Slow Design: an introduction

At PLDC 2019, in Rotterdam, the audience was introduced to the principle of ‘slow design’. Dr. Amardeep Dugar, ably assisted by David Gilbey of NDYLight (standing in for Jane Slade, Specification Sales Manager for Speclines) drew us into the benefits of slow design environments that aim to provide deep satisfaction of human needs, while balancing the demands of the environmental and socio-cultural balance sheets.

We’re told that, to be successful, we need to ‘follow the money’. Sound reasoning, no doubt, but it feels like the money has put on its Vaporflys and is headed for the horizon at an unhealthy rate of knots.

If projects run more quickly, then more demands are put on the design process. That, eventually, means that something has to give. The risk is that we lose the very thing that our clients want from us; in case you’ve forgotten, that means solutions that enhance the original vision (when did anyone ever want a poor building or a failing operation?). And we find those solutions by having the space to look beyond the immediate requirement of dots on drawings.

Slow Design by Muka design Lab (thank you)

What is needed is slow design.

The current demand for immediate answers plays into the hands of failure; there is no time to investigate new technologies or consider alternative approaches. All that is available is a ‘straight-to-spec’ response that might satisfy the needs of the contract management but doesn’t get close to answering the needs of the client.

Slow Design takes as its starting point an understanding of the project landscape and how design decisions taken today have implications for that landscape in the years ahead. It’s a design process that considers ecological soundness and effective hardware and software management, always in support of customer enjoyment and client satisfaction.

Designs created through the slow process are made with actual need and wellbeing in mind, using renewable and recycled materials and energy, and with the future fully mapped, whether that be material biogradability or re-use, always aiming towards zero-waste and cradle-to-cradle purposing.

Slow Design can also be considered as Sustainable Design, and sustainable design has three bottom lines, not just an economic outcome. In addition, Slow Design looks at the ecology and the equity within a project. Ecological decisions impact on material exploitation – and we understand that we are taking more from the planet than we are replacing. The box of chocolates is nearing it’s end, and there won’t be another one to replace it.

Equity refers to the societal nature of our projects. At the end, all architectural projects come down to the people who visit and occupy the buildings. We are learning about the actual cost to business for not taking care of the human equity within an organisation (90% of a company’s costs goes to the cost of its people). Its ludicrous not to take care of the people, and yet that is exactly what the current design approach drives us towards.

In the modern world of connected lighting, slow design holds the secret of longevity. Moving rapidly to a solution means dealing with the here and now whereas, if the last few years have demonstrated anything to us, it’s that the singlemost important factor in connected design is to understand ‘what happens next’. The built environment is littered with technological cul-de-sacs and we are bound to repeat that process again and again unless we take the time – unless we are allowed the time – to look into the future and consider design integrity that looks ahead, ten – twenty – thirty years, into the second or third iteration of the design that currently sits on the screen.

Creative designers know, in their hearts, that good design takes time; the opportunity to repent at leisure is not something that we want to embrace. Slow design can be seen as a way of ‘paying forward’. Don’t take the necessary time to arrive at the appropriate answer at the front-end of a project and spend twice as much time at the back-end – and in the years to come, putting right the errors and omissions that came bundled into the original fast-track design package.

At the end of the day, slow design makes complete sense.

The Slow-Design Book of Inspiration is available under the ‘Creative Commons community license,’ free-of-charge for non-commercial use



This article is one on the series of Good Lighting pieces for The Light Review.

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