What is Design

Today’s theory session was based on the question of what is design, which is something that many designers have questioned throughout history. We began by reading an excerpt called ‘What is Good Design?’ from Alice Rawsthorn’s book entitled Hello World which summarised through the words of William Morris that good design is both ‘beautiful’ and ‘useful’. We then discussed amongst ourselves what we believed this to mean. One quote in the excerpt was taken from artist Donald Judd who said ‘If a chair…is not functional, if it appears to be only art, it is ridiculous’ which I feel is an accurate analysis of good design.

After our discussion we were told to go out and find a building to look at with a critical eye, which is something we should start to do for everything as designers. We were told to look at the building’s:

  • Exterior
  • Entrance
  • Interiors
  • Signage
  • Furniture

We had to think about the purpose of the building and it’s user and think about whether it was good or bad design in relation to these conditions.

I chose to look at the Owen Building, which is the main university building for Sheffield Hallam and which contains many lecture theatres, study areas, classrooms, computer rooms, meeting rooms and also a cafeteria, eating area, print shop and leads to the library. For this reason the building has many purposes and users but primarily it is a building for students therefore it needs to be easily accessible, spacious and inviting both inside and out as students need to feel welcome and motivated to stay for a long time.

2 photos of the Owen Building exterior:



In my opinion the exterior of the building is quite ordinary and almost domineering. For me I think the building is too modern looking, too big and has too many windows. As a Sheffield Hallam student I would prefer a building with a bit more character to it as that would certainly make it a more inviting building to visit. One the side of the building there’s a poem which I believe has been written to encourage travellers, students or just the people of Sheffield to look up at the building and to feel they have entered an exciting city. However, once again I feel that the building itself is not much to look up at and although the poem on the side of the building is a nice idea I would still say that the aesthetics of the building are lacking in beauty. For me the exterior of the building shows it to be more of a functional design than a beautiful one.

These two photos are of the entrance to the building which contains some signage. As an entrance it definitely serves its purpose but again isn’t particularly beautiful.

The interior of the building however, I feel makes up for the uninspiring exterior. It is a good mix of both function and style and as such is welcoming to all of it’s users. It’s also easily accessible as when you walk into this main area, called the atrium, it is made very easy to find places to sit and study. In terms of furniture it is abundant in study areas, eating areas and IT equipment which again fulfil the building’s purpose.

Overall, when comparing the interior and exterior of the building in regards to function and aesthetic I would say that the exterior of the building is heavily focused on purpose and the interior is a good mixture of both. As the building itself is mostly required to be a useful building for students to come and study into I would say that it is a good design despite it’s slightly underwhelming exterior.



Hello World: Where Design Meets Life by Alice Rawsthorn, Pages 45-48


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