IIDA Notes: Design and Style

March 1, 2006
By Eric Engstrom, FIIDA
Recognizing current styles with a devotion to longevity is what makes a truly good design.

By Eric Engstrom, FIIDA

The practice of interior design takes its cues from a variety of sources. Whether we see something in an advertisement, hear a new song on the radio, spot something very cool in a retail shop, check out the latest haute couture from France or Italy, or view a sunset—we get excited. Inspiration for developing good design solutions can come from almost anywhere. And the way we apply that inspiration to design solutions must reflect appropriate responses to our clients' individual needs as well as providing an environment that will stand the test of time.

"Design" and "style" are two very different words with different meanings—both in the noun and verb forms. According to Merriam-Webster Online, design as a noun has many meanings, among them "the arrangement of elements or details in a product or work of art" or "a decorative pattern" or "the creative art of executing aesthetic or functional designs." Design, in verb form, is "to create, fashion, execute or construct according to plan" or in the intransitive senses "to draw, lay out or prepare a design."Style, in the noun form, has one definition that seems to apply to design—"a particular manner or technique by which something is done, created or performed" and another that's related: "a distinctive quality, form or type of something ." Of course, a synonym for "Style" is "Fashion." Style as a verb has to do with the making or creating—"to design, make or arrange in accord with the prevailing mode".

And therein may be the difference—design is the act of taking from diverse sources, editing and creating something new while style is designing "in accord with the current mode." We design using style as a reference and an influence to create new elements and hope that we'll create a new definition of style. We design to reflect the style of the moment and get the maximum tie-in to fashion and entertainment. However, we must be careful not to get caught up in the "style of the moment" and build obsolescence into our designs.

It's a challenge to create good design that will last—our clients and colleagues are constantly looking for new solutions, but all understand the need for some degree of permanence to allow usage over a number of years. It's great to be stylish and of the moment, but that situation needs to be balanced with long term needs. The great thing about most classic design—whether from Charles and Ray Eames or Philip Johnson—is its sense of style of the moment combined with a lasting value—its timelessness.

The secret to appropriate design that carries with it both a sense of style and long term staying power is the careful consideration of client needs, a committed approach to innovative solutions, a recognition of (but not slavish devotion to) current styles, and a logical, thoughtful approach to problem solving. Creativity is an inherent component of this approach—the bringing of individuality and meaning to each design project.

In the twenty-first century our main influences are liable to come from new media and electronic sources whether we are viewing HDTV on a fifty-inch screen or scrolling on our seventeen-inch monitor or reading a text message on our cellular phone. Even the cell phone now serves as a miniature monitor, and we can now view movies, news and special programs. Being a post-twentieth century designer demands constantly increasing knowledge of technological tools to help us create new environments. The problem arises for many of us not in just the new technology, but in deciphering what is worthwhile and what isn't.

The bottom line is to bring good value to our clients—both economically and aesthetically—with great design solutions that are both current in stylistic expression and appropriate to their long term needs. Style can be transitory but good design should last a long time. It's up to us to decipher and edit from the plethora of information available to us to create good design that lasts.

Eric Engstrom, FIIDA, is president of IIDA, and founder and president of Engstrom Design Group (edg), San Rafael, CA. IIDA is headquartered in suite 13-500 at the Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL, and can be reached at (888) 799-IIDA; www.iida.org.

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