The Spontaneous Order of Interior Design

It’s tempting to always approach interior design as a top down system. We may start a conception of how we want a room to look and disrupt the natural order of the room, to reorganize it to fit with this conception. Then we try to force our habits to match the design of the room. The whole approach can come with a lot of problems. We may find it difficult to adjust our behaviors. Or find forcing an aesthetic on a room will feel clunky and awkward. However this is not the only way to approach interior design. Consider a more natural or bottom up tactic. One that conforms with our natural spontaneous activities.
Within the study of economics, there is a concept called Spontaneous Order. It is an insight about how order can develop without the need of top down design. Complex and functional systems can be built through what looks like chaos. Evolution is a solid example of this. There’s (likely) no top down design to nature. Why a specific body part evolved can be explained simply through understanding the complex and chaotic incentives that animals face over generations. Walking around on a busy city block is another example. There’s no cop telling you to walk on the right side of the sidewalk. No expressed rules for when to get out of someone’s way. Yet the vast majority of the time, you aren’t bumping into people. The relevant insight here, is that sometimes designs doesn’t need to be over thought. Often systems should just follow the natural order and incentives already in place.
So how do we apply this concept to interior design?
To start off, let’s discuss furniture. Have you ever not had a night stand by your bed? Seriously think about it. Everyone reading this can probably be fit into two categories of experience. Either you left your parents house with a night stand and take it for granted, or you didn’t have a night moving out and asap found a substitute or bought your own. Without one you find yourself with noticeable inconveniences. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and you need your glass of water. Most people have it conveniently placed in arms reach on a stand, at a height near the height of the bed. If you didn’t have the nightstand, the placement of your glass of water becomes a lot more inconvenient. It’s either on the floor, below the bed, or away from the bed on some other piece of furniture. Naturally the incentives are clear for you to buy a nightstand to place besides your bed.
It’s easy to see how we can use this idea for something like furniture, but what about aesthetic design choices?
Here I’ll use a personal example to help illustrate my point. When I first moved into my current room, I found myself often sitting in my bed, always facing a certain direction. This happened to be the most comfortable spot to sit on my bed, were I might naturally lay around while passing the time. Unfortunately while in that spot, the only thing I had to look at was a blank wall. Not just any blank wall, but a pretty ugly one at that. A makeshift wall previously installed in the room before I moved in. My basic incentive was to find something to increase the value of staring off into this direction. I knew I needed something large to cover as much of the wall as possible. I knew it had to be interesting to look at as to avoid getting bored. This lead to purchasing a large world map. Hanging up on my wall, it covers most of the ugly and fulfills all of wants. I have something interesting to look at that never really gets boring. Simply through designing around my natural activities, I was able to reach a meaningful design choice.
Next time you’re designing the interior of a room, consider taking an approach that accounts for your natural behaviors. Obverse exactly how you live in your room. Consider where you eyes fall and where you place your belongings before going to bed. Pay attention to your natural activities and design around those incentives instead of trying to confirm your actions to some grander design. Pay attention to the spontaneous order of interior design.

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