straight answers to curly questions

how to look beyond "the look"

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Does an interior design need to do more than look good?

Mark Perry, Design Director

We’ve all been taught that beauty is only skin deep and that inner beauty should be cherished.  Sage advice but it raises a more important question.  How?

When presented with designs for your new office fit out, you’ll be asked to “take a look.”  Once you’ve done that, you might be tempted to blurt out that classic quality-assurance killer, “looks good”.  The frustrating thing is that beautifully drawn schematics can be deceptive to the untrained eye, even if they don’t mean to be.  Works in progress give the impression that progress is being made, as you walk through a site inspection or swipe-right through the photographic evidence of … something.  Even at the handover, you’ll look around one more time while hovering over completion documentation, pen in hand and think yes, this certainly does have a great “look”.

If looks could kill … a brand, they would

And they have.  Many times. 

Small but growing businesses have become growing concerns with growing workplace concerns, thanks to basic office design flaws.  Large organisations have had to grin and bear it or fork out for costly mid-lease refits when their original designs have not accounted for specific functional needs.  The result is more cost, a diminished culture and lost momentum.

So again, how do you know that what looks good or even great, actually works and will keep on working, before it’s too late to do anything about it?  That’s where design, real design skills that work, come into play.

And the one crucial function of design?

That’s easy.  Problem solving.  Does the design solve your problems?  Good designers look at a space and work on ways to give it the right look.  Textures, colours, spatial elements are involved and it takes real skill to tie them all together for an aesthetically pleasing result.  But magazine shoot-ready offices may not “work” for many businesses and those that work in them.

I have always maintained that it’s far better to have a client say, “this absolutely works for us” than simply “this looks great to us but … .”  The latter response means the design team hasn’t done a good enough job of asking the right questions.  Which, in turn, means the all-important answers have eluded them and the project result will be adequate at best.

So how should a design team respond to common problems cited by clients which might include:

  • Space – our team is expanding, we need more desks and another kitchen / we’re downsizing so maybe less of everything?
  • Rebranding – our logo has changed and so have we.  Funky, fun and the colour orange is where we’re at, soooo colourful carpet and beanbags?
  • Functionality – we now need to do in-house pitches and presentations, can you put a conference room right over there?

“Yes” is the wrong answer

When clients broadly describe a problem but then hastily blurt out a possible solution, it’s inappropriate to simply say, “yes, we’ll do that for you.”  A better response would be, “tell me more.  Let’s explore.  What else really matters?  What does your team look like when working optimally?”  Being able to ask the right questions leads to understanding the “why” behind the “what” - crucial to arriving at the best answer.  Arriving at the best answer allows us to provide the best solutions to all your design problems, not just the ones you can see right away.

Sure, aesthetics are vital to properly representing your brand to clients and staff. But remember that a Maclaren F1 racing car with an old VW engine mounted on the back is really just a pointy, one-seater Volkswagen bug … with a $2m price tag.  So ensuring that the interior design actually improves workflow on a number of levels, really should come as standard.

Functionality trumps aesthetics but we do both

Personally, I like to hear the whole story, understand the opportunities to make work life better, sketch some solution elements as we talk.  Firstly, understand the question, then arrive at some answers and finally ensure the solution looks great.

Interior design is a multidimensional “sudoku” and should be treated as such.  Every choice has a knock-on effect and experience, curiosity, pragmatism and imagination are key to unlocking functional, eye-catching designs that delight teams, impress clients and enhance brands.

That’s why there has to be more to design than meets the eye.


some looks never go out of style

Saturday, April 08, 2017

What is a "timeless" design?


Mark Perry, Design Director


The Pyramids, the Colosseum and Stonehenge are three of the more common responses when asked to cite examples of truly timeless design.  These answers are not ridiculous.  Believe it or not, they all contain design elements that could and should be incorporated in any fit out brief that has “timeless” underlined, in quotes and italicised.  While the term might feel a little generic, almost something you’d blurt out when nothing else comes to mind, in the case of commercial interiors, it implies so much more than merely lasting the life of the lease.

If you truly do want an office fit out that draws hoarse, gasps of admiration from those with a classical bent, you’ll be pleased to know that you can.  However, first we should properly define “timeless”, just to be sure that we’re all talking about the same thing.  Then we can talk about how a timeless design can be achieved and what goes into achieving this sought after look.  But first things first.

Timeless is not for everyone

A lot of design based decisions are made without properly seeking answers to questions around brand fit, functionality and target client/stakeholder/team.  Product and services need to be considered as well, in order to get a firm grip on the important difference between “timeless” and “retro” or even “throwback”.

Burgers.  Not just delicious but also made for sale and mass consumption in burger restaurants, bars, kiosks and cafés.  So when modern Burger restaurant “A” chooses to hearken back to say, the 1950s or 60s by utilising a classic Americana décor complete with juke boxes, some would say their look is timeless.  It isn’t.  Major hamburger vendors have only been around since the early 20th century, reaching mainstream popularity and acceptance in the 50s.  So retro yes, timeless no.  Retro tends to speak to a particular fashion or a look specific to and easily identifiable with a defined era.  Timelessness features elements that could well find themselves at home in any era.  Exposed timber beams, stone floors, exposed brickwork – you might expect to see these featured throughout the decades and centuries.

Why timeless

Brands that want to convey trust and/or strength may opt for a “timeless” look.  Something that communicates the longevity of their legacy and assure clients, current and future, that they intend to be around for quite some time to come.  Banks, insurance companies, the finance sector and government buildings may all look to establish a timeless feel.  Keep in mind though, it’s not all about the outward appearance of the building.

What is the timeless design look all about?

For a fit out in the CBD of a relatively young urban centre, ancient buildings may be a scarcity.  However, timeless elements are not and their inclusion will influence the perception of the space.  Not so much to convince the visitor or employee that they have stepped back in time, but simply to allude to the qualities of perhaps a bygone era.  Five tips for achieving this:

  • Simplicity is the key here.  Uncluttered.  Functional items do exactly what they look like they should do.  The relationship between the people that work in this environment and the office itself, is an uncomplicated one.
  • Natural elements, it could be argued, have been around almost since time began.  Certainly, recorded history tells us that there has always been stone, wood, metals and earth.  Making use of one or all of these elements certainly go a long way to establishing a foundation of timelessness.
  • Durable elements.  See above but also hear this: timeless not only speaks to a bygone era or fixtures that never go out of style.  Timeless also means built to last.  Bone china document holders may look particularly striking and impactful but you’d need to set aside a significant budget for replacements.
  • A touch of history.  Be it decorative jugs, an item of old world furniture, a fitting or installation of some kind, elements that incorporate design history confer a sense of gravitas and as mentioned previously, longevity and strength.
  • Easy to clean.  Three words that have featured on design briefs for thousands of years.  As humans with constantly evolving preferences, wants and whims, we gravitate towards lower maintenance solutions so that activities higher up on the to-do lists can be prioritised.  It sounds simplistic but a fit out that is easy to clean is far more attractive than one that comes with a thick dossier of cleaning and maintenance requirements.

The most important question to ask is, how best do I properly represent my client’s brand while advancing their ability to improve work processes, culture and productivity?  That’s the age old question and the right solutions never go out of style.