The post-Covid Design Sensibility

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For my last column in this series, I wanted to reflect on the strange and singular period we are all living through and what it might mean for design – including changes to our design sensibilities. There’s been a lot of focus on the practicalities of redesigning office and hospitality spaces recently, but what about deeper changes to our design mindset?

It feels, for example, as if this extended confinement has heightened the power of the outside world. Starved of our usual assault of imagery and with only the homogenised glossy flatness of our screens to feed us, every detail of the outside world seems extraordinary. When we go out and see a flower or blossom on a tree on our walks, they seem excessively beautiful. We seem to be looking at less, yet gaining more. This could be a useful lesson for the future – that we don’t need to be excessive to be meaningful.

Along with an increased focus on natural materials and sustainability, I believe we’ll also be more likely to accept things not made by computers or machines and will positively enjoy flaws in materials and objects. The plastic finish of the advertising hoarding, with light perfectly-aligned across its surface, has become less alluring than the graffitied image next to it. Materials that show life lived, as a building weathers over the years, will appeal more, precisely because they patinate and more honestly reflect our flawed lives and current partial powers.

Part of lockdown has also been about imagining ourselves elsewhere and the release of fantasy. I have been dreaming so much more vividly, my imagination regularly off on exotic travels. We can seek to bring the outside closer, whilst staying close to home, by drawing on images, textures and bold colours to brighten public spaces, as a joyous celebration of the world and our place within it. This might translate into being less literal and creating spaces that allow our imaginations to roam, empowering people to make their own associations and meaning.

For the first time in a generation, the world is experiencing the same thing at the same time. All our stories are relevant. Is it time perhaps for design to lower its voice and its need to entertain and talk at people – and allow for meaning to come back via less spoon-fed content and more digital optionality for visitors and users, as we seek to renegotiate a path through our over-crowded, complex and fragile new world?

Pippa Nissen, Director at Nissen Richards Studio

Image: Forgotten Masters at the Wallace Collection by Gareth Gardner.


About Pippa Nissen

Pippa Nissen qualified as an architect, before taking an MA in Theatre Design. She is a Director of Nissen Richards Studio, a specialist practice offering architecture, exhibition and graphic design for the cultural sector. Over the last decade, the multi-award-winning practice has worked for some of the world's greatest cultural institutions.
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