INTEGRITY in design is a topic of many a debate in boardrooms and design conferences worldwide. It is an understatement to state that it is always a challenge to convince businesses about the essentiality and benefits of design integrity.
The challenges a designer faces can be intimidating. A demanding (and sometimes impractical) project brief, strenuous programmes and developers with rigorous budget constraints are but a few, albeit key, factors that could impede or even devastate design integrity. To be fair, this is not a new occurrence but an ongoing challenge faced by designers for many years now.
What is design integrity? Most designers have the opinion that good design should add value; enhance functionality; provide ease of use and joy of usage; whilst maintaining economic viability. The Vitruvian principles of ‘commodity, firmness and delight’; Boullée and Durand with their views on function; Ruskin’s emphasis on ethical values like ‘sacrifice’ and ‘obedience’; and Giedion ideas about scientific design concepts; all define philosophies of good design. Designers know that every new project presents a new opportunity to explore ideas which address the context of each individual and specific space. Good design philosophy is a deep-rooted conviction that directs and distinguishes the designer’s approach, from one project to another. All designers might not follow each and every design principle honoured by the old masters, but most designers will concur that a standard for good design is critical and cannot be compromised upon.
At RSP we understand that each project presents a new opportunity to explore ideas that address the context of space. We aspire to this deep-rooted belief which, in turn, directs our team’s design approach and entails our looking at each project individually. The belief that a good space should effectively contribute to improving the human experience underpins our principal design philosophy. By ensuring spaces are designed to holistically adopt this philosophy and address their functional requirements, we also confirm that the overall character of the space and quality of the lives of its users are harmoniously enhanced.
We should be uncompromising in our adherence to the moral and ethical principles of good design. Unfortunately, reality will rarely allow this aspiration without some kind of pressure on the integrity of the design. So how do we as designers approach this difficult task of maintaining integrity in design, yet conforming to the budgets, programmes and briefs, which everyone in the industry need to abide by?
This is a very difficult task with many pitfalls. Today, designers require specialised skills which are not traditionally taught. These include skills such as salesmanship, power of persuasion, charisma, a stubborn resolution to always strive for good design and an ability to pick your ‘battles’ carefully. These are abilities that must be acquired and have become prerequisites for success.
Safeguarding the design intent of a space means being steadfast in our resolve to defend the concept. Striving for unwavering principles like these is admirable, but cannot provide us the full solution to attaining our ultimate goal. The ability to convince the client of our chosen design ideology is crucial in achieving the integrity of a space. Once the client understands the long-term benefits of design integrity and has bought into the idea of good design, the ultimate goal is attainable.
The contractor is a crucial factor in implementing good designed spaces. Unscrupulous contractors have, for many years, been able to take projects hostage. Through manipulation of the programme and project costs, they have coaxed clients into overriding the design integrity of their projects. It is a designer’s duty to ensure that the client understands what a good contractor has to do and abide by, in order to maintain design integrity. Good contractors who understand what the benefits are of maintaining it ultimately become part of the process towards achieving excellence in design.
Therefore, the combination of a designer with strong convictions, a client who buys into the philosophy and a contractor who realises the benefits of a good end-product, working cohesively and holistically, can make a world of difference. Design integrity will always enhance value and provide tangible benefits for all parties, once this union is forged and executed effectively. The sooner our industry understands this, the faster we will be able to attain a favourable equilibrium and accomplish our ultimate goal.
• Ellen Edwards is the vice-president and head of interior design at RSP Middle East in Dubai, UAE. With 19 years’ experience in urban/architectural and interior design projects in the commercial, residential and hospitality sectors, she has designed and delivered several significant projects in both South Africa and the UAE.