The ABCs of Design: Great Design is Responsive

The ABCs of Design: Great Design is Responsive

By: Jay Johnson This blog article is the fourth in a series of 26 related commentaries that seek to answer the question, “What is Interior Design?” by exploring various terms associated with the profession. This entry, Great Design is Responsive, briefly discusses the importance of being a good listener, then posits why listening, and furthermore, responsiveness, are critical toward great interior design. Anyone with web access can see that there are abundant articles and blogs available encouraging us all to be better communicators. It’s an important skill for everyone to hone. One of those “always room for improvement” areas of life. Everyone agrees that first-rate oral, written and non-verbal communications abilities are very important – even essential for every successful designer. Within these, skills with presenting, persuading, information-gathering, listening, and negotiating are all indispensable. These are transferable skills that will prove invaluable in all social and business arenas. It could be argued that listening is the paramount skill on that list. Along with its sister, information-gathering, its focus is on intake, not output. There are many, many skilled speakers out there. Great writers and debaters too. Our society celebrates these people; but can you name even one great listener? Someone who hears what is said and consistently understands it? Although often not emphasized as much as the other communication skills, listening – and listening well – is vital.

Here’s your chance. Who is your favorite public speaker or presenter? Why?

And it shouldn’t stop there. As designers, if we want to produce truly great design, we must listen well, take good notes, and ask good questions. Then we must follow-through on our listening by being responsive to our clients. As Henry Ford famously said, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.” This is not a new concept. Listening well and then acting on what we have heard has been encouraged for thousands of years – even in the Bible! James 1:22-24 (ESV) says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” Great design is always responsive. We cannot be responsive without first listening well. Home renovation programming on cable television networks such as DIY and HGTV provides a familiar example of the importance of being responsive. Near the beginning of most of these shows, the designer is presented with a brief list of objectives. A wish list. It might include a big kitchen, lots of sunny windows, and a safe place for the kids to play. As the programs end, we witness the joy on the happy homeowner’s face when his/her fully-renovated, magazine-beautiful home is revealed and each of these dreams, one-by-one, is realized. Imagine their shock and disappointment if the project designer had not been at all responsive! Listening well, then applying what has been heard into workable design solutions has propelled some TV show designers into the national limelight. Many of them have become household names. Without responsiveness, would we have ever heard of Jonathan and Drew Scott of “Property Brothers” or Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper”? “There is so little responsiveness going on in most communication that when you are responsive, you separate yourself as being somewhat special and interpersonally valuable.” – These celebrity designers, and many others like them, have made a very good living out of responsiveness. They have set themselves apart as being unique and gifted designers at least in part because they are skilled at being responsive.

Here’s your chance. Who is your favorite celebrity designer? How responsive are they?

IDO Incorporated exists “to advance the quality of mission critical interior environments.” A mission critical environment is one that accomplishes its purpose. Throughout the design process, in the course of many conversations and design iterations, the great designer will challenge and help develop that purpose, but the client will always own, establish, and champion it. So, as interior designers, in order to produce truly great design, we must practice great listening, then follow-through by producing responsive, mission-critical design solutions.

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