How does the car designer decide on what to base the shape of a new model? Or where does the inspiration for a product designer, a furniture designer, an architect, an interior designer come from?  Could it be a thought, a shape, an animal, something in nature? Design is first and foremost led by the user and end use but must also be interesting and endeavour to be beautiful. If it’s to be any good it’s going to require a lot of thought.  


In any design realm there is reflection, discussion, brainstorming, collaboration. The Volkswagen Beetle wasn’t conceived and finalised at one meeting. The idea needs to stew in the designer’s head, it needs  to gestate and develop. Changes are made; amendments are suggested and dismissed while some are suggested and incorporated.

We often here designers speak of how it is at those unguarded moments that the best morsels of inspiration strike, invariably not when perched over the drawing board. The ubiquitous smartphone is the modern version of the pocket notebook so it’s always possible to get those gems down lest they be forgotten and lost forever.

Design can be informed by many things. Is symbolism a valid means of expressing an ideal or is it tenuous and phony? I’m not the biggest advocate of symbolism, I consider it relatively easy to devise a sequence of elements and retrospectively construct a symbolism based rationale for their inclusion.  

Typically symbolism is either  too literal and obvious  or too tenuous, vague and weak for my liking. Give me a functional, beautiful, practical garden first. Give the kids all the dynamic play elements they need first and then, if you really feel you have to,  decide to build them all as pyramids because the youngest is obsessed with Egyptology. But get your horse before your cart. Most modern families are bigger on craic than they are on concept.  

A good garden design has to be underpinned by a strong, rigorous mental process. it is glaringly obvious when a garden is put together on the basis of a disparate collection of elements which the designer thinks look good together. You might not think that it’s obvious, but it is. Protracted contemplation produces harmonious, consistent, coherent gardens. This fact is inescapable.

On the TV show the one flippant design decision that I made stuck out like a sore thumb and was immediately pounced upon by the judges. As I was laying the lawn I decided, spur of the moment, to introduce a reverse curve in one small area. During the judging it was raised as being jarring or inconsistent with the shape of the garden. The lesson here was that when you are trying to attain high quality something which has not been subjected to a protracted process of analysis and deliberation will stick out. These two scallops on the edge of the lawn were immediately obvious because everything else was so measured and well considered. This was a valuable lesson.

And this touches on a paradoxical aspect of the designer’s lot. We are expected to be clinical, clear-cut and decisive and at the same time subject every minute decision to layers of reflection, contemplation and soul searching. It seems to me that the resolution of these two seemingly conflicting imperatives is fundamental to success as a designer. To be decisive yet simultaneously reflective is indeed a challenge.

A challenge with which a fresh pair of eyes will always help. It is always illuminating, when you face a conundrum, to have a third party take a look and offer an insight. In my experience something slight such as a mere change in vocabulary can diagnose a seemingly intractable problem. Most of us react to design on an instinctive level and can often be at a loss to nail down the language which will identify what may be jarring or wrong with a particular element.

Can’t pinpoint what’s wrong? Might it simply be those three words we all find so hard to say; texture, structure, flow?

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