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The Principles of Design

Our August issue is uncovering the truths concerning "good" design by getting down to the principles.

By Erika Templeton

Our August issue is uncovering the truths concerning "good" design by getting down to the principles. 

Erika Templeton

Is your design good? How can you be sure? By getting down to principles, we try to uncover the essentials—the truths behind “good” design, the unbending laws of process, the fundamental marks of an individual’s voice.

This is not an easy thing to do. (Just ask Plato.) We might all agree on the importance of concepts like balance, proportion, rhythm, and unity, but these kinds of ideas are fundamental to the point of being rudimentary, “Design 101” (for more Design 101, check out our glossary of essential terms in this month’s Field Notes, pg. 18). Zoom in to the unique needs and obstacles of any particular project and suddenly the principles get very personal. (When you’re weighing six of one and half a dozen of the other, “balance” isn’t likely to give you an answer.) Principles provide the basis for a long chain of reasoning, a guidepost pointing out the right direction when design choices get tough.

Oftentimes these guiding mantras sound more like moral principles than aesthetic ones. Design is not an activity; it is a way of being. We hear it again and again this month:

“My world is my aesthetic and it’s done with heart. I love what I do and I hope to die with a pencil in my hand.”
—Jaime Hayon, artist and designer

“It’s not something that we talk about every day, but we have it under our skin.”
—Christian Rasmussen, design director, The Republic of Fritz Hansen

“What I try to teach is a way of being: being open to possibilities, being able to collaborate with those outside our field, and to always question assumptions.”
—June Grant, director of design, Steinberg Architects

“It is an open-mindedness that allows synthesis of experience to coalesce into solution. I think this applies to all things in life, medicine, computer science, insurance, making lunch, doing laundry, and the art of design.”
—Adam Jackson Pollock, president and director, Fire Farm

There are many different schools of thought that emerge when you look at principles of design as they apply to process, and we see them throughout this month’s coverage as well. SOM designed the New School University Center in NYC based on active design principles, for example, creating spaces that would encourage end-users not only to take the stairs more, but to use those transitional spaces as a chance to meet and spark collaboration (“A Campus Within a Building, pg. 64). SCB designed the United Terminal lounge at London Heathrow airport putting the focus on where and how the wide range of travelers that utilize the space spend most of their time. (“Smooth Landings,” pg. 58). Meanwhile, ASID National President Rachelle Schoessler Lynn focuses her column (pg. 66) on evidence-based design principles, saying she’s “passionately committed to the role evidence-based design plays in helping to arrive at successful design solutions. Because, while data can’t give us all of the answers, they can help give each iteration of a design the feedback necessary to getting closer to good.“

What principles drive your work? Tell us online @interiorssource #designprinciples.