(design) Intervention

lyttle-58Where does the creative bridge begin and end?  Where does the intervention “fold” happen?  Once our gestation period ends, we enter this world a clean slate, full of curiosity, color and wonder… Our learning develops via observation, correlation and experimentation.

As children, we actually benefit from lack of wisdom and our search for the how is guided by praise and encouragement from our parents and mentors.  We have no understanding of the impossible.  In our innocence, all is bright, all is brilliant, all is colorful and all design ideas are capable of “erection“.


We learn by the kinesthetic interaction with our environments.  We are wired to  simplify the complex – to see extraordinary in the ordinary.  We lift our arms wide open into the universe and twirl without concern of judgement… we fearlessly push limitations of balance for the thrill of the erection until… we are intervened.

Simplifying the Complex or Complicating the Simple?

So where is this “fold” over?  At what point in learning do we begin to pull our arms to our core and truncate ourselves?  At what threshold does color begin to diminish?  When and why do we begin to hesitate?  Why do we evolve from this innocent creative questioning our world and begin to question ourselves instead?  Where is the balance between simplification and complication and what defines it?  What comes first?

Photo Credit: Flicker

I had a beautiful art professor explain this idea to me once in terms of something we could all agree to be extremely ordinary – a blank sheet of paper.

By adding just one fold to this piece of ordinary paper it is made more complex.  Seems simple enough right?  Well, what if the complexity of the folds were replicated with design intent?  What if imagination allowed for creation to happen via the ordinary?  What would that look like, what would that feel like?  Would you (or Suzie) believe it could become so complex it could be defined by unity/harmony, form, balance and movement?

Would you believe it could result in this?:

Photo Credit: The Mind Circle
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Hard to imagine that a simple piece of paper could re-instill curiosity, brilliance and wonder, but it can, obviously.  This is our greatest professional design challenge and it should render our greatest accomplishments.

We are so fortunate.  We are the crafters of spaces that yield emotive responses.  Our job is to shock, to awe, to bring about the (hypothetical, of course) “Oh My!”.

As designers, we must dream in colors that don’t exist and then figure out how to create them.  We must embrace the possibility of erections (innocent or not) and let the engineering consultants (and second wives) figure out how to balance them.  We MUST push the envelope which ironically is a folded piece of paper…

We must remind ourselves, as Paul Rand so eloquently stated, “Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.”

As a design professional, I challenge you to re-evoke this sense of wonder.  Push limitations and like a child, open your arms widely into the universe and twirl…


The (design) Erection.

IMG_1828Typically an “erection” would precede “gestation“, but the design process is an exception to this “typical” arrangement.  Construction Administration (CA) is the phase of the design process where documentation is handed off to the “winning” contractor and a building or space can FINALLY be “erected”.

As a rule, the role of the  architect/designer in CA is that of an ‘overseer’.  She is contracted at this point  to ensure that the project is built according to her design documentation but, the “bulk” of the work should shift from the architect/designer to the contractor.

More often than not, more design time is required during CA than originally “desired” or anticipated.  Regardless of the hours on your design contract, if you don’t “perform” here, you will end up with a “flaccid” design situation.  See, the contractor (unfortunately) doesn’t have the same level of pride for the build (even though he is building it, technically) because he didn’t nurture the project from conception.  He is the foster father – liable for his construction window, his means and methods, his bid value and contingency allowance and his turnover dates, but once they are accomplished, he is on to the next project.

Changing “Position”

So how to we (as designers) “perform” during CA?  We attend regular (weekly) site visits  with the contractor and the owner to ensure that the “erection” is proceeding according to the design intent.    Additional field visits are also conducted at critical stages of the process.  For instance, before wall “studs” are enclosed with gypsum board, a review of in-wall “piping” or wiring would be pertinent…

If the contractor needs clarification for a conflict on drawings sheets or additional information to meet the intent is required, a formal Request for Information (RFI) is submitted to the architect.  The architect responds formally to the contractor via sketches or written clarification.  At times, the intent that was assumed by the contractor and clarified by the architect results in a change that will affect the construction schedule or budget.  This is referred to as a construction ‘change order’ and usually requires owner approval to proceed.

You May Require a Blue Pill, After All   (you know, just in case)

Photo Credit: Keep Calm

In every construction project, there are unknown variables.  This is assumed.  To account for them in the beginning, both the architect and the contractor will build in contingency.  The designer will typically carry 5-10% of the overall design budget for design contingency and the contractor could carry anywhere from 10-20% of the construction budget for coverage depending upon what may be “anticipated”, but unknown.

Construction unknowns can result from something small (i.e. a specified tile has been discontinued) to something that could be very costly (i.e. a utility line discovered when footings were excavated).  In these instances, the architect serves as a resource to the owner (for tile reselection) and potentially a mediator between the client and contractor in case of disagreement (in footing location).

The final design check to ensure what was specified by the architect/designer will be installed by the contractor is controlled through the design Submittal Process.  This process is a quality control point for the designer as well as a final review of build documentation.  Submittals come to the design team in the form of samples, shop drawings, or mock-ups and require design sign off and sometimes even owner approval.

The Final Punch

Photo Credit: Pinterest

When the build is finished, a list of items will be generated that need to be addressed before the “job” is considered substantially complete.  This ‘punch list’ of items is inspected for completion by the architect and final payment is only made when designer and owner agree the items have been completed to her standards.

Typically, the punch list items are minor (i.e. paint touch ups or installation of missing items), but there are times when the contractor is required to redo work that was deemed “unacceptable”.  This punch is also the last chance for the contractor to be held accountable for incomplete or unsatisfactory work.  As soon as close-out documentation is received and final payment is made, it will be up to the owner to maintain the project moving forward (with the exception of warrantied work or equipment).  I warned you about wanting to put that newborn back “in”!

Now that you are (“semi”) happy with that postpartum figure, it’s time to maintain it!

So… Pick up those new conceptual plans and design gloves and get to work!

design punch


Design Gestation


1. the carrying of young in the uterus: pregnancy
2. conception and development especially in the mind
Design Gestation:
The process by which something (such as an idea) forms and develops.

Throughout my design career, there have been countless projects that I have painstakingly executed.  These projects (in my mind) can be equated to conceptual “babies.”  They were conceived with purpose, nursed through (design) gestation and painfully birthed. They evolved into something that (although I gave life to) could not be fully understood until the world was able to interact with it.

The process is just as important as the product.  Sure, the product is what keeps you goal oriented through the grueling stages of Design Development (Please be a girl!), but it is within these stages that you are able to help ensure (to your best individual ability) the delivery of a healthy baby.

Since we have spent so much time understanding concept (the “practice” was of course the “fun” part!) let’s break down the 3 Stages of Design in terms of trimesters of pregnancy so DIY Suzie can understand… (Yes, it was painful for me too Suzie!  Twice!)

Trimester #1: We have a heartbeat!
This trimester (of design) is referred to as Schematic Design.  The objective of this phase (trimester) is to refine and build upon the scope, conceptual design, scale and relationships among the components of a project.  Now that we have peed on the stick, the primary goal here is to develop a clearly defined design based upon the client’s requirements, as defined by the facility program developed during “pre”design.  Project quality, scope, budget and schedule will also be confirmed and refined in this stage.  You should have your initial doctor’s visits and confirmation of a heartbeat at this stage before converting your home office into a nursery.
 Trimester #2: Congrats! The morning sickness is over, but now you are STARVING…
This second trimester (in design) is referred to as Design Development.  It is a refinement phase of the scope of work identified during Schematic Design.  As required, large-scale drawings, mock-ups, and detailed plans are developed to present a coordinated, clear view of the project’s major elements with respect to architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, “plumbing”, equipment, civil, landscape, and utility infrastructure.  In this phase, you are likely to find out your baby’s gender and can pick a nursery color :-).
Trimester #3: Oh boy! (now that you know) are you PHAT!
The final design phase (aka trimester #3) within the project “delivery” model is known as Construction Documentation.  This phase focuses on finalizing all drawings and specifications for building systems, site utilities, and components that will form the basis for the project’s Construction Documents.  A final set of comprehensive documents provides sufficiently complete drawings and specs that allow permit to be obtained, general contractors to bid and construction to begin.  Stock up on the diapers and get that hospital bag packed and ready!
Just When You Think Its Over…
Remember, as a first-time mom those final nights of pregnancy?  The ones where you were up all night peeing and the discomfort in your back and swollen ankles was so bad that you couldn’t wait to get the baby out (I’m laughing right along with ya Suzie!)?  Well… that was until the first few nights you HAD the baby and you would have given anything to put it back in!  These design phases (trimesters) are just the start.  The pain had just begun.  Now that baby is here and breathing and it needs to be cared for.  This is the phase you never realized would be so much work.  You are now elbows deep in dirty diapers, sleep deprived and sitting on an inflatable donut.  Congratulations Mommy!  You have entered Construction Administration!  (at least here though, you can work on getting your figure back!)
Insert Here –  visual “call to action”:
check back soon
Photo Credit: Pinterest

I.AM. by design (created to create)

Who. Am. I.?

What defines me?  Who is surface (decorated) me verses conceptual  (designed) me?

photo credit: Pinterest

This question is meant to evoke a response indicative of sense of self.  Throughout our lives, we are asked this question by so many… our parents, our teachers, our interviewers, our first dates.  This is a “loaded” question.  Its response, though heavily rooted, may vacillate.  The vacillation could be a result of time, place, age, experience or even change of heart.

As products of our environments, our experiences, our educations, our trials and our tribulations, We. Are. Many. Things.

The way we define our own sense of self may not necessarily be how we are perceived by others.  This is challenging.  We may come across extroverted, for example, in our professions, when in fact we are introverted to the core (this is of course, about me here).

We may decorate ourselves to appear in full control when in fact we are living in internal chaos.  We may be making external (design) changes strategically and steadily, (choices full of purpose and integrity) but have internally exceeded occupancy loads for safe egress.

The Opening of New Doors: Why Refurbish?

The challenge in design (as we find in life) is instilling purpose in the new.  It requires modification (refurbishment) of the original concept (which at one time was just as valuable and equally anticipated) but there is, more often than not, no funding to change the existing “bones”.  It is beyond the scope.  It is beyond structural capacity.


The image you see above is the refurbishment of an exiting hotel lobby.  The  greatest design challenge in this refurbishment was heavily “rooted” in the large column grid structure.  The operator requested an entry “passageway” to the check-in counter that felt “airy” (which seemed nearly impossible given the existing column radii).  The radii “was what it was” as the grid supported a 35+ story hotel tower above…

So what “was” to be done?  Using the design principles of dominance/emphasis we created a break in this visual hierarchy through materiality and highlight .  In other words, we found the light!  By emphasizing the “softness” and “submissive-fying” the “harshness” the human experience in the refurbishment resulted in one of catharsis.

Put (Close) Decoration Behind You and You too can find Catharsis

As design professionals, we must instill decoration abolition in our work.  We must fight daily to separate our credited titles as designer from the un-credited title (not ours) of decoratorDesign is a profession, decoration is a curtain.  We much be advocates of design education so our clients understand the difference (confusion credit owed to HGTeaV).  If the budget only allows for a cosmetic face lift, that too must be executed with intent – Design intent.

I.Am.by design?

As a professional, We.Know.Who.We.Are.

This part is the easy part to answer.  It is the passion for design that is the “weft” thread (takes a design professional to understand that term) of your personal fabric.  Realize though, that it takes both weft and warp threads to create raw (Who.Am.I.) yardage.

photo credit: Pinterest

So… as the warp threads pass over and under (and vacillate) the weft, stay strong at your weft core of creation and continue to refuse Suzie’s bullshit offer to let you borrow her lipstick (to decorate her pig).

Design with intent.  It will be enough.

(design) Experience Preferred…

I am of a seasoned (design) “experience”-level where sub par “tea” drinking is no longer acceptable.  In commercial/hospitality design, serving tea is about delivering a “safe” product (design standard).  As designers, we are about delivering a bourbon-drinking experience where tea may be served, but is not advertised on the specialty cocktail menu (because it is universally understood as common and because the customer already knows you carry it).  Instead of designing for brands, we must remember we are ultimately designing for the market.  Our focus (from Design Conception to project opening) is not the brand, but the people interacting with the brand.  It is about our customer.

Customer (tea definition): a person or organization that buys goods or services from a store or business

Customer (bourbon definition): a person or thing of a specified kind that one has to deal with

So how do you “deal” with them?

Would you “deal” with this person…

(let’s call her girl A)

… differently than you would “deal” with this person?

(let’s call her girl B)

Would you present a different design concept to girl A than you would present to girl B? Why?  Because you assume girl A is a bourbon drinker and girl B drinks tea (because she is already drinking tea)?  Does girl A appear (ostensibly) to be a bigger risk taker?  Would you be more motivated to WOW her with bourbon?  Would you even think of offering her tea?  Would you not offer bourbon to girl b because your impression is she is too prude to drink it?  What if I told you girl B is a UFC ring girl by night and girl A is actively serving in the Peace Corps?  Does this change your “position”?

The point here is that we need to design for the customer… whoever that customer may be.  Don’t make assumptions.  Do your research.  “Insert” yourself.  Become part of the “experience” so you can understand the user.  Get up on that (insert adjective) second floor mezzanine in the middle of the night and take notes.  Watch.  Listen.  Age yourself like bourbon.  Learn the market base and design a unique experience just for them.  Make them important, not common.

Once you understand the customer, you can think like them and you can (more importantly) design for them.  What we do as design professionals (that DIY Suzie does not) is cultivate design concept evolution, not cookie cutting.  Sure, we have a “style,” but it adapts to the environment, it changes for the consumer.  This is part of the challenge, part of the thrill.  This is how we grow our portfolios and challenge our creativity.  This is how we gain experience and trust ourselves.  This is how we become valuable.


So, how, in the case of my Bourbon Restaurant Refurbishment (project chosen specifically to drive puns home) was bourbon equalized to attract the “tea” drinker?

This could have been a recipe for disaster, but I think I was able to find common ground via the principles and design approaches that have gotten us to this point (if you are still reading).  You tell me… (it is still open after all :-))

Wolfgang Puck Steak

wolfgang puck_Page_04

Before you “bottom’s up” tonight cheers to this, “Don’t assume you know your customer… and certainly don’t underestimate her punch!”


Photo credits:

Photo #1 pinterest

Photo #2 - Girl A tattooed-women

Photo #3 - Girl B career-intelligence

Photo #4 flickr






CreativiTEA and (design) Consent


(meaning): To agree to something

Cup of Tea

(meaning): Something one prefers, desires, enjoys, or cares about.  Often used in the negative to mean the opposite


WATCH ME! – Consent: It’s Simple as Tea

Case In Point: DIY Suzie is a tea drinker…

Suzie loves tea, Suzie loves tea so much in fact that she assumes everyone “enjoys” tea, “wants” tea and “needs” her secret tea recipe.  Sure, there are countless tea drinkers… some take it with milk, others prefer it with honey, but there are only so many approved “additives” for tea.  Suzie serves tea episode after episode on HGTeaV.  No matter what the clients’ tastes are, they are forced to drink her tea.  Tea is common not creative.  Tea is “safe”.

In design/architectural branding we, like Suzie, could assume everyone likes tea and we do (commonly) invite them to tea.  If they know they are coming for tea, then it is ok to serve tea… HOWEVER, there are times we need to serve something other than tea.  As designers, asking for a deviation from tea (a metaphor for “approved/common” corporate design branding standards) requires additional operator “consent” – CONSENT to proceed based on CONCEPT buy off!


(photo credit: pinterest)

Sooo.. let’s forget the (insert adjective) tea and talk about what we really want permission to serve: bourbon.

As design professionals, we are often tasked with designing for an operator/brand.  Brand has an established following, it has proven fundamental customer expectations.  It is recognizable if there is end-user familiarity not only of product standard, but architecturally as well.   For franchises, an established architectural “tea” recipe has already been approved by the CEO(s) as far as brand design.  Let’s look at two familiar brands architecturally (that in fact serve “tea”) to get your buy in on this thought process (see, I’m in search of a second date too!):


McDonald’s “tea” brand concept:

(photo credit: media4)

McDonald’s “shot of bourbon” concept – AKA McCafe:


(photo credit: static)

Starbucks “tea” brand concept:


(photo credit: tucker)

Starbucks “shot of bourbon” concept:


(photo credit: firstwefeast)

Design/architectural branding can and should deviate based on the market (or individual client for that matter) – hence the need for bourbon.  The request from the operator was to have a seemingly understood “pretentious” (bourbon) brand seem “approachable” (safe – like tea).  This was, in a sense (for me), like being a newly “impregnated” whiskey drinker giving up alcohol for (obvious) selfless reasons.  I needed a new recipe… Was it be possible to infuse tea (somehow) with bourbon, but burn off the “risky” alcohol content?

Too late for contraception, it was time to Refurbish Bourbon… So began my search for creativiTEA.

It’s nearly “tea” time… ‘enjoy’ a cup! (or perhaps you will join me next time because bourbon is worth your wait?)


Let’s Get It On!…(from a design point of view)

from another point of view

(photo credit: pinterest)

With the conceptual foundation established the design (dating) process can commence.  The fundamentals of design are utilized beyond space allocation to inform, support and expand the strategic vision and intent.  The 2-D “mood”  transcends to its “curvier” 3-D big sister (you’re already visualizing it right?).

Social media today is full of DIY design visuals.  Everyone is a design “expert.”  It appears that all you need is a shiplap substrate, a can of paint, some rusty letters and, if you’re really bold, a bucket of glitter and you too are on your way to host an HD design hour.  So how do we, as (actual) designers, combat the cookie cutting design trend?  How is our design (dating) profile any more valuable than DIY Suzie?  Oh, that’s right… training, experience and credentials!  We know the process.  We instill the basics.

Our “profile” looks something like this:

"I don't think outside of the box; I think of what I can do with the box"
Relationships: (familiarity with principles below)
Religion: Make it Simple, but Significant
Location: Making the best use of “available” space

In my previous post, Design Contraception, we learned about the value of planning referred to in the design world as concept.  Now it is time to get into the design (dating) relationship fundamentals (AKA principles of Design Theory):


The shape of one part should “fit” the shape of its adjoining elements.

unity hierarchy balance

Intentional elemental arrangement is implemented via symmetry, asymmetry and radial alignment.

unity hierarchy balance

Intentional visual arrangement of design elements are categorized in order of (spatial) importance.

dominance scale similarity

The relationship of size, ratio and divisions with each other have the largest impact on spatial functionality.

dominance scale similarity

Breaking visual hierarchy using form to lay emphasis.  You can’t emphasize everything – it’s either a red lip or a smokey eye!

dominance scale similarity

Contrast and similarity are clues to design elements.  Differences draw our attention and similarity transfers what we know about one element to another.

As stated so eloquently by Albert Hadley, “The essence of interior design will always be about people and how they live.  It is about the realities of what makes for an attractive, civilized, meaningful environment (relationship), not about fashion or what’s in or what’s out.  This is not an easy job.”   So why, as real design professionals, would we leave the job up to those with a bucket of glitter?  In time, this trend too will pass and we (the design professionals) will consistently and continually be awarded the second date – the opportunity to complete that Bourbon Steakhouse Refurbishment.  In the meantime though, DIY Suzie can keep her seat at the “It’s Just Lunch” table.  Call to action here?  It’s Friday night!  Join me for a drink – (sorry Suzie… you’ll have to “pay” for yours!)