Blurring the Lines

Sep 11, 2013
  • Article by Scott Walker
  • Photography by Michael Bojkowski
  • Designer

Above: Illustration by Michael Bojkowski

By definition, creativity goes beyond normally understood parameters. As a community, the design industry constantly re-evaluates the norm for various reasons: to critically evaluate commonly accepted practices or simply for the sake of being different. Recently, the industry has looked beyond sector borders and drawn inspiration from vernaculars not normally associated with a particular field of work. Never before have the lines between traditionally understood typologies been blurred with such regularity.

Australian skincare company, Aesop, consistently delivers stores that are more aligned to installation or exhibition design than traditional retail models. Apple stores use an educational model as opposed to a retail model. Nowadays, airport lounges have as much in keeping with workplaces as they do hospitality. The ability to work and socialise while waiting to catch a plane is fundamental to their popularity. And in the modern library, the influence of the contemporary workplace is clear: less book space and greater availability of learning areas that enable collaboration and social interaction.

So why is this notion of ‘blurring the lines’ becoming the norm? Like any shift, technology plays an important role. Wireless technologies and more sophisticated devices are allowing people to be less dependent on infrastructure than they have been historically. Technology has dispelled the notion that work only happens within the workplace and introduced the idea of work as a lifestyle. Spending the morning responding to emails from the local cafe has impacted the design of these hospitality spaces and, conversely, shifted the ways workplaces are designed in order to recreate the sense of a cafe within the workplace. This flexibility makes the entire workplace – not just the chair on which one sits – ergonomic. Diversity facilitates choice, which in turn allows movement and, ultimately, connects people.

Of course, this blurring of the lines is a fundamental acknowledgement that one solution does not fit all. A workplace is more than what people traditionally recognise as ‘doing work’, and a shop is about more than just selling product. By drawing on broader influences, designers are able to pragmatically deal with the diverse needs of a space – but it also offers them the opportunity to have fun. Designers look to explore, push boundaries and experiment with ideas, with most clients expecting this.

While new ideas are invariably trial and error, and most often process-driven, many people are driven by enjoyment, passion and a sense of fun. Experimentation through play is not a new thing in education and it is something that happens naturally in the creative industries.

To clients, the design industry offers not just technical skills, but also the ability to come to a solution from a different perspective. Good designers want to be challenged and thinking about an issue from a completely different starting point is a means to test the status quo. Most hotels are designed for leisure or escapism and yet a large component of hotel trade is the business traveller. Given businesses’ reliance on connection, why not design a hotel to facilitate doing business?

This new perspective that designers bring to a project is often a key objective for clients, along with other fundamentals such as functionality and cost. ‘New’ equates to innovation and progress – qualities with which organisations are keen to align themselves. Of course, ‘new’ is not always a positive: it often denies the tried and tested. Informed by knowledge learned from past experience, specialisation can be hugely relevant – particularly in technical environments, such as the health sector. But in the context of this discussion, might the strengths of the specialist also become weaknesses? One could argue that the generalist is more likely to bring an openness to the conversation, welcoming the opportunity to draw ideas from other influences and typologies.

This concept of blurring the lines is about being freed from strict interpretations of particular typologies. Good design should be informed and well-rounded, with this cross-fertilisation between sectors offering far greater opportunities to professional design practice. Not only does it allow us to reach a diversity of outcomes – from planning to aesthetics – it also opens the door to unforeseen solutions to old problems, such as cost savings and operational improvements. Fundamental to design practice is the ability to understand and then respond to a specific client problem and, by opening up to a broader range of influences, designers are able to use design to its fullest potential.

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