The BBC home decorating show How Not To Decorate should actually be renamed How to Piss Off the Very People Who Can Help You Achieve Your Design Vision.

In the episode I watched recently, the two interior designers first toured a badly decorated house with champagne making bitchy (and funny) comments. They then proceeded to then come up with a new decor concept.

Their grand concept was then (predictably? It is formula TV after all) met with resistance from their pragmatic builder. There was too much work to be done in the time and budget allocated. From their somewhat petulant and childish response, the designers clearly showed little understanding of the work/construction process, and also no respect for the input of the builder. They then left the builder and his team at work pulling long hours to get the job done. They did not hang around to see how complex the logistics of construction were. They were not willing to learn or appreciate the builder’s perspective. More fool them.

Now I know that conflict is often deliberately exaggerated in these sorts of shows to make “good” television. But the conflict between the dreamy “conceptual” designers and the practical get-it-made builder raised an important point about the practice of design.

Hypothesis: A designer cannot produce good work unless she/he has actual first hand knowledge of the manufacturing/building process.

A web designer who has hands-on experience writing HTML and CSS will be better at their job than one who has only worked in Photoshop. An interior designer who has build, painted, plastered, sewn things with their own hands will be better than one who only flipped through catalogues and sample books. This is knowledge beyond simply appreciating or using the final outcome.

A deeper knowledge of the design-development lifecycle will impose some limitation on the freedom of the designer to simply pull anything out of thin air. I think this is a good constraint. Design is a service. It must produce something of use, within the budget and timeframe, without causing lots of unnecessary pain; and thus create value.

For some designers, it is tempting to focus on “pure” design – and by this they mean the visual part; as in how the final outcome will look. Never mind how it will work, or how it is made, or even how it is disposed of. This is a very narrow view of the possibilities inherent in the idea of being a designer. Design can be so much more, and perhaps needs to be more if it were to play a role in driving positive change forward.

Oh yes, and being a precious prima donna is definitely a bad way to go about design. You want buy-in. Not alienation!