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Presto — Instant Design Gratification!

Sep 30, 2009

by Catherine Calvert, VIA’s Director of Practice + Director of Community Architecture and
Angie Tomisser, VIA’s Interior Designer

As designers, it’s fascinating to watch the approach to design as portrayed on national television:

  • Give us a week, and we’ll build you a house from scratch – not only shiny and new, but customized to your exact hobbies and tastes!
  • Go to your neighbor’s house and rip out all the things you don’t like – and replace them with the things you like – they’ll be so surprised!
  • Just watch me and copy everything I do – wow your friends with your excellent taste and originality!

It reminds us of other types of reality shows – the ones where people drop a dozen pounds in the hour that you’re watching – except that what you don’t see is the 50 hours they had to spend in the gym to burn those calories – literally, the heavy lifting that goes on behind the scenes.

Now we’re all for the promotion of good design, and the way in which an improved environment can affect people’s lives and wellbeing. What we’re wary of, and are starting to hear in discussions with various non-designers, is people’s perceptions of what designers do as “picking good stuff” or being able to instantaneously create a vision of how a space should function, look and feel. We wish it were as easy as it appears on reality TV.

The process of design involves its own form of heavy lifting. Good architecture doesn’t happen instantaneously, but rather is the result of thoughtful, diligent consideration of design problems, testing of ideas, and gradually closing in on a thorough, sensible solution. Even the simplest transformation deserves time to think it through and to get it right. It’s hard to describe this to someone without appearing to be mystifying the design process. It’s not mystical … but it needs a particular set of skills that go beyond the superficial. No great piece of architecture is simply about looking good.

As a society we have become so hooked on instant gratification. Buy that new car — even if you can’t afford those payments – who cares, you’ll look so good driving it! If there is any silver lining in our current economic downturn, it’s that maybe people are thinking twice about the quick hit. An investment in carefully considered quality, of saving for what we really have thought about, of taking the time to make careful decisions – this can’t be a bad thing.

Do you think we could make this catch on in reality TV land?

One Comment

  1. After reading this post, I believe you’d enjoy the old adage that you can have something fast, cheap, and right, but you can only pick two.

    I think the issues of instant gratification and of non-professionals misunderstanding the time and effort that goes into a final product really cut across industries. I know it’s true of engineers and lawyers, and I’m sure it’s true of many other professional services as well.

    This post was a great summary of what a lot of us have been thinking for a long time. I agree that there is a lot of good that is coming out of this recession if it at least forces people to stop, take a breath, and step back to see the bigger picture.

    – Gina Macchiaroli, PE, LEED AP