600, Duane Bozarth wrote:

Nah. The psychoacoustic boffins do some amazing things. Enhanced stereo comes to mind. Contrast that with a mono speaker.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Australopithecus scobis wrote:

Precisely my point...they couldn't that if audio waves were constrained to 2D ...
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Boy I guess I really misspoke when I said that music does not occupy space. I should know better, I have personally sat in front of the mixing board adjusting the stereo pan of each track.
Dragging this back onto topic a bit.... a songwriter "designing" his or her "art" isn't particularly concerned (unless, maybe you're Pink Floyd producing a live show) with spacial sound placement.
That's sort of like saying that the choosing Waterlox vs Minwax wipe-on poly is a design decision.
In the strictest sense, it is but it's pretty minor.
-Steve

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Stephen M said:

Well if you don't like the work, pick a new hobby. <g> As for the misnomer, it does imply a "me too" class of creativity. And my niece resents that last comment.

Hardly - I think you made a typo.

I have to do that around here too - SWMBO resents it.

You haven't seen my record/CD racks, they take up ALL kinds of space.
OK, pretty bad... Sorry, I'll lay off now.
Greg G.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Site Timeline

Related Threads

HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.