Flow wall mural by Gerard Puxhe

The Multifaceted World of Surface Design Applications

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November 2, 2023In Articles

In an earlier piece titled, More Than Skin Deep: The Intricacies of Surface Design, I delved into the essence of Surface Design. To recap, Surface Design embodies the artistic endeavour of adorning various materials with illustrations, patterns, textures, or other visual elements. It’s about crafting designs that align seamlessly with the innate properties of diverse mediums, be it fabric, paper, ceramics, metal, wood, or even digital interfaces. This unique domain is renowned for balancing aesthetics with tactile experiences, making sure that creations are as delightful to touch as they are to view.

In this article, we will further explore the myriad applications of Surface Design.

Textile and Fashion

Surface design in textiles and fashion is arguably its most prominent and familiar manifestation. The very fabric of our daily lives, quite literally, is influenced by the creative prowess of surface designers. The clothes we wear, the curtains that grace our windows, the rugs under our feet, and the upholstery on our furniture—all of these are canvases for surface design.

When we think of a dress with a particular print or a rug with a specific pattern, it’s surface design that we’re admiring. It adds layers of beauty, functionality, and personality to otherwise plain fabrics. Beyond mere aesthetics, it tells stories, reflects cultures, or even makes a statement.

Various techniques cater specifically to textiles, each with its unique outcome. Screen printing, for instance, is a time-tested method that involves pushing ink through a mesh stencil onto fabric. This method is favoured for its ability to produce crisp, clear designs, especially when repeatability is essential.

Dyeing, on the other hand, is more about immersing fabrics in colour solutions, allowing for a depth and richness of hue. The results can be uniform or varied, leading to effects like tie-dye or batik. Each dyeing technique imparts a different character to the fabric, allowing designers to play with tones and shades.

Then there’s the revolutionary digital textile printing, a more recent addition to the designer’s toolkit. It’s akin to a regular printer but on a much grander scale, and for fabrics. This technique allows for a high degree of precision, intricate detail, and a vast spectrum of colours. Moreover, it offers the flexibility to easily make changes to designs, making it perfect for bespoke projects or limited edition runs.

Beyond these techniques, embroidery, appliqué, and weaving also come into play, each adding texture, dimension, and a tactile quality to fabrics.

In fashion, especially, surface design can dictate trends. A particular pattern or print can define an entire season’s fashion statement. Similarly, in home decor, a specific design on upholstery or curtains can set the mood of a room, making it cozy, vibrant, festive, or tranquil.

Wallpapers and Interiors

Surface design’s application in wallpapers and interiors has drastically reshaped the way we perceive and experience indoor spaces. Once mere barriers defining a room, walls have evolved into storytellers and mood setters, thanks to the infusion of artistic and innovative surface design concepts.

At the very heart of this transformation lies the wallpaper. A centuries-old decor tool, wallpapers have witnessed a renaissance of sorts with surface design techniques. Traditional wallpapers, often inspired by nature, historic events, or cultural patterns, have been a staple in homes and establishments, lending a touch of elegance and timelessness. Their intricate patterns, often repeated seamlessly, offer a consistent backdrop, subtly elevating a room’s ambiance.

On the other hand, modern wallpapers, emboldened by advancements in printing and design techniques, challenge conventions. They bring in a broader palette of colours, geometric designs, abstract art, and even realistic panoramic views. Imagine a wall that transports you to a serene forest, a bustling cityscape, or an abstract dreamscape; that’s the magic of contemporary surface design.

But surface design in interiors doesn’t stop at wallpapers. Tiles, floor designs, ceiling art, and even furniture finishes owe their visual appeal to this art form. Think of the intricate mosaics in bathrooms, the patterned tiles in kitchens, or the textured finishes on a modern sofa. Each is a testament to how surface design can uplift and redefine a space.

Moreover, with the rise of customizable and digital print solutions, there’s an increased move towards personalized interiors. People now have the freedom to transform personal photographs, artworks, or any desired design into wallpapers, making spaces deeply personal and reflective of individual tastes.

Surface design also plays a crucial role in thematic interiors. For instance, a coastal-themed room might feature wallpapers with serene beaches, shells, or marine life, while a vintage-themed space might boast of wallpapers mimicking aged wood or classic floral patterns.

In commercial spaces like restaurants, hotels, or offices, surface design aids in branding and setting the desired mood. A fast-food joint might opt for vibrant, energetic designs, while a spa might choose calming, nature-inspired murals.

The application of surface design in wallpapers and interiors is profound. It’s not just about covering walls but about conveying emotions, setting moods, and making statements. Through its myriad forms and applications, surface design ensures that our interiors are never mundane but always a canvas of creativity and expression.

Flow dark wallpaper by Gerard Puxhe
Flow dark wallpaper by Gerard Puxhe

Ceramics and Pottery

Historically, cultures worldwide have expressed their stories, beliefs, and aesthetic tastes through the designs they’ve adorned their ceramic artifacts with. From ancient Grecian urns to Chinese porcelain, the narrative power of surface design in pottery is evident.

At the heart of ceramics lies the canvas of raw clay, ready to be transformed. The designs applied to ceramics, whether on ornate vases or functional dinnerware, play a significant role in elevating a simple clay piece’s value and appeal. These designs breathe life into the clay, adding colour, texture, and, often, meaning to it.

Traditional methods of applying designs to ceramics, such as hand-painting or stamping, ensure that each piece exudes a charm of its own. Hand-painting, especially, has been a cherished technique for centuries. Artists, using various brushes and pigments, painstakingly decorate the pottery, making each piece a unique work of art. This uniqueness, where no two pieces are identical, adds to the allure of hand-painted ceramics. Such pieces often reflect the artist’s mood, the cultural context, or a specific story or event, making them timeless keepsakes.

Stamping, another age-old technique, involves pressing designs onto the clay surface using carved stamps. The beauty of stamping lies in its ability to reproduce traditional and cultural patterns consistently, offering a cohesive look, especially in pottery sets.

On the flip side, the modern world has introduced techniques that bring a different set of advantages to ceramic surface design. Digital printing on ceramics, for instance, allows for intricate patterns and designs to be replicated with high precision across numerous pieces. This not only ensures consistency for mass-produced items but also enables intricate detailing that might be challenging to achieve by hand. Techniques like decal transfer, where designs are printed on a special paper and then transferred to the ceramic surface, combine the charm of handcrafted designs with the precision of digital printing.

Further innovations, such as laser etching and 3D printing on ceramics, are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in surface design. These methods open doors to textures and patterns previously unimaginable.

Moreover, the fusion of traditional and modern techniques often results in breathtaking masterpieces. For instance, a hand-painted piece might be finished with a digitally printed overlay, resulting in a harmonious blend of the old and new.

Packaging

In the competitive world of retail and e-commerce, where a multitude of products vie for a consumer’s attention, packaging has evolved from being merely a protective covering to a powerful communication tool. The role of surface design in packaging cannot be overstated; it’s the first visual and tactile interface between the product and the potential buyer, offering a unique opportunity to create a lasting impression.

The adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” might be wise advice, but in the realm of product marketing, appearance can be everything. A product’s packaging speaks volumes even before its contents are revealed. It tells a story about the brand, its values, quality, and its uniqueness. And at the heart of this narrative is surface design.

Crafting the perfect design for packaging involves a delicate balance. First and foremost, it must reflect the brand’s identity – its colours, logos, and overall aesthetic. Consistency in branding is crucial, and the packaging design should seamlessly fit within the broader visual language of the brand.

Yet, beyond brand consistency, surface design for packaging must also capture the essence of the product inside. Whether it’s the luxurious feel of a perfume box, the rustic charm of organic tea packaging, or the vibrant playfulness of a toy wrapper, the design should offer a hint of what awaits inside. It’s about creating anticipation, a sense of discovery.

Moreover, understanding the target audience is pivotal. A design that appeals to millennials might not resonate with older generations, and vice versa. Hence, it’s essential to craft designs that align with the sensibilities, preferences, and values of the intended demographic. This might involve cultural motifs, trending patterns, or even textures that evoke specific emotions.

Modern packaging also considers sustainability. As eco-consciousness grows among consumers, brands are exploring surface designs that not only look good but also convey a message of environmental responsibility. This might be reflected in earthy tones, motifs from nature, or even in the materials used for the packaging itself.

Furthermore, surface design in packaging has also seen innovations like holography, embossing, and even interactive elements. These add a tactile dimension, enhancing the unboxing experience for consumers.

Surface design’s application in packaging is multifaceted. It’s about aesthetics, brand storytelling, consumer psychology, and even environmental responsibility. In a crowded marketplace, where differentiation can be challenging, a well-designed package – powered by thoughtful surface design – can be the edge that tilts the balance in favour of one product over another. It transforms the mundane act of buying into an immersive experience, beginning with the allure of the package and culminating in the product inside.

Public Art and Architecture

When we delve into the world of public art and architecture, surface design emerges as an omnipresent force that not only adds aesthetic value but also enriches cultural narratives and fosters community engagement. Its applications are as varied as they are profound, spanning from the micro to the macro, influencing both small art installations and monumental architectural structures.

Historic buildings often showcase the zenith of surface design from past eras. The meticulous frescoes of Renaissance chapels, the intricate carvings on Gothic cathedrals, or the detailed mosaics in Byzantine domes – each bears witness to the skill and vision of artisans from bygone ages. These designs, deeply imbued with cultural and religious significance, transform the building’s surfaces into visual storybooks, narrating tales of devotion, aspiration, and human endeavour.

But it’s not just the grandeur of historical monuments that captures the essence of surface design. Even in contemporary settings, public spaces like parks, transit stations, or town squares often feature art installations or functional structures like benches, fountains, and pavilions that incorporate unique surface designs. These designs serve multiple purposes: they add vibrancy and character to urban landscapes, offer a sense of place and identity, and often, provoke thought and dialogue.

In modern architecture, surface design has evolved to embrace not just patterns and decorations but also innovative materials and technologies. Buildings’ facades might feature dynamic surface designs that change with light or weather, interactive walls that respond to human touch, or even sustainable designs that integrate natural elements like plants or water, creating living, breathing architectural marvels.

Public art installations, whether standalone sculptures or integrated into architectural elements, also leverage surface design to enhance their impact. A sculpture might be adorned with patterns that play with light and shadow, creating a mesmerizing visual spectacle. Alternatively, interactive public art pieces might use surface design elements to invite touch, exploration, and engagement, making observers active participants in the art experience.

Twist wallpaper by Gerard Puxhe
Twist wallpaper by Gerard Puxhe

In conclusion, Surface Design, with its myriad applications, stands as a testament to the diverse and impactful ways design intersects with our daily lives. From the clothes we wear and the spaces we inhabit to the products we purchase and the public art we admire, the art of embellishing various surfaces shapes our perceptions and experiences. These applications not only underscore the versatility of surface design but also highlight its profound ability to transform the mundane into the extraordinary. Whether for functional purposes, aesthetic appeal, or both, surface design has undeniably etched its importance across numerous fields, adding depth, character, and allure to our tactile world.


Dawn-C3-orange-blanket

More Than Skin Deep: The Intricacies of Surface Design

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October 19, 2023In Articles

Surface design, as its name suggests, revolves around the art of enhancing the outward appearance of various materials. It represents the convergence of art and functionality, aiming to bring out the best in materials, whether it’s the sheen of silk fabric, the roughness of a wooden plank, or the smoothness of ceramic pottery. This field uniquely straddles various disciplines, integrating elements from textiles, graphic arts, and interior decoration, and thereby offers an innovative lens through which we perceive and engage with our surroundings.

At its heart, surface design is dedicated to celebrating and elevating the intrinsic beauty and potential of materials. While graphic design predominantly caters to our visual senses, focusing on the look and layout of elements on paper or digital platforms, surface design takes a more holistic approach. It invites individuals to not only look but to touch, to interact, and to experience. It’s where the texture of a handwoven carpet or the ornate patterns on a ceramic vase can evoke emotions and memories. Whether it’s a bold pattern that repeats endlessly on a fabric or a singular, detailed motif on a piece of stationery, the primary objective remains: to add value, character, and a sense of identity to the material in question.

Diving into the techniques, the beauty of surface design lies in its versatility and adaptability. Traditional methods, deeply rooted in culture and history, like block printing or hand embroidery, lend an authentic and handmade touch to items. Each stroke of paint or impression of a block tells a story of craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail. On the other hand, the advent of modern technology has introduced methods like digital printing and laser etching, which provide precision, consistency, and the ability to reproduce intricate designs at scale. These modern techniques, while ensuring accuracy, also allow designers to experiment with intricate patterns and details that might be challenging with manual methods.

The choice of technique is not arbitrary but is a careful decision based on several factors. The nature of the surface is paramount. For instance, delicate fabrics might benefit from gentle hand painting, while metals might be suited for etching or engraving. Additionally, the desired visual and tactile outcome plays a significant role in this choice. Do we want a raised texture or a smooth finish? Should the design be glossy or matte? Lastly, the context of the design’s application and its intended audience can influence the choice of technique. A design for a contemporary urban setting might differ from one intended for a traditional, rustic environment.

Dawn-C3-orange-blanket
Blanket by Gerard Puxhe

APPLICATIONS OF SURFACE DESIGN

Textile and Fashion. This is perhaps the most recognized application of surface design. From the patterns on our clothes to designs on upholstery, rugs, and curtains, surface design plays a pivotal role in determining aesthetic appeal. Techniques like screen printing, dyeing, and digital textile printing allow designers to infuse fabrics with vibrant and diverse designs.

Wallpapers and Interiors. The walls of a space can be transformed from blank canvases to captivating scenes or patterns with the aid of surface design. Whether it’s the intricate patterns of traditional wallpapers or the bold designs of modern mural art, surface design gives interiors a distinct personality.

Ceramics and Pottery. The designs you find on ceramics – be it decorative vases or every day dinnerware – are examples of surface design. Traditional methods, like hand-painting or stamping, give each piece a unique touch, while modern methods allow for precision and repetition.

Packaging. The packaging of a product can influence a buyer’s decision, and surface design plays a critical role in making a package stand out. It involves creating designs that not only resonate with the brand’s identity but also appeal to the target audience’s sensibilities.

Public Art and Architecture. In the broader context, surface design also finds application in the realm of public art installations and architectural features. Think of the ornate details on historic buildings or the vibrant patterns on public benches or transit hubs. Each is a testament to the transformative power of surface design.

Dawn cushions by Gerard Puxhe
Cushions by Gerard Puxhe

CONCLUSION

Surface design is an expansive field that touches various aspects of our lives, often in ways we might overlook. From the clothes we wear to the interiors we inhabit and even the digital screens we stare at, the influence of surface design is pervasive.

It’s a testament to the marriage of art and functionality. It reminds us that surfaces, no matter how plain or mundane, hold the potential to tell stories, to captivate, and to inspire, if only we take the time to adorn them thoughtfully.

As aesthetics continue to play an influential role in decision-making, whether it’s choosing a product or designing a space, the importance of surface design is bound to grow. It not only enhances the visual appeal but also adds depth, personality, and context to objects and spaces, making them resonate more deeply with the human experience.


wayfinding neon-light-bathroom-sign

Wayfinding Unwrapped: A Detailed Insight into its Elements

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October 5, 2023In Articles

In the previous article, The Role of Wayfinding Systems in the Space, I explored the nature of wayfinding systems, their elements, the key aspects of designing an effective system, and their importance in spatial projects. In this article, I’ll delve deeper into the various elements of wayfinding.

WAYFINDING ELEMENTS

Signage and Sign Systems

These are perhaps the most recognizable components of wayfinding. Signs, whether directional, informational, or identificational, guide users from one location to another, provide essential information, or denote particular areas or landmarks.

Signage can identify the names and functions of different spaces, like the lobbies, conference rooms, restrooms, etc. For instance, the sign outside a store in a mall lets you know what you can find inside.

Signage is essential for conveying rules, warnings, and safety procedures. Exit signs in buildings, for example, guide occupants safely out during emergencies.

wayfinding subway station signage

Maps

Maps have always been a fundamental tool for navigation. In the context of wayfinding systems, whether they are interactive or static, maps offer an overview of an environment, helping users understand their current location in relation to their desired destination. It’s an invaluable asset in guiding users.

One of the primary utilities of a map within a wayfinding system is to provide a bird’s-eye view of the environment. This holistic perspective allows users to get a quick grasp of the layout, key landmarks, and the relative positioning of different areas within the space. Such an overview can be particularly useful in complex environments where multiple points of interest exist.

A crucial element in any map for wayfinding is the “You Are Here” marker. This simple yet effective tool instantly anchors users by pinpointing their current location. By knowing exactly where they stand, users can make informed decisions on which direction to head next.

Maps not only show users where they are but also aid in plotting a course to where they want to go. Users can trace possible routes, gauge distances, and even anticipate potential obstacles or diversions. This becomes especially handy in large, multi-level environments where multiple routes can lead to the same destination.

The advent of digital technology has given rise to interactive maps, a dynamic variant of traditional static maps. Interactive maps can offer real-time updates, zooming capabilities, and even turn-by-turn directions. They can be customized to show specific routes based on user needs, highlighting amenities or points of interest along the way. On the other hand, static maps, often printed or displayed on signboards, provide a constant, unchanging reference point. While they may lack the dynamism of their interactive counterparts, their reliability and ubiquity make them a staple in many wayfinding systems.

After using them once, well-designed maps can help users remember routes for their subsequent visits. Over time, regular visitors begin to recall certain pathways, landmarks, and points of interest, reducing their reliance on the wayfinding system and making navigation more intuitive.

Symbols and Icons

Symbols and icons play a pivotal role in wayfinding systems across various environments. Their importance can’t be overstated.

The primary advantage of using symbols and icons is their instant recognizability. In spaces frequented by diverse groups of people, including those from different linguistic backgrounds, symbols provide a universal language. For instance, regardless of one’s native tongue, a pictogram of a person running towards an exit is universally understood as an emergency exit.

In high-traffic areas or emergency situations, time is of the essence. Symbols cut down the time it takes to process information. Instead of reading “restroom” or “exit”, a simple glance at the respective icons provides the needed information, making navigation quicker and more intuitive.

Universal symbols maintain consistency across various locations and cultures. Whether you’re in a shopping center in Tokyo or an airport in Paris, the symbols for facilities like restrooms, exits, and information desks remain largely consistent. This universality ensures that travellers, even in unfamiliar territories, can find their way with relative ease.

Symbols cater to a broader audience. For individuals with reading difficulties, cognitive impairments, or those who aren’t familiar with the local language, symbols offer a more accessible way to understand their surroundings. Modern wayfinding systems are increasingly incorporating symbols that are inclusive of a diverse range of disabilities, making spaces more universally accessible.

While the message behind a symbol needs to be universally understood, the design of the symbol can be adapted to fit the aesthetic of the space it’s in. This means that while the core symbol for a restroom or exit remains recognizable, its design can be tweaked to align with the architecture, theme, or brand of a location, ensuring cohesion in design.

Symbols, due to their compact nature, reduce the need for lengthy textual explanations. This minimization of text helps in decluttering spaces, especially in areas where multiple pieces of information need to be displayed. A cleaner design ensures that important information is not lost amidst the noise.

wayfinding neon-light-bathroom-sign

Colour Coding

The strategic use of colour in wayfinding goes beyond mere aesthetics, proving to be an effective tool for guiding individuals through various environments. Whether in a bustling airport, a sprawling hospital, or an expansive convention center, colour coding serves as a silent guide, making navigation intuitive and user-friendly.

Humans are inherently visual creatures, and colours are more easily remembered than text or numbers. By associating a specific colour with a zone or area, individuals are more likely to recall their paths or destinations. Imagine trying to remember a terminal name in a foreign language versus recalling a vivid shade of green; the latter is undoubtedly easier.

Navigating complex environments can be mentally taxing. Colour coding reduces the cognitive burden by providing clear visual cues. Instead of relying heavily on signs and written instructions, individuals can make quick decisions based on colour patterns they recognize.

While functionality is paramount, the aesthetic appeal cannot be ignored. Colour coding can be harmoniously integrated into the overall design and branding of a space. A shopping mall, for example, can employ colour themes that resonate with its brand image or the cultural nuances of its location, offering users a sense of place.

For those with language barriers, cognitive impairments, or specific visual conditions like colour blindness, navigating spaces can be challenging. By using distinct, contrasting colours and considering universal design principles, wayfinding systems can cater to a broader audience, ensuring inclusivity.

Lighting

Lighting, when implemented effectively in wayfinding, is not just about visibility; it’s an art that blends aesthetics with functionality to guide and engage users within a space.

At its most fundamental, lighting draws attention. Whether it’s the brightly lit entrance of a building or spotlighted artwork in a museum corridor, lighting serves as a beacon, signalling areas of significance. This ensures that visitors are naturally drawn to key spots, making their journey more intuitive.

Beyond its functional purpose, lighting can set the mood of a space. Warm, ambient lighting can make an environment feel cozy and welcoming, while cooler, brighter lights might convey a more modern and professional atmosphere. In wayfinding, this atmospheric element can help users emotionally connect with a space, making their experience more memorable.

Adequate lighting is crucial for safety, especially in emergency situations. By clearly illuminating exits, stairwells, and potential hazard zones, users can navigate more confidently, reducing the risk of accidents. In outdoor settings, like parks or campus grounds, well-lit paths can provide an added sense of security during nighttime hours.

Strategically placed lighting can subtly guide visitors through a space. For instance, a series of ground lights in a corridor might indicate the direction of movement, while a change in lighting colour or intensity could signify a transition from one zone to another. This subliminal guidance system can be especially beneficial in large or complex spaces.

Lighting should never feel like an afterthought. When integrated seamlessly with architectural and design elements, it can complement and even enhance the overall aesthetics. Think of how a well-lit showcase can make exhibits in a museum pop or how the play of lights on a water feature can mesmerize onlookers.

Proper lighting can be of immense help to individuals with visual impairments. By ensuring clear contrasts and reducing glare, spaces become more navigable for everyone. Furthermore, certain lighting cues can be implemented to assist those with cognitive challenges, offering them a more comfortable and comprehensible environment.

Tactile Elements and audio systems

Wayfinding is about ensuring that every individual, regardless of their abilities, can navigate and comprehend their surroundings effectively. To that end, tactile elements and audio systems have emerged as crucial tools to aid in accessibility, especially for those with visual impairments.

Braille, a tactile writing system used by visually impaired individuals, can be integrated into signage, maps, and even elevator buttons. By doing so, information that’s usually conveyed visually is made accessible to those who rely on touch for reading and comprehension.

Often found in train stations, public squares, or near pedestrian crossings, textured ground surfaces provide tactile cues. These tactile tiles or strips, whether raised or indented, can indicate different things like ‘halt’, ‘turn left/right’ or ‘proceed straight’. For someone with a visual impairment, these tactile clues can be the difference between safely navigating a space and getting lost or facing hazards.

Some spaces, especially cultural institutions or large public buildings, might offer tactile models or maps. These are three-dimensional representations of a space that users can touch and feel to understand layouts, giving them a ‘bird’s-eye’ tactile perspective.

Regularly heard in transportation hubs like airports and train stations, announcements offer timely and crucial information. Whether it’s about an upcoming stop, a change in schedule, or safety instructions, these auditory cues keep users informed and can be especially valuable for those who can’t access visual information.

These are devices that emit audio signals, providing location-based guidance. In a shopping mall, for instance, beacons might alert a visually impaired individual of an upcoming store or facility, offering them more autonomy in their movements.

Some modern spaces or institutions might offer audio descriptive tools or apps. These provide real-time descriptions of surroundings, exhibits, or even art pieces, ensuring that visually impaired individuals can enjoy and understand the environment as comprehensively as sighted visitors.

In certain interactive environments, users might receive audio feedback based on their actions. For example, when accessing an information kiosk, buttons or options could have associated sounds, confirming selections to the user.

Landmarks

Landmarks play a pivotal role in wayfinding, acting as the silent guides that gently steer visitors through various environments. Whether it’s the intricate design of a building’s façade, a grand statue in a park, or a vibrant mural in a subway station, these features punctuate spaces and create a mental map for users.

Landmarks often stick in our memories, serving as anchors that help us recall routes or locations. Think of the times you’ve given directions using landmarks – “Turn right at the big clock tower” or “You’ll know you’re close when you see the colourful wall mural.” When explaining routes to others, landmarks become invaluable. They offer concrete, easily recognizable points that most people can identify, making verbal directions more effective and easy to understand.

Beyond mere navigation, landmarks can instill a unique character to an area. They contribute to the identity of a space, making it memorable and distinct from other places. This sense of place aids in not just navigation but also in fostering a connection between the user and the environment.

With clear landmarks, individuals don’t have to rely solely on maps or signs. They can navigate intuitively, reducing the mental strain of decoding directions. For example, in a large mall, a unique water feature on one floor and a distinctive sculpture on another can help visitors quickly orient themselves.

Digital Interfaces and Interactive Systems

The fusion of digital interfaces and interactive systems with traditional wayfinding methodologies has revolutionized how we navigate spaces, the presence of digital aids has reshaped our spatial experiences.

Stationed at strategic points, Interactive Kiosks (touch-screen stations) allow users to input their desired destination and receive step-by-step directions. Some kiosks are equipped with multi-language options or even visual guides, ensuring accessibility for a diverse audience. In places like shopping malls, they may offer additional features such as store promotions, event information, or directory listings.

As smartphones become ubiquitous, wayfinding apps have gained prominence. They offer personalized navigation assistance, allowing users to explore spaces at their own pace. Advanced features might include augmented reality, where digital markers or directions overlay real-world views through the phone’s camera.

One significant advantage of digital systems is their ability to offer real-time information. This is invaluable in environments like airports or train stations, where gate changes, delays, or schedule updates can be relayed instantaneously to travellers.

Digital wayfinding tools often come with feedback mechanisms, allowing users to report issues, suggest improvements, or even rate their navigational experience. For businesses or institutions, these digital interfaces can also provide analytics, giving insights into user movement patterns, popular destinations, or areas of congestion.

Wayfinding systems can be seamlessly integrated with other services. For instance, in a museum, an app might not only guide visitors through the exhibits but also offer detailed descriptions, audio guides, or video clips about displayed artifacts.

Voice command features can assist those with visual impairments, while audio directions can help those with reading difficulties. Furthermore, users can often customize their digital navigation experience, choosing routes based on personal preferences, such as the shortest path, scenic routes, or paths with amenities like restrooms or eateries.

Information screen at a shopping mall

CONCLUSION

In the intricate challenge of crafting spaces that are both efficient and inviting, wayfinding emerges as an indispensable element. The core strength of wayfinding is encapsulated in the synchronized dance of its various parts, akin to members of an orchestra, each contributing but achieving magnificence when united.

Picture this: the subtle nudge of a colour gradient changing as one moves from one area to another. This shift is instinctual, signalling a progression into a different environment. Layer onto this the unmistakable icons and symbols – markers for restrooms, exit indications – that pop out, delivering instant clarity without necessitating verbal interpretation. Amplify this visual tapestry with thoughtful lighting that outlines pathways or accentuates focal areas, beckoning and directing at once. When you blend these elements with lucid textual indicators, what you get is a comprehensive navigation framework that eradicates any ambiguity.

Wayfinding’s layered strategy goes beyond mere repetition; it addresses the varied manners in which individuals observe and make sense of spaces. While some of us lean on visual cues like symbols and colour patterns, others might depend more on textual or tactile hints. Through integrating these varied facets, wayfinding methodologies appeal to a broad spectrum, ensuring every individual, irrespective of their navigational style, feels included.

Beyond just giving directions, wayfinding is about sculpting an experience – fostering feelings of reassurance, empowerment, and the sheer pleasure of exploration without the fear of misdirection. With the careful fusion of bold colour schemes and nuanced lighting, wayfinding evolves from a mere directional aid to an architect of intuitive terrains, facilitating effortless movement for all, regardless of their age, heritage, or capabilities.

The true charm of wayfinding is not just in its individual components but in their collective resonance. When these elements come together in harmony, they shape an environment where every sojourn, however brief or routine, is marked by smooth and enlightening navigation.

 


japanese-subway-system-passenger-information-display-screen

The Role of Wayfinding Systems in the Space

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September 21, 2023In Articles

In my previous article, Spatial Graphics: Navigating the Fusion of Graphics and Spatial Design, I introduced one of the spatial graphics’ components, Wayfinding. It refers to the systems and methods used to guide people through an environment (physical or digital) and enhance their understanding and experience of the space. It also helps them  to determine their location, chart a path to their destination, and recognize points of interest.

This term is most commonly associated to complex built environments such as urban centres, airports, hospitals, campuses, and more. For instance, in airports, signage helps passengers find their gates, baggage claim areas, and restrooms.

Wayfinding consists of visual elements such as symbols, icons, typography, colour scheme and patterns.

The purpose of wayfinding is to simplify complex environments, making them navigable, understandable, and user-friendly.

It encompasses the following elements:

Signage and Sign Systems. These are perhaps the most recognizable components of wayfinding. Signs, whether directional, informational, or identificational, guide users from one location to another, provide essential information, or denote particular areas or landmarks.

Maps. Interactive or static maps offer an overview of an environment, helping users understand their current location in relation to their desired destination.

Symbols and Icons. Universal symbols (e.g., restrooms, exits) provide quick, easily recognizable information.

Colour Coding. Different zones or areas might be color-coded to help distinguish between them. For example, an airport might have different colour themes for each terminal.

Lighting. Proper lighting can emphasize pathways, entries, exits, and points of interest.

Tactile Elements. For those with visual impairments, tactile elements such as braille or textured pathways can be essential components of wayfinding.

Audio Systems. Announcements or beacons can aid in directing users, especially useful in transportation hubs or for visually impaired individuals.

Landmarks. Distinctive architectural or design features can serve as reference points within a space, helping users orient themselves and navigate more confidently.

Digital Interfaces and Interactive Systems. Modern wayfinding often incorporates digital elements, from interactive kiosks to mobile apps, that provide real-time directions and information.

All these elements are even more effective when combined with each other. For instance, combining colour themes with symbols, icons, lighting or textual signs creates a multi-layered approach.

I’ll delve deeper into these elements in the upcoming article.

japanese-subway-system-passenger-information-display-screen

KEY ASPECTS TO DESIGN A GOOD WAYFINDING SYSTEM

To be effective, wayfinding systems should be:

Clear and Legible. At the heart of any wayfinding system is its clarity. It’s essential that signs and markers are easily read and understood by everyone, irrespective of their background or language proficiency. This clarity extends to the choice of fonts, colours, and symbols. Opting for simple, bold typography over intricate fonts ensures that even at a glance, a visitor can discern the information. Moreover, using universally recognized symbols can bridge language gaps, making the space more navigable for international visitors.

Positioned Consistently and Logically Throughout a Space. Consistency is the bedrock of predictability. When signage and indicators are positioned in a consistent manner throughout an area, visitors subconsciously learn where to look for guidance. Logical positioning also means placing signs where they’re most needed – at decision points. This includes intersections, entrances, and exits. By being consistent and logical, the wayfinding system reduces the cognitive load on visitors, allowing them to navigate with ease.

Designed in Harmony with the Space’s Architecture and Interior Design. A wayfinding system should feel like an integral part of the space, not an afterthought. This means the design, colour scheme, and materials used for the signs should complement the architectural and interior aesthetics of the space. When the wayfinding elements blend seamlessly with their surroundings, the entire environment feels more cohesive and harmonious. Moreover, this harmony ensures that the signs enhance the space’s aesthetic appeal instead of detracting from it.

Accessible to All Users, Including Those with Disabilities. Inclusivity should be a guiding principle in design. A truly effective wayfinding system caters to everyone, including those with visual, auditory, cognitive, or mobility challenges. This could mean incorporating braille for the visually impaired, ensuring signs are at a height visible from a wheelchair, or using audible cues for those with hearing difficulties. By making sure the system is accessible, we not only adhere to the principles of universal design but also ensure that every individual can navigate the space confidently and independently.

When these aspects are given due consideration, a wayfinding system transforms from being just a set of signs to a comprehensive guide, enhancing the user experience manifold.

wayfinding Toilet sign direction at airport

WHY IS WAYFINDING CRUCIAL?

Implementing effective design strategies holds significant value for users. It minimizes the chances of misunderstandings, ensuring that people don’t become confused or frustrated when navigating a space. This in turn, boosts the overall experience, making spaces feel more intuitive and user-friendly.

Moreover, by prioritizing such design elements, we ensure that spaces become universally accessible. This means that every individual, regardless of any disabilities or special needs, can engage with the space comfortably and effectively. This principle of inclusivity is not just about ease; it’s about equity and ensuring every individual has an equal opportunity to interact and navigate.

Safety is another critical aspect enhanced by thoughtful design. Especially in emergency scenarios, having clear and visible exit routes becomes paramount. Effective design can act as a guiding hand, helping people quickly and safely find their way out during potentially chaotic situations. In essence, while aesthetics are important, the true power of design lies in its ability to simplify, guide, and protect.

In conclusion, wayfinding is about providing a seamless and intuitive navigation experience, ensuring that individuals can move through spaces comfortably and confidently.


Kamou green wallpaper by Gerard Puxhe

Spatial Graphics: Navigating the Fusion of Graphics and Spatial Design

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September 7, 2023In Articles

The relationship between Graphics and Space is one that has long been recognized and explored by professional designers. While many might think of graphic design as primarily dealing with items like illustrations, logos, or packaging, the design dimension goes beyond just two planes. The conception and design of three-dimensional spaces are crucial in crafting effective design solutions.

Throughout history, across diverse cultures, graphical patterns and illustrations have played a pivotal role in architecture and interior spaces. Beyond mere aesthetics, these designs provide layers of cultural significance, stories, and sometimes even functional elements.

Consider the variety of architectural traditions across the world. Many have distinctive patterns and illustrations that narrate tales of their culture, religious beliefs, or historical milestones. Take Islamic architecture, for instance. Its hallmark is often intricate geometric designs combined with elegant calligraphy. Then there’s the ancient Greek architectural style, punctuated by classical motifs, including the iconic meanders or key patterns. It’s noteworthy how different cultures infused specific patterns or symbols in their designs, attributing meanings like prosperity, protection, or virtues such as courage and love. When these motifs and designs find their way into buildings or interiors, they introduce a depth of narrative and resonance to the space.

 

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GRAPHICS & SPACE

Overall, the relationship between graphics and space is symbiotic. While graphics add flair and make environments more engaging and memorable, spaces offer context and purpose for graphic design elements. Together, they craft a holistic visual experience for the viewer.

Graphic design fundamentally revolves around conveying a message. But when tailoring designs for physical (or virtual) spaces, it’s crucial to factor in the setting. This means considering the layout, lighting, and materials at play. Graphics aren’t just about aesthetics; they set the visual order, convey messages in a given space, and cultivate and create a sense of place.

When we talk about a “sense of place,” we’re touching on the deep emotional and cultural ties individuals feel towards specific settings or locations. It’s that innate sense of familiarity or attachment we get in certain spaces. This connection amplifies, especially in residential designs.

To foster this profound connection, it’s all about employing design facets that resonate authenticity. Incorporating specific patterns, colours, typographies, and visual elements that echo the brand, location or culture. By doing so, designers not only makes the space more beautiful but make it resonate deeper with those who interact with it.

Graphic design elements, such as colour, typography, and imagery, can be used to create a consistent and cohesive visual language throughout a space. For example, using a consistent colour palette and typography can help tie together different areas and functionalities, creating a unified and harmonious visual experience for the viewer.

From a commercial point of view, one of the key benefits of considering the relationship between graphic design and space is the ability to create a cohesive brand experience across multiple touchpoints. For example, a retail store may use consistent graphical elements across its packaging, website, and physical store. This creates a solid brand identity that customers can recognize and connect with, leading to increased brand loyalty and recognition.

Another benefit is the ability to create a sense of immersion and engagement. By using graphic elements to create a unique environment, designers can transport customers to a different place and time, creating an emotional connection to the brand or product.

The relationship between graphic design and space also plays an important role in creating a functional and efficient design solution. In a physical and digital spaces, the design must not only be visually appealing but also functional, allowing for easy navigation and accessibility.

 

WHAT’S SPATIAL GRAPHICS?

Spatial graphics, encompasses the visual elements used within a physical environment to communicate information, create a distinct sense of place, enhance the user experience, and establish an aesthetic or identity. These graphics are integrated into architectural, landscape, and interior spaces to guide, inform, and engage users.

It’s often referred to as environmental graphics, but I prefer not to use that term as it can be confused with the specialization in environmental design.

Spatial graphics can influence inhabitants’ moods and emotions. For instance, certain patterns can be calming, while others can be invigorating. Incorporating colours, nature-inspired patterns or biophilic design can foster well-being and reduce stress. Patterns can be used to either harmonize with the architectural language of a space or introduce a contrasting element.

Graphical patterns can be employed to serve specific functional purposes. For example, patterns on floors can subtly guide movement, while wall patterns can influence perceptions of space – making a space feel cozier or more expansive.

Graphics also introduce visual interest, preventing spaces from feeling monotonous. They can create focal points, hierarchy, establish moods, and evoke specific atmospheres, ranging from serene to vibrant.

It can also play a pivotal role in storytelling, especially in spaces like museums, thematic restaurants, or themed resorts. Graphics can narrate histories, myths, or brand stories.

wayfinding

COMPONENTS & APPLICATIONS OF SPATIAL GRAPHICS

Spatial graphics have different components and applications.

Branding & Identity. It can be employed to reinforce a brand’s identity of a business or institution within a physical space. This might involve the use of logos, brand colours, motifs, and other signature elements within the environment.

Graphics also serve to promote a brand, product, or service within a space.

Surface Design. Surface design in spatial graphics pertains to the design and embellishment of surfaces within architectural, environmental spaces and objects. Patterns, textures, colours, or imagery can set the tone and mood of a space.

It can be applied to walls, floors, ceilings, textile, products and furniture. These designs are used to enhance the aesthetics, functionality and experience or to convey specific messages or themes.

Surface design can also delve into exploring different materials – from traditional ones like wood, metal, and fabric to more innovative materials and finishes that can offer unique tactile experiences or visual effects.

Wayfinding systems. Wayfinding refers to the systems and methods used to guide people through a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of the space. This term is most commonly associated to complex built environments such as urban centres, airports, hospitals, campuses, shopping malls, and more.

This might include directional signage, maps, landmark markers, lighting, tactile elements, audio systems and interactive systems. Clear and concise signage can help customers easily locate products or navigate a space, while well-designed product displays can showcase items in an attractive and accessible way.

Regulatory and Safety Signs are an essential part of wayfinding systems, as it ensures that users are aware of rules, regulations, and potential hazards. They might indicate exits, emergency routes, or areas off-limits to the public.

Informational Displays. Provide specific details about the space or its usage, such as interpretive displays in museums, historical sites, or parks.

Interactive Elements. With the rise of technology, surfaces can now be interactive or dynamic, allowing users to engage with them directly.  Wall surfaces, for instance, can be designed to change colours, patterns, or display information interactively. Touch-screen kiosks or augmented reality experiences have also become regular players in the space.

 

EFFECTIVE SPATIAL GRAPHICS USE

 

Clear & Legible. Spatial graphics should communicate messages swiftly and without confusion.

Integrated. They should feel like a natural part of the environment, enhancing rather than disrupting the user experience.

Accessible. They should cater to all users, including those with disabilities. Consideration should be given to factors like contrast, font size, placement height, and the inclusion of tactile or auditory components.

Consistent. A consistent design language ensures a cohesive experience and reinforces the identity of the space.

 

CONCLUSION

In essence, spatial graphics blend the principles of graphic design with the three-dimensional nature of spaces to create environments that are not only functional but also emotionally resonant and memorable for users.

Graphical elements bridge the gap between form and function, tangible and intangible, providing layers of meaning, beauty, and utility to architecture and interiors. They help to create an experience that not only communicates a message but also creates a sense of place and emotional connection.

Whether in ancient temples, modern homes, or futuristic commercial spaces, these graphics continue to shape and enrich our spatial experiences.


The Interwoven Threads of Spatial Design 05

Unraveling the Complexity: The Interwoven Threads of Spatial Design Disciplines

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August 30, 2023In Articles

As someone who has dipped their toes into various aspects of the design world, I can confidently assert that these disciplines are akin to living organisms, constantly evolving, adapting, and changing to meet our needs and the demands of the world. We live in an era where rigid boundaries that once demarcated different professions are gradually morphing into mere suggestions. Consider my journey as a multidisciplinary designer, where I’ve navigated smoothly from graphic to yacht design, treating them as stepping stones in a stream.

Today, we find ourselves at an intriguing crossroad in the world of space design. In my preceding article, “Something Spatial”, I delved into what spatial design is and how it merges multiple disciplines, from the physical to the digital and even mixed reality. In this article, however, I will set aside Extended Reality (XR) and roles involving digital spaces and interactions, such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR). My focus will be on traditional and emerging disciplines that deal with physical spaces, including interior architecture, interior design, environmental design, and of course, spatial design. These are no longer stand-alone entities but integral components of an interconnected archipelago, each taking cues from the other, enriching and expanding their practices.

Transitioning between design roles and amalgamating diverse tasks has never been an issue for me. The challenge arises with a highly specialized industry and the increasingly niche roles we encounter today. As an educator in interior and graphic design, I’ve encountered many students who bear misconceptions about what the field encompasses.

It’s vital to demystify the roles and comprehend whether certain titles are merely grandiloquent labels aimed at distinguishing some designers from the pack. I also discern that certain “new” roles are essentially rebranding of existing disciplines, albeit with a focus on new domains. This can be bewildering for both clients and students trying to discern roles and responsibilities. However, if there is an authentic opportunity to carve out a meaningful specialization, I’m all for it.

Interior Architecture

Let’s commence with interior architecture. I’ve encountered numerous architects who have a longstanding disdain for this term, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Architects are responsible for the comprehensive design of buildings, including factors such as structural integrity, safety, functionality, and aesthetic appeal, encompassing both the building’s exterior and interior. The interior consideration for end users is paramount. Hence, the term “Interior Architecture,” which many use to refer purely to the functional aspects of interior space, can be misleading, especially when interior considerations are already part of the architectural discipline. Some employ this term to distance themselves from interior design, presumably because it conveys a loftier status. However, this is a misconception.

Interior Design

Interior design has often been conflated with decoration or styling, which is likely why many interior designers engaged in technical work prefer the term “Interior Architect.” Interior design is a complex field that goes beyond mere aesthetics. It involves the creation of functional spaces that consider people’s relationship and behaviour within these spaces. It encompasses technical planning, refurbishment, installations, and styling. Therefore, styling is just one facet of the interior design role. An Interior designer is a certified professional, while a stylist, who is tasked with defining the appearance and creating the look of the space, doesn’t necessitate certification.

There are indeed specializations within the interior design industry. While an interior designer possesses broad knowledge to develop an interior design project, they can further specialize depending on the project’s requirements. Some professionals specialize in styling, technical development, lighting design, kitchen design, bespoke furniture design, and so forth.

Blurring the lines between architecture and interior design merely for distinction is, in my opinion, misguided. Both fields have their unique attributes, and they can thrive symbiotically in diverse projects. They should each be acknowledged for their distinct contributions.

Environmental Design

Then, we have environmental design, a term that merits a clear definition. Some use it interchangeably with spatial or environmental graphics, referring to the overall experiential and atmospheric design of a space. This extends beyond mere graphic interventions, weaving together various design elements like spatial configurations, lighting, materials, colours, textures, and graphics to craft immersive, cohesive experiences. It necessitates a multidisciplinary approach, fusing architecture, interior design, graphic design, and other creative disciplines to shape the mood, brand identity, and narrative of a space.

Conversely, environmental design is also viewed as a discipline that amplifies the principles of spatial design to contemplate our broader ecosystem. It explores the environmental impact of our buildings and spaces, and investigates how we can mitigate this impact through sustainable practices.

Equating environmental design with spatial graphics could be misleading due to varied interpretations of the term. Spatial graphic design is a discipline unto itself, covering a wide range of graphics deployed in space, hence the term seems more appropriate (I’ll be writing an article about it very soon). Considering sustainability and environmental impact is now imperative for any designer. Just as lighting designers possess a deeper understanding of lighting than interior designers or architects, an environmental designer, equipped with extensive knowledge about the subject, can play a pivotal role in large projects and even offer consultancy to smaller studios on environmental and sustainable considerations.

Spatial Design

Lastly, we arrive at spatial design. This relatively new discipline is not merely about creating spaces; it’s about curating experiences. It links architecture, landscape design, and interior design, honing in on human interactions within spaces. From bustling cities to the smallest room in your house, spatial designers investigate how spaces influence our behaviour, emotions, and even thought processes. User experience is a fundamental part of any design job, so is there a need to extricate it from any discipline as a specialization?

As I detailed in my prior article, spatial design feels more like a field than a specific role in a project, as it encompasses multidisciplinary roles all around the Space — spanning physical, digital, and mixed reality spaces. It includes interior designers, architects, landscape and environmental designers, spatial graphic designers, and AR, VR, MR designers. It’s such a broad spectrum that simply calling someone a “spatial designer” seems vague.

All these disciplines are becoming increasingly intertwined, much like threads in a tapestry, signifying our progression towards a more unified, holistic approach to space design. In this paradigm, aesthetics, function, psychology, and the environment are all considered in one comprehensive sweep. The blurring of roles and the fluid transition between fields can often be beneficial, as it fosters dynamism and versatility among designers. However, as we have seen, adopting trendy new titles without a clear purpose or defined specialization can lead to confusion. We need to be precise about roles and their responsibilities to provide designers with clear objectives and areas of study. This will foster true collaboration as experts in their respective areas without overlapping tasks.

The cross-pollination of disciplines, where designers have clear tasks and objectives, can foster a multifaceted perspective of space design. This, in turn, leads to more innovative, sustainable, human-centric, and aesthetically pleasing spaces. And ultimately, isn’t that the goal we are all striving for?


Something Spatial

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August 30, 2023In Articles

Since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by space and its aesthetic appeal. As a child, I would evaluate places I visited, pondering whether I liked them or not. I would constantly decorate my room, adding new items, creating themes, and hanging posters. Sharing a small room with my brother made efficient use of space essential. It had to look cool, but functionality was equally important, considering the numerous belongings we had in that tiny area. Everything, from furniture to wall decor, bedding to how we interacted with the space, was part of the whole.

Becoming an interior designer seemed like the natural path for me, despite initially studying Business & Economics. However, once I began my program, I realized that interior design alone was somewhat limited. Space was influenced by numerous elements beyond layout and FF&E selection. Surface design and environmental graphics played crucial roles as well.

If you’ve read my first article, “How AI is Reshaping the Design Field”, you’ll know that even before completing my Interior Design Diploma in 2000, I started delving into web and graphic design. While computer games existed earlier (which involved 2D and 3D virtual spaces), it didn’t have a true interaction with the real world. The internet emerged as a new portal by connecting people together, a digital space in need of shaping. Interestingly, that year, while taking a 3D Max course, my teacher, aware of my keen interest in new technology, introduced me to VR. He said, “You have to take a look at VR; it’s the next big thing.” That was 23 years ago, and while VR didn’t take off, I continued my journey in digital and web design, a path I haven’t strayed from. During this time, we have experimented and created what we now know as the internet space — a digital 2D version of traditional print media, but with interactivity and connectivity.

When discussing space, we typically refer to physical environments. We’ve also encountered and experienced digital space through screens and technologies like VR, AR.

If you’re not an astrophysicist, have you ever wondered what space truly is?

At its core, space refers to the extent and dimensions in which objects and events exist. While we often associate space with three dimensions — length, width, and height — there are instances where it can be represented and understood in a two-dimensional context. Thus, space can exist in both 2D and 3D forms.

In a 2D space, objects and events are defined by their position and relationships within a flat plane. Surfaces such as canvases or sheets of paper serve as platforms for representing drawings, designs, or plans. Graphic design, for instance, employs 2D space to arrange elements on posters or design webpage layouts. It’s worth noting that even in 2D representations like drawings or paintings, techniques like shading, perspective, and foreshortening create an illusion of depth, conveying a sense of three-dimensional space.

In contrast, 3D space incorporates depth, enabling a more immersive and realistic representation of the physical world. It accurately reflects how objects exist and interact, accounting for height, width, and depth. Spatial concepts are essential in 3D design and architecture, enabling the creation of realistic renderings, architectural models, and virtual environments. Interestingly, to create 3D, we rely on 2D space to define layouts, composition, and more. Interiors and graphics go hand in hand without us even realizing it.

In a broader sense, space serves as the backdrop for our experiences and perceptions, acting as a container for everything that exists. It facilitates movement, interaction, and the presence of various elements within its boundaries. Whether it’s the space within a room, the gaps between objects, a vast landscape, or a blank canvas, understanding space is crucial for comprehending the relationships, arrangements, and dynamics of the world around us.

Spatial design encompasses the practice of creating and shaping environments, focusing on the arrangement and organization of physical spaces. It involves strategic planning, layout design, and the consideration of interior and exterior spaces to optimize functionality, aesthetics, and user experience. Spatial design factors in spatial flow, ergonomics, lighting, materials, colors, and textures to craft harmonious and engaging environments. This multidisciplinary field spans areas such as architecture, interior design, and urban planning, among others. The goal of spatial design is to create spaces that are visually appealing, functional, efficient, and conducive to desired activities or experiences.

Although Spatial Design is a relatively new discipline, it surprisingly overlooks the digital realm. As we’ve seen, the definition of space extends beyond physical spaces and tangible objects. Technologies like VR and AR enable the seamless merging of physical and digital worlds.

sensorama
“The Sensorama was a machine that is one of the earliest known examples of immersive, multi-sensory technology. Introduced in 1962 by Morton Heilig, is considered one of the earliest virtual reality (VR) systems.” Wikipedia

Let’s delve into the realm of digital space.

VR and AR have been around for some time now, and most of us have a basic understanding and have experienced them in various ways. Virtual Reality design focuses on creating fully immersive digital environments that users can explore and interact with. VR designers utilize spatial design principles, 3D modelling, texturing, lighting, and others to construct realistic virtual worlds.

Augmented Reality (AR) design involves overlaying digital information or virtual objects onto the real world through a screen, usually a smartphone. AR designers seamlessly integrate virtual content into the user’s physical environment, enhancing their perception and interaction with reality. AR design finds applications in fields such as education, marketing, industrial training, interior design, and navigation systems.

But what happens when we combine VR and AR? This is where Mixed Reality (MR) design comes into play. Mixed Reality combines elements of both virtual and augmented reality, enabling users to interact with digital objects while maintaining a sense of presence in the real world. This blend of realities is currently where the battleground lies — not in the Metaverse. Meta’s new headsets, Quest Pro and Apple’s Vision Pro, take the game to a whole new level. These headsets enable users to interact with virtual objects in their physical surroundings. MR design finds applications in interactive storytelling, immersive art installations, collaborative design, industrial simulations, and many others.

Extended Reality (XR) encompasses the creation of immersive experiences in Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR). XR design combines elements of traditional design disciplines with interactive technologies to craft engaging and transformative experiences for users. XR design involves careful consideration of spatial layout, interaction design, visual aesthetics, and audio elements to create compelling and realistic virtual experiences. It also intersects with other design disciplines such as user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design. XR designers focus on creating intuitive and user-friendly interfaces, smooth navigation, and meaningful interactions within virtual or augmented environments. They consider factors such as user comfort, ergonomics, accessibility, and feedback mechanisms to ensure a seamless and engaging XR experience.

Considering this new paradigm, how do we define Spatial Design?

Spatial design can be defined as a multidisciplinary field that focuses on the organization and arrangement of spaces to create meaningful and functional experiences for individuals across physical, digital, and mixed reality environments. Spatial designers consider the interactions between people, objects, and the surrounding environment to optimize the functionality, aesthetics, and user experience of a given space.

With the advent of XR technology, AI, real-time projections, motion trackers, and more, physical spaces must adapt to integrate virtual objects, UI displays, and other digital elements. Likewise, current UI designs must adapt to physical spaces. Regardless of the environment, whether physical or digital, designers must aim to create environments that are functional, visually appealing, and optimized for human experience. By considering factors such as layout, aesthetics, usability, and the integration of technology, they play a critical role in shaping the way we interact with and experience our surrounding environments, both in the physical world and the digital realm.

Spatial design now requires a focus on spatial mapping, interaction design, and seamless integration of virtual and physical elements to create cohesive and immersive mixed reality experiences. This can be seen in applications such as architectural visualizations, interactive art installations, virtual training simulations, as well as educational, retail, and gaming experiences.

This is all Something Spatial.

With the advancements in XR technology and AI, designers can now visualize and test design concepts more effectively, simulate user experiences, and create immersive and interactive environments that were previously unimaginable. This new realm of physical and digital blend, experienced through immersive presence rather than a mere phone screen, opens new doors for interior and graphic designers. A new type of designer is needed — one that understands space, volume, composition, UI, UX — Spatial graphic designer. It’s a path that aligns perfectly with my profile, and it seems my career has been leading me toward it.

For a while now, I’ve had the idea of creating a platform where we can discuss and learn about innovation in spatial environments, spanning from physical to digital or mixed reality. Ranging different fields from interior design, environmental graphics to interaction design or user experience, showcasing top-notch projects. Welcome then to Something Spatial.


ai image

Revolutionizing Creativity: The Impact of AI on the Creative Process

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August 30, 2023In Articles

In this article, I want to address a highly sensitive topic in the design industry. The term “creativity” has been trivialized to a great extent, with many using the word for work that doesn’t deserve such recognition. On the other hand, it has also become somewhat of a sacred concept.

There are numerous definitions of creativity, but I personally resonate with the one provided by Linda Naiman:

“Creativity is the act of transforming new and imaginative ideas into reality. It is characterized by the ability to perceive the world in novel ways, discover hidden patterns, make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and generate solutions. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, and then producing. If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.”

The creative process encompasses ideation and execution then. When we, as designers, talk about creativity, are we genuinely referring to these two elements working in harmony? When we develop a new brand identity or design the interior of a restaurant, are we creating designs that possess unique aesthetics and provide value to the user and client?

In my previous article, “Designing the Future: How AI is Reshaping the Design Field”, I discussed how designers fear for their jobs amidst the AI frenzy. AI can undoubtedly excel at execution, as designers have been engaged in automated tasks based on established frameworks and templates. However, what about the ideation stage?

We often take pride in asserting that machines cannot compare to human creativity, don’t we? Well, it depends on how we define creativity in the design field. One of the common complaints I hear and read from designers about AI is copyright infringement. Frankly, it makes me laugh. Let’s be honest here. One of the most prevalent “creative” techniques employed by designers to develop a design proposal and execute a project is seeking “inspiration.” In reality, it entails searching for images on platforms like Pinterest, Behance, or Dribbble that align with certain aesthetic and functional criteria based on the project type and client’s requirements. Subsequently, a “mood board” is created, which essentially amalgamates images from other people’s work to form a foundation for the design proposal. The end result often involves copying and pasting details from various sources.

There are various factors that contribute to the widespread practice across studios and designers in all fields. I can empathize to some extent as the industry is mainly influenced by business-related issues, such as the undervaluation of design for many years and insane project deadlines. But this practice is also related to the talent and skills required to create something truly new, which is undeniably one of the most challenging things in the world. Therefore, I don’t blame anyone, but we need to engage in self-criticism.

xerox
“In 1959 Xerox introduced the 914 model, the first plain paper photocopier. The product was sold by an innovative ad campaign showing that even monkeys could make copies at the touch of a button” Wikipedia. Photo via xeroxnostalgia.com

When we claim that AI is merely copying someone else’s work to create something new, aren’t designers already doing the same? Can you design something entirely original without any prior reference? If you can’t, why do you point fingers at AI when it follows the same creative process as you? Nothing is created from scratch, and we require previous references to generate new ideas. The problem arises when designers fail to study, analyze, and evolve from these references or the work of others. Evolution necessitates building upon previous steps to progress. The problem arises when designers merely scratch the surface, copy, and apply without delving deeper. The same applies to the use of AI. If you are simply searching for an illustration similar to one by Banksy, you can certainly do it. The same goes for designers without AI if they are asked to replicate a certain style. It’s up to us to explore alternative approaches or remain superficially fixated on requested styles. However, we witness how fashion brands copy one another, architectural firms imitate each other, and interior design firms repeatedly produce similar results while justifying their decisions based on market research or business plans. It frustrates me to see how every café and bar in London looks identical. But hey, I get it. Businesses prioritize numbers over creativity. If they know of a successful restaurant, they will try to replicate it.

El Bulli restaurant, under the leadership of Ferran Adria and his team, spent ten years being the most innovative restaurant globally and had very few clients. When they gained popularity as the best restaurant in the world for several consecutive years, everyone began to imitate them. Now you can’t visit any high-end restaurant without encountering an emulsion of something.

What AI demonstrates is that creativity can also be learned and synthesized as an algorithm. However, we can choose to treat it as a mechanical process devoid of critical thinking, or we can adopt a workflow with specific steps that allow us to exercise control over the process while simultaneously engaging in analytical thinking and generating new ways to create based on existing work. That’s where humans truly add value.

As a multidisciplinary designer, I have had the opportunity to design countless and many different types of projects, and the creative process followed the same steps across all fields. In addition to my professional design activities, I also serve as a tutor, lecturer, and researcher for an Interior Design program at West Dean College in London. My area of specialization and lecture focus is concept design and the creative process. I teach my students to think before putting pencil to paper. They must be clear about what they want to communicate, why they want to communicate it, and determine in advance which elements will help them achieve their goals. When I initially started working with students, I noticed that around 95% of them struggled to create something from scratch without turning to Pinterest and copying existing work. Through years of experience, deep reflection, and meticulous analysis of the creative process, I have managed to develop a methodology for concept design. This methodology consists of three stages, each with specific steps that students can follow to create various forms and shapes based on a given brief. They engage in research, case studies, and a conceptual approach, among other aspects. It has been proven that students now possess control over the process. They are aware of the points where they encounter difficulties and can take appropriate actions to move forward. Certainly, it requires thorough explanations and an understanding of the steps, but it indicates that the process can be systematized, similar to an algorithm. Therefore, can AI undertake the entire process by itself?

What AI can do is replicate the automated tasks, copycat creative process, and produce an image based on multiple sources. Essentially, this is what most designers do today — defining keywords as concepts, curating, composing, and producing a final result. AI can accomplish this in seconds. This is when a designer that doesn’t produce real creativity, is no longer indispensable.

However, AI falls short to engage in a genuine creative development process that involves critical analysis, design thinking, and maintaining true control over the message it intends to communicate through the design. We, as designers, must possess that capability. Developing skills of critical analysis, design language, problem-solving rationality, communication, and a graphical eye to convey 2D graphics or 3D volumes is essential. AI requires our guidance as creative and art directors to create meaningful final designs. This creative process is time-consuming and extremely challenging to achieve, but it represents authentic design and delivers high-value outcomes. It elevates any design project to higher standards. We can embrace AI to assist us in discovering new creative approaches and exploring design proposals now that we no longer need to spend time on automated tasks. Let’s use this time for a meaningful purpose.

It doesn’t matter if we produce a design with paper and pencil, with an iPad, or with AI-generated images. How we produce is no longer relevant, but the thinking is. I always start my Concept Design lecture by saying, “Design is a thinking discipline.” As anything in life, when we think and act, we have control, but when we let others act for us, we’re doomed. The same applies to technology.


Designing the Future

Designing the Future: How AI is Reshaping the Design Field

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August 30, 2023In Articles

We have all been bombarded with news about AI through various media channels by now. Countless online videos showcase the outstanding capabilities of ChatGPT, Midjourney, or Stable Diffusion. Each new version makes the previous one seem like a joke. Missing just one week of news feels like a lifetime because of the exponential growth of new AI apps and capabilities. Many articles and opinions discuss the dangers of AI, from suggesting that it will take all our jobs to concerns about incorrect information and copyright infringement. People here and there assume that this insane technology will be the end of the world, making us all puppets in its hands.

But how will AI realistically impact the design industry in the near future? Will our job change drastically or disappear completely?

Let me provide some personal history to provide context. I consider myself a multidisciplinary designer. It’s a fancy way of saying that I work across various design fields, including graphic design, surface design, digital design, interiors, and even a bit of furniture and yacht design. I graduated in Interior Design back in 2000, during the rise of the Internet era. Joining my Interior Design School opened up a new world for me, and I took additional courses to learn from Graphic Design and 3D software to HTML and Flash. I wanted to do everything because, for me, design is interconnected. Unconsciously, this is how I became a multidisciplinary designer. Before completing my Diploma, I secured my first permanent job as a Digital and Graphic designer. Since then, I have moved across different design roles, gaining insights into how these fields work.

The Internet was a gateway to a new world, and things were changing rapidly. Back then, I read similar negative things about the Internet as I do now about AI. Everyone was talking about this thing called the Internet that had tremendous potential and would change the world, but not many people had a home connection yet (remember internet cafes?). Businesses believed that websites were merely digital catalogues of their activities, and they weren’t entirely wrong. It took many years for the Internet to have a real impact. Broadband, social media, HTML5, smartphones, and more transformed the world. Websites like Napster or Myspace opened the door to many other things that shapes our daily day. Internet and technology (hardware, connectivity, software, etc.) have changed the world for better and for worse in many aspects such as workflows, social interactions, economy, and more. Now, we can’t imagine living without it. The current AI situation reminds me of the journey of the Internet during the 2000s.

Things don’t change drastically from one day to the next; it usually takes time to develop new ways. Design jobs have been evolving since computers became prevalent. I’m a big fan of Mad Men (by the way, the best show ever), and if you don’t know about it, what are you waiting for? The show revolves around a charismatic advertising creative director in the 1960s. There’s an episode where they introduce a computer the size of a room, and the staff reacts to this disruptive machine. It’s quite similar to our current situation. With the digital revolution, designers transitioned from handcrafted work to digital design.

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South Foreland Lighthouse, Kent (UK), became fully automated in 1969 and the resident keepers were transferred to other lighthouses as they were no longer needed.

Designer jobs and workflows have been gradually changing. Many design jobs from the past are no longer needed, but many new ones have emerged. “Old” designers possessed skills that are no longer required, and we have acquired new ones. If we take a look at the current design landscape, we can see the emergence of roles that were completely unknown before the Internet, such as UI and UX designers, product designers, content and social media specialists, ecommerce experts, SEO professionals, and online marketers. It’s quite remarkable.

We make many assumptions about AI without fully realizing our historical context and the direction in which we are heading.

Let’s make an effort to reflect on ourselves as designers and how our work has evolved over the past 40 years, particularly in the last 15 years. We have become more specialized designers, working with countless software tools, and achieving drastically reduced production times with even better results. We have become increasingly reliant on technology, with software taking on many of our tasks.

In terms of workflow, we have reached a point where many tasks are already based on frameworks and templates. Platforms like Wordpress and Envato have transformed the industry by eliminating the need to create designs and projects from scratch. For designers, it is more productive in terms of cost and time to download and customize existing templates. In some cases, depending on the budget, it may be as simple as applying a template directly.

From a creative standpoint (this topic alone warrants a full article, which I may cover soon), as graphic designers, we utilize software filters and plugins to create visual designs. We do not develop these filters ourselves; software developers provide us with the tools to apply our personal touch. We watch online videos to learn how to recreate effects created by others. We use platforms like Pinterest, Behance, or Dribbble to gather images from various sources for “inspiration”. This copycat creative method is prevalent across all design fields, allowing designers to curate, select, copy, and apply design elements based on trends, marketing requirements, and client whims. Additionally, tools like Canva enable anyone, regardless of design expertise, to create images and videos for their media content.

This is the realm where AI is poised to take over because we have established a system that relies heavily on templates, software, and a copycat creative process, which can be easily systemized by an algorithm.

Where are we heading as designers then? Each design field has its own unique characteristics, but we can expect some general trends and changes in the future.

We stand at the threshold of a new revolution: AI. As a multidisciplinary designer, my journey reflects the evolution of design in the digital era. From handcrafted work to the revolution of digital tools, designers have witnessed a gradual transformation. AI threatens to automate these processes, challenging designers to adapt. But history has shown that evolution is inevitable, and human creativity remains irreplaceable.

As AI takes over repetitive tasks, designers will assume new roles as creative directors, curators, and visionaries. The value lies in providing creative direction and overseeing the production work. While AI may change the landscape, it will not eliminate the need for designers. Photographers and videographers have experienced similar shifts, and their profession has not vanished; it has evolved. Likewise, designers will need to refine their skills, harnessing their eye for detail, understanding of visual language, composition, and design principles. They will become specialized in creating images with prompts, offering unique perspectives and tailored services. Let’s reflect on the impact of AI on various design fields.

In graphic design, AI algorithms can generate designs based on given parameters and predefined templates. However, the ability to translate client needs, conceptualize ideas, and evoke emotions through design remains a distinctly human skill. Designers will excel at providing strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, and interpreting client objectives into visually compelling solutions. AI can support designers by automating repetitive tasks such as resizing images, generating color palettes, or analyzing data to inform design decisions. This symbiotic relationship between AI and designers will enhance efficiency and elevate the quality of design outputs.

In architectural and interior design, AI can assist in the creation of conceptual designs and generate various layout options based on functional requirements. However, the artistry of crafting spatial experiences, considering human factors, and capturing the essence of a place remains within the designer’s domain. Designers will embrace AI tools to streamline tasks like 3D modelling, rendering, and material selection. With AI’s assistance, designers can explore more design iterations, optimize energy efficiency, and simulate real-world scenarios to inform decision-making. The role of designers will shift towards orchestrating the integration of technology, sustainability, and user-centric design principles into captivating built environments.

Moving to product design, AI can aid in rapid prototyping, simulation, and material optimization. Yet, the ingenuity of conceiving innovative product concepts, understanding user needs, and crafting intuitive interactions rests with the designer. Designers will leverage AI to augment their design thinking process, employing data-driven insights to inform user research, anticipate market trends, and iteratively refine product designs. The human touch will remain essential in infusing emotional appeal, cultural relevance, and usability into products that resonate with consumers on a deeper level.

In the realm of fashion design, AI algorithms can generate garment designs and predict trends based on vast datasets. However, the designer’s expertise in understanding fabrics, draping techniques, and tailoring will continue to be invaluable. Designers will collaborate with AI tools to streamline pattern-making, fabric selection, and supply chain management, empowering them to focus on creativity, storytelling, and crafting unique fashion identities. The human touch will remain vital in creating garments that evoke emotion, celebrate individuality, and reflect cultural narratives.

Beyond specific design disciplines, AI will reshape the creative process itself. Designers will increasingly collaborate with AI systems, co-creating with algorithms and leveraging AI-generated insights to inspire their work. AI tools will serve as creative catalysts, helping designers explore new possibilities, break creative boundaries, and overcome creative blocks. The iterative nature of AI can enable designers to rapidly experiment, evaluate design variations, and refine their ideas. This collaboration between human and machine will fuel a new era of design innovation.

The future holds diverse business models, allowing designers to choose their path based on personal aspirations and market demand. Some designers may establish specialized studios that harness the power of AI to deliver personalized design experiences and cater to niche markets. Others may focus on integrating AI technologies into traditional design agencies, leveraging the strengths of both to create impactful solutions. Additionally, designers will need to adapt to new ethical considerations and ensure AI systems align with values such as inclusivity, fairness, and sustainability.

In summary, the role of designers will evolve to become design managers, creative directors, curators, and visionaries. The required skills will include a keen eye for detail, a deep understanding of visual language, composition, and design principles. Designers will need to evoke emotions and create unique user experiences that reflect cultural narratives and celebrate individuality.

AI undoubtedly disrupts our current design workflows and it will redefine design roles, freeing designers from mundane tasks and empowering them to focus on creativity, strategy, and human-centric aspects of design. Designers will leverage AI as a powerful tool to enhance their creative process, generate insights, and deliver tailored solutions. The future of design lies in embracing AI’s potential while staying true to the essence of human creativity, craft, and empathy.


Dcode 04 at Fragmented Identities 2020 exhibition in Venice

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November 6, 2020In Events & Awards

Dcode 04 in Venice’s exhibition.

Gerard Puxhe is one of the winners of the ITSLIQUID International Contest – 7th Edition 2020 with his graphic illustration Dcode 04.

The international Jury, composed by prestigious personalities of the contemporary art, architecture, design and fashion scenes, of ITSLIQUID International Contest – 7th Edition 2020 has selected 11 winners and 8 honourable mentions, among the hundreds of submissions, following the criteria of quality of the works, originality and uniqueness.

As a winner, his Dcode 04 illustration has been exhibited as part of the Fragmented Identities 2020 exhibition organized by Itsliquid Group in Venice, at The ROOM Contemporary Art Space. The piece was one of the winners of the International Contest they previously launched.

This year the festival focused on the concept of “borders”, between the soul and the body, the human being and the city, the city and the ground. The festival analyzed the idea of human and urban borders, how people live them and how they are modified in contemporary society. Every human being lives in a world in which the limits, the borders, shape their attitudes and behaviors, limiting the freedom and creating a sense of alienation. The human being reacts breaking the limits and finding a new way of life. We imagine a world of “liquid cities”, where differences create new possibilities instead of being social barriers.

The contest, with a free theme, was divided into ten categories: painting, photography, video-art, sculpture and installation, performing art, architecture, product design, fashion design, illustration and drawing, computer graphic. The contest is born to promote contemporary art, photography, architecture, design and fashion through all ITSLIQUID Platform sharing tools.

Dcode 04 illustration exhibited in Venice’s exhibition is a limited edition (25 pcs) digital illustration of 50x50cm designed by Gerard Puxhe. You can purchase Dcode 04 in Venice and prints on the online shop.

Source: itsliquid.com


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