The 8 pillars of great design

By 15th March 2018 July 20th, 2020 Office design trends
The 8 pillars of great design

Designing any office space is about more than just making it look pretty – you have to know how to use the space for both form and function as well.

There’s so much more to interior design than simply arranging furniture in a room.

When people hear the word “design” they generally think of something pretty to look at. However, excellent design is actually the right balance of aesthetics and functionality . The interior of an office can uplift or sink the physical and emotional well-being of you and your staff, so it’s important to design spaces to incorporate both form and function – making the space comfortable, practical, and visually appealing.

Here at time&space design consultants, our expert designers have a combined 75 years of experience in the commercial interior design industry and we’ve learnt a lot over the years. We’ve each got our methods for creating the perfect office space, but there are eight key pillars of design that have been a guiding force for us over the years.

Here are the eight pillars of design we use to make every project great:

1. Space

As office interior designers we use the term “space” a lot, but what does the word “space” really refer to in our world? Simply put the “space” is both the physical space or the environment in question (i.e. the room, office, atrium, store, building interior, etc.) and the ‘space between things’ or, in other words, the relationship between elements and the environment.

Space is the first pillar of design because it is, in essence, the most important element to consider when designing an office. The space you have will ultimately affect the design. Knowing what kind of space you have allows us to determine if we need to make changes to the space or find you a new one to work with your needs That’s why space planning is one of the most important functions when it comes to office interior design.

2. Form

Imagine you designed a coffee mug with decorative holes around the base of the mug. Even if it was the most beautiful mug in the world, no one would ever use it because the liquid would leak out. Why? Because the design failed to take into account the purpose of the object.

Louis Sullivan once said, “form follows function”. This quote states that the shape of an object or an environment should be modelled on its intended use. In design this is a key principle; the function should dictate the design – otherwise the design is useless. Before you start an interior, you need to understand how that space needs to function.

3. Line

All shape and form within a space leads the eye into a line. The line you choose when creating a design will affect the flow of your office, so it’s important to look at the space you’re working with to determine what sort of flow you hope to create. Line is a very valuable pillar as it uses elements to change the feel of a room and draw the eye to your desired point.

Different lines within a space can create a different atmosphere or feeling in a room and even take people through a journey when moving in the space. For example, creating a design that uses a horizontal line will give the space a feeling of stability, grounding, emphasis, and direction. It’s a strong flow that can be used to direct the eye to a particular focal point of the room – like the reception area desk. While a vertical line will give the space a feeling of strength, stability, balance, and elevation. Vertical lines are great to use in smaller spaces to help give the room a feel of height in a space.

Generally speaking it’s believed that vertical lines are more unnatural compared to horizontal lines. When we design an interior, we use line to underpin the style of the space. For example, a curved line will create an organic feeling, whereas geometric or angular line creates a harder, structured and more striking effect.

4. Light

Light is actually a play between brightness and shadow. The role of light in an interior space is both functional and decorative – however, functionality should always take priority.

Interesting and exciting lighting can transform a bland interior space into a work of art. However, it’s important to remember that bad lighting not only destroys a good design but renders the space unusable.

Strategically placed lighting can save you thousands every month, and the right kind of lighting breeds a healthier, more productive space. The main consideration when planning an interior, is using natural light cleverly – for example, you wouldn’t use well lit room, filled with windows, as a storeroom. Instead, you’d place your staff as close to the natural lighting as possible.  

Design elements like colours, glass and mirrors can be used to enhance both natural and artificial lighting.

There a three main types of artificial lighting to consider:

  • Task lighting: the lighting that allows you to perform a task efficiently.
  • Decorative lighting: the lighting that highlights a piece of art or wall feature. Decorative lighting can even create a piece of artwork by itself.
  • Ambient lighting: soft lighting that lights the room, but simultaneously helps to create an atmosphere – for example, in a restaurant or hotel lobby.

5. Colour

The use of colour in an interior space is a powerful tool, and can lead to success or failure.

Research shows that the colours used in a space elicit emotional reactions for people. For instance, yellow can stimulate mental processes while red can increase enthusiasm. The relationship between colours also has an effect – contrasting colours can create excitement while subtle shades of colour can be calming. That’s why the psychology of colour should always be considered in an interior space and is a key pillar.

There are generally two factors that affect the colours we advise clients to use:

  1. The function of the space – how will the space be used and how will colours affect the productivity of the people in the room?
  2. The brand identity – a company’s brand identity is part of the brand’s personality and has an impact on the way people perceive the brand. We ensure to build this into our designs wherever possible to keep continuity across all brand touchpoints.

6. Texture

Texture adds interest to an interior. If you were designing a motor showroom, for example, you’d most likely opt for textures that help create a modern, angular and clean feel to the space. This could include things like glass and shiny, chrome finishes to mimic the sleek bodies of the cars. If you decided to go with shaggy woolen rugs, and a 70’s style, corduroy couch in the reception area, it would feel inappropriate – this isn’t the look a customer would expect.

Texture plays three important roles in design:

1. A visual role – affecting the look of the space.

Like most design elements, texture is also dictated by the function of the space in question.

2. A tactile role – affecting the feel of the space

An interior needs an appropriate combination of textures to make the space both functional and comfortable.

3. An acoustic role – affecting the way sound travels in the space

Softer surfaces absorb more sound and are an important considerations in areas where you’d want lower acoustic levels.

7. Pattern

Pattern can refer to the repetition of elements but, in a broader sense, it also refers to the way that you lay furniture out in a space.

Think about African patterns, Indian patterns, and Greek patterns… each tells a story about their origins, and we identify immediately with the feeling of each of them. But pattern can also be used more generally. Geometric patterns can be used to create interesting detail without representing any specific culture or location, it just brings a welcome energy into the room.

Design elements like lighting, texture, furniture and artwork are placed in specific patterns to help the flow of an interior – for example, arranging desks in rows vs. grouping them in pods.

8. Balance/ Symmetry/ Repetition

These three elements are more subtle than the rest but no less important. The placement of objects, finishes and accessories, and the visual weight that they carry can greatly influence the aesthetic experience of a space. So, if you understand how to use these elements effectively, you can create interest and excitement in any space.

So, how do they work?

Balance: This is when the visual weight of objects in the same space is equal, effectively creating a sense of balance making the space more inviting.

Symmetry: This is when you create a visual look where all elements are the same on opposite sides or around an axis, adding some interest to the space.

Repetition: This is when you use the same or similar objects several times and with similar intervals, which helps create a sense of order, and sometimes excitement, in the space.

All good designers should utilise these elements.  Whether you’re a graphic designer, a fashion designer or an interior designer, these same principles come into play. The eight pillars of great design help drive the creative process.

In interior design, a clever combination of all these elements will create the right effect and bring a space to life.


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Derek Stedman

Author Derek Stedman

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