Design Terminology 101

July 23, 2014

With the design industry continuing to change, it's never been more important to talk the talk. We've put together a quick reference guide of some terms that you need to know.

Terms You'd Better Know

Active Design
Obesity in the United States has never been a bigger problem. More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Design can have a profound impact on today’s biggest health epidemics—including obesity—by developing buildings, streets, and neighborhoods that make daily physical activity and healthy foods more accessible and inviting.

Chemical Red List
The growth of evidence-based design (see #3 below) continues to demonstrate the connection between healthy indoor environments and positive outcomes for overall well-being, and it’s never been more important to design spaces that will have a significant impact on people’s health. Chemical red lists have proliferated as designers demand transparency in material ingredients used by manufacturers. Whether you follow Cradle-to-Cradle, the Heathy Building Network, LEED v4, the Living Building Challenge, Pharos, Perkins + Will’s Precautionary List, or even Google’s Real Estate and Workplace Services Green Team, all have their own watch list of the worst-in-class materials that should be avoided at all costs when designing healthy interior environments.

Evidence-Based Design
From daylight penetration to color selections, layout options to furniture selection, the days of designers making design decisions in a vacuum are a thing of the past. Evidence-based design is what separates the designers from the decorators, by using research and analysis to factually prove that each design decision is best for overall health and experience of the end-user, and make a strong case for the impact our work can have.

Mass Customization
More than 20 years ago, Levi Strauss was one of the first to dive into mass customization, with the launch of Original Spin jeans. Mass customization is a production process combining mass production with bespoke tailoring, made possible by information technology and digital fabrication techniques. Companies are increasingly able to offer custom options while maintaining the low price point of a mass produced product—allowing designers to create unique and personal items, without breaking the budget.


Touchdown Spaces
Recent research collected by Herman Miller shows that private offices are unoccupied more than 75 percent of the time. By creating communal workspaces that are easily accessible off main corridors, contractors, telecommuters, vendors, and others can touch down, plug in, and get some individual work done on the fly. These types of spaces are becoming more and more commonplace in commercial design, as we move even further into BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) work culture.

Terms You Should Know Better

Bottom-Up Design
The roots of bottom-up design can be found in the U.S.’ “Shop-Local” movement, with everyone from big name corporations such as Target (Shops by Target) to designer Sarah Miller and Invision's Objects Made exhibit, putting the spotlight on independent craftsmen and artisans. These initiatives are bringing their work to the mainstream, reviving an appreciation for finely-tuned skills such as wood-working, hand-drawing, and pattern-making, which were somewhat lost in the mass production boom during the second half of the 20th century.

Generative Design
Generative design is a process of exploring design possibilities by analyzing variations of outputs based on a set of rules or constraints. There are many methods to generative design (many times computational), but a feedback loop is central to all of them. In self-organization models, for instance, the designer evaluates the environment, makes changes to it, and triggers new actions based on those changes, which they can then evaluate and make changes to again, and so on.

The CARITAS Project has expanded the concept of generative design, exploring how cultural values shape our physical environments. We can create spaces that improve rather than deteriorate over time, they say, by designing environments that create and promote active cultural communities.

Multi-Posture Support
More and more, seating manufacturers are going beyond ergonomics and designing products that allow us to move, rather than sit in one “correct” position. Research from Steelcase shows that 96 percent of highly engaged workers are able to move freely and change postures throughout the day, while 57 percent of actively disengaged (see next term) workers say they do not have the freedom to move and switch postures. Thus, seating lines—particularly task chairs—designed to provide comfortable support for a variety of positions can have a huge impact on employee performance.

Active Disengagement
Recent studies from Gallup show 20 percent of employees are actively disengaged, or purposefully destructive to their company. By creating work spaces that are empowering, providing employees with choices that allow them to alter their environment to fit individual work styles, designers can help reduce active disengagement significantly.

Flipped Classroom
The U.S. Department of Education and Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative have found that both face-to-face and distance elements may be more effective than traditional classroom instruction, something that will drastically change the classroom environment in the next decade. The flipped classroom also refers to a more empowered student. Classmates take the reigns, teaching each other through collaborative projects and assignments, with instructors taking on more of a guiding role. Research indicates this improves retention of information among students, and the collaborative work students undertake teaches them skills that will serve them in the workplace.


Bio-What Now?

Bio-Based Fiber
Things have certainly changed since 30 years ago, when products relied heavily on fossil fuels during manufacturing. Now, many are bio-based or bio-preferred, which according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) means a product must be composed of at least 25 percent of a rapidly renewable source, such as sugar cane or cellulose fibers, among others. Products must be intentionally made from substances derived from living or once-living organisms in order to be considered bio-based.

Biomimicry is far from a new term: author Jeanine Benyus coined it in her 1997 book of the same name. However, as sustainability has moved firmly to the forefront of the design conversation, biomimicry has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Whether it’s building ceramics like an abalone or running a business like a hickory forest, biomimicry uses nature as model, measure, and mentor. Because nature has already solved many of the problems we struggle with, biomimicry encourages us to imitate these processes to solve human problems.

Human beings have an instinctive bond with other living things (the term biophilia literally means “love of life or living systems,” coined by biologist E.O. Wilson in 1995), and research suggests that environments incorporating natural or nature-inspired elements like wood grains, floral patterns, or landscape art can have a profound effect on our well-being. The concept, although not new, has resonated particularly in healthcare design as of late, where mounting evidence shows biophilic design can improve staff productivity and help patients heal faster.

Whats the differance Again?

Metallic vs. Metalized
While metalized means a product or material is coated in metal to create a metallic form or appearance, metallic suggests the nature of metal—as in luster, resonance, or hardness. Metallic doesn’t necessary mean that material or product has metal in it—or very much at all.

Recycled vs. Recyclable
Products labelled as recycled are made from materials that have been used and reprocessed into something else. The materials in recyclable products are able to be recycled if the user disposes of them in a recycling facility. They can, but may not necessarily, be used to make a recycled product.

Standards vs. Certifications
Standards set the bar for how a product should perform, making it easier to evaluate products fairly (an “apples to apples” comparison) on a national (ANSI) or international (ISO) level, and use them without technical barriers (think European vs. U.S. electrical outlets). Universal standards have become increasingly important in the realm of sustainable design, where all products need to be measured by the same standards if we are to compare their effects on the environment effectively.

A certification is provided when a second or third party verifies that a product does, in fact, meet national or international standards. A product can be up to standard but remain uncertified; but a certified product can never be below standard.

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