Design is not just what it looks like, design is how it works…

I joke quite a lot with my clients about the fact that I am all about the aesthetic and not about practicality, but in reality this couldn’t be further from the truth...

The recently deceased Steve Jobs really hit the nail on the head when he said ‘design is not just what it looks like, design is how it works’ - and this fundamental design philosophy that contributed to Apple’s resurgence and stupefying success during the past decade is just as relevant for interiors as it is for the latest iThing and, if I am being biased, perhaps even more so.

For an interior to really work in practice you really need to think through the ergonomics of the room. Ergonomics, in very simple terms, is the study of people and their relationship with the environment around them. From an interior design perspective, this is all about the measurement of the distances between furniture, location and adjacencies, spatial planning and the actual dimensions of furniture when designing bespoke items.

A simple example with a simple object… when designing a chair, one of the most important factors is comfort - this is linked closely to many aspects of the design of the chair, including the seating height. Typically the preferred seating height is calculated by measuring the most comfortable height for the person who is going to use the chair. However, if the chair is going to be used by numerous people it is important to measure the comfortable seating height for a range of people and then work out the average height. The average seating height is then applied to the dimensions of the chair. So, you either consider the ergonomics of the chair for one person (the rich people who can afford their own bespoke chairs) or many people (the rest of us who end up sitting on a makeshift seat or on the sofa with a plate on your lap when we have too many people round for dinner).

When designing interiors we need to focus on creating ergonomically friendly spaces that are both comfortable and functional – as a consequence, a designer needs to genuinely understand and be really comfortable with the amount of space that is realistically required to perform different tasks and functions, from simply walking comfortably and in an unconstrained way between two pieces of furniture, to dealing with towels drying on the front of the bath (bit random, but thinking about my house – just been in the bathroom and knocked over a load of drying towels),to the most convenient height for work surfaces and the storage spaces for different items. All of these aspects, including even the most pedantic (yep, I’m still thinking about the towels on the side of the bath) need to be given careful consideration in the spatial planning stage and throughout the design process.

I thought it would be helpful to share some images of things that I think have been wonderfully designed from an ergonomic and aesthetic point of view…

Image from Gaile Guevara 

(Image from Gaile Guevara)

Steve will be missed as he was a leader without equal and an individual who possessed and adhered to a simple design philosophy that we all buy in to… but there are some other little quotes that highlight the importance of ergonomics in design… the importance of both aesthetic and function, and the truly spectacular results when these two things come together in perfect harmony…

“Form and function should be one” – Frank Lloyd Wright – Architect

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” - William Morris

…this is what great design is all about…


  1. I love these quotes. I often too joke that I just make things look pretty. hah


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