I had a landscape architecture professor in my undergraduate study who used to say, “If an idiot can do it, design it out!”? As a student, it was difficult to understand the magnitude of this statement. At this stage of learning, we executed intent without necessarily ensuring safety or function. Those projects were about pushing the mind more and the functionality less. Those projects (I made them too) were design naivety.
As professionals, we don’t have this luxury. We cashed in our naivety cards in exchange for our design credentials… and we should have.
Architecture without people is sculpture.
We have taken oaths to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public. We have a responsibility to know… better. As designers, we must tap into our mama bear premonitions. We must invoke design foresight – just as mothers foresee their children falling just before they do… and extend a hand quickly (or at least a wipe in the event we weren’t fast enough).
We must envision our vision occupied. We must think about the interactions of our users with our spaces. We must intentionally sculpt environments that eliminate safety risks (and keep the sunscreen out of arm’s reach). We must design out risk while we simultaneously develop function. And then we must wrap it all up in aesthetic value.
(design) Risk isn’t an emoji
Design risks take on many forms. They look like many things. They morph based on a space being deemed public versus one that is private. One that is residential versus commercial. One that is interior versus exterior. These risks may be ‘shiny’ – a crystal chandelier for example that extends into human reach or a stunning polished floor finish that doesn’t meet coefficients for slip resistance in wet areas. It may even be a discontinued product that will only be available for install, but not for change out or maintenance.
Redesigning for risk can crush a designer’s heart. And it has… crushed me… It is frustrating. It is necessary. Solving these issues both functionally and aesthetically is (unfortunately) our problem. Designing out risk will change the look of the original vision, but it shouldn’t jeopardize the intent.
Omit the Catastrophy
Solution seeking is part of the design process. We have all learned from failure. Each time we have installed something that did not work (created risk), we have added to our (design) archive collection of “I may love you, but you are off limits… don’t worry, you will always be pretty, but you will have to remain a ‘sample’ for you are a ticking time bomb”.
So, designers, don’t forget the risks you were too naive to understand (until you installed them), for they make you (us) better. Instead, turn them into (design) ‘Lessons Learned‘ and actually learn from them… for they will resonate with you longer than (design) accomplishments… and they will propel you from here to there… because there is more beautiful than you ever imagined.