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Mix Roundtable: how do we design to last in a period of change?

In this Mix Roundtable with 2tec2 we explore the fast-changing factors shaping how we live, work and socialise; consider what these mean for the spaces we inhabit; and ask how today’s design can still be relevant for tomorrow’s world.

Feature in partnership with

2tec2

12/09/2023

6 min read

Watch the highlights

This article first appeared in Mix Interiors #227

Words and moderated by: Harry McKinley


We’re dealing with big changes and designers have a responsibility to address them

Design has always responded to change – providing solutions to novel issues or adapting to shifts in culture and society. For those at the table however, today’s issues – and by extension, tomorrow’s – are of a particularly monumental scale. Whether the climate emergency or the need to consider inclusivity, conceiving and creating spaces requires grappling with big ideas and increasingly impactful consequences.

“Sustainability isn’t just a design consideration, it’s an existential issue,” explained tp bennett’s Steve Wood. “As an industry, the carbon we produce is huge and the question of impact is one not just for the design sector, but society. Considering circular economies has to be part of how we develop projects, in terms of how elements can be reused, adapted and deconstructed. There’s no room to go back now, that has to stay.”

“It can no longer just be about ticking a box, it has to be integrated for projects to be viable into the future, as well as today,” emphasised BDP’s Joe Wilson.

For Paul Butterworth, KKS Savills, the climate crisis is the key force that must shape how design remains meaningfully fit-for-purpose. “We’re not killing the planet, we’re killing us,” he opined. “So it isn’t just a practical consideration, we need to change the conversation to introduce some urgency about what that means for design, both now and looking ahead.”

In creating spaces that are both relevant and future proofed, there has to be room for experimentation

Beyond our planet, wellness, neurodiversity, inclusivity and the encroachment of technology were all highlighted as core concerns – coloured with a mix of optimism and trepidation. Some of these issues feel timely and pressing, others requiring a degree of foresight in terms of how they may impact the spaces we inhabit.

“Diversity, and specifically neurodiversity, is now something that is incredibly important when it comes to design,” expanded Wood. “Our mental health has become a real focus and it’s something that’s only going to increase as it relates to spaces.”

“There’s clearly been a shift in the landscape of what people are looking for,” continued Gensler’s Lindsay Roth, “and part of that is having to really consider the value spaces have and how they’re devised with the user in mind. We can see that in the evolution of the workplace, which now has to deliver something worth getting off the sofa for. Post-COVID we’ve perhaps entered an era that allows experimentation, in considering all of these different factors, including inclusivity.”

IA Interior Architect’s Brittany Stinger agreed: “As a designer, you want to be able to test a bunch of different solutions and see what works and what doesn’t. That’s something that actually promotes good design. If we think of trends as purposeful, they often come from a need as well as a want. Leaning into those as a point of experimentation can give us the answers we need to evolve in the right direction and create spaces that last.”

For Wilson, this process can yield positive results not just for a single studio or an individual, but for the design industry at large. “Looking at which pioneering ideas work or fail allows us to be students and to collectively learn from each other,” he explained. “There are times when we need to challenge and times when we need to listen, if we truly want to create spaces that will work for tomorrow.”

Designing for tomorrow shouldn’t come at the cost of designing for today

“We need to future proof as much as possible but, without sounding facetious, we need to design for today – tomorrow hasn’t happened yet,” said Butterworth, highlighting that in placing too much weight on how designs will last, there’s a risk they’ll be less successful right now. “We can’t anticipate the future, but we can create in a way that allows for adaptation or evolution. Designers have to be less precious, because it’s possible to create environments that look new and purposeful and for the moment, but understand they’ll also, at some point, have to adapt.”

“Considering how a space can be reconfigurable is part of that,” continued Stinger. “Sometimes that may seem like short-changing the immediate experience, but in designing not just for today, but for the future too, it’s about finding a balance and the sweet spot between the two.”

As a society, our obsession with ‘newness’ is a double-edged sword

Our appetite for innovation is one of design’s great drivers. But in a fast-paced society in which we’re arguably conditioned to gravitate towards the ‘new’, change for change’s sake is often anathema to genuine progress. So, in considering in how we design to last, is it time to slow down?

“I’d love to say that we’re not obsessed with the new,” said Stinger, “but I think it’s part of the human condition. That being said, I think as designers we can train ourselves and our clients to look at things differently, test the boundaries and give something a fresh edge, even if to a degree, we’ll always want what’s new and shiny.”

Though opinions are divided as to whether our thirst for the new is healthy, the table is agreed that if it needn’t come at a cost, then it’s possible for sustainability and change to sit comfortably alongside one another.

“The way that our factory works, for example,” detailed Grace Agar, 2Tec2’s Director for the UK, “is that we don’t use any non-renewable resources, so it’s all incredibly circular. Our product has a minimum lifespan of 15 years. We also take back as well, and we have our own recycling plants. And so, again, it speaks to the issue of balance – that the product lasts a really long time, but we take it back if there is a change, and we use it to make more product. 2Tec2 invests in the modularity of flooring that means you can pick it up and take it with you; that’s both designing to last but also designing for change, with flexibility and adaptability really baked in.”

“And as these elements do age, I think it allows us as designers to tell richer stories,” continued Roth. “Part of designing to last and designing for the future, today, means developing an appreciation for product that has had a life, or which we can give a new life. It allows us to dip into a pool of vintage pieces or materials that show signs of age, but which have developed a patina and become better for it. I like the idea that we create these spaces that are flexible, that have great bones, but they still create opportunities for moments of boldness and change in how we consider product, colour and material.

Technology may be a help, but it’s not necessarily the solution

The role of AI in devising the spaces of the future is subject to much fevered debate. For some, there’s concern it has the potential to render designers obsolete but, at the table, the mood was optimistic.

“In creating some efficiencies and becoming a really useful tool, AI actually has the potential to elevate the position of designers,” explained Wilson. “We’re capable of bringing a humanity to design that AI isn’t and, in that regard, it’s possible designers could be considered along the same lines as craftspeople – with a very particular expertise and set of skills. AI can only be a product of what’s inputted into it. So will it be designing the spaces of the future; can it even meaningfully design the spaces of today? I think it still very much comes down to us, and will continue to.”

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