Put People At The Heart Of Design

The hunt for good interior design — something that is functional, fun, stylish, adaptable and efficient — is all the rage these days, particularly in Hong Kong. It’s been repeated time and again, in these pages among dozens of others, that the SAR needs to learn a thing or two about what constitutes “good” layouts and maximising space. It’s also been argued that just because the space is there for the taking (in expansive locations like Australia, Canada and the United States) doesn’t mean we need it. Face it: you’ve learnt to live with 550 square feet. It just means less clutter — and stuff. George Carlin has a thing or two to say about that.

At last’s year’s Business of Design Week, educator, writer, designer, one-time president of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI) and founding principal of The Collective, Shashi Caan addressed the BODW forum on space and design. Caan has made it her mission to put people at the heart of each of the Collective’s designs and backs that up with extensive and meticulous research. As the studio itself puts it, “The Collective as an expert and seamless team provide creative design solutions which focus on supporting people both pragmatically and qualitatively. Knowing that central to all design is the human being, we gather teams who help to actualise excellent design that transform lives, revitalise business, and define an improved society and culture.” Caan and The Collective offer innovative solutions in product design and brand management, but it is in interiors and architecture where Caan shines brightest; the firm has won accolades from Architecture and Interior Design Magazine, the International Interior Design Association and prestigious design expo NeoCon among others. Ask her what defines “good” design and she’s succinct and to the point on the disconnect between ideas and reality. “Design for interiors is the most popular of design practices across the world today,” she stresses. “However, its respect and related sense of professional confidence lags behind.” In other words, the consumer still doesn’t quite get it.

Much of Caan and her team at The Collective’s time goes into bringing an understanding of what design can and should do to the consumer — hence the research and education. Design awareness has long been considered an emerging trend in Hong Kong, so what do consumers need to understand about design that they don’t? “The promotion of human well-being is the end goal of design. I believe that this is not new but a clarification of the knowledge, which distinguishes the expertise of the designer of interiors,” says Caan. “It is about educated and artful decision making which shapes the intended human behaviour and outcomes.”

As a designer that’s worked all over the world — from preservation of the New York State Capitol building to a distiller’s office interiors in Scotland — Caan has some advice for Hongkongers, and designers too, grappling with the ceaseless fight between the high demand for homes and offices and finding enough space to put them all in. “I think the way interior designers represent our work must dramatically change. When architects are designing buildings, it’s not feasible to do it any other way than to scale it down into a model,” she begins. “Interiors, though, are dramatically different. When we are designing, it is possible to use today’s technology to have clients stand inside the space. After all, if what interior designers do for living is to make experiences, then those experiences ought to be experienced and not seen, especially if a client is to understand them.”