Some Things I Learned From Architecture School

by Luke Wroblewski September 3, 2008

During recent travel, I read through Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. Among the many insightful points is a set of design principles and approaches that really resonated with me as a digital product designer. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The more specific a design idea is, the greater its appeal is likely to be. Being nonspecific in an effort to appeal to everyone usually results in reaching no one.
  • Any design decision should be justified in at least two ways.
  • Good designers are fast on their feet.
  • A good designer isn’t afraid to throw away a good idea. Your goal as a designer should be to create an integrated whole, not to in corporate all the best features whether or not they work together.
  • An effective oral presentation of a project begins with the general and proceeds toward the specific.
  • No design system should be perfect.
  • Limitations encourage creativity. Never rue the limitations of a design problem… within those limitations lies the solution to the problem.
  • Figure-ground theory states that the space that results from placing figures should be considered as carefully as the figures themselves.
  • A dynamic composition encourages the eyes to explore.
  • Beauty is due more to harmonious relationships among the elements of a composition than to the elements themselves.
  • Engineers tend to be concerned with physical things in of themselves. Architects are more directly concerned with the human interface with physical things.
  • An architect knows something about everything. An engineer knows everything about one thing.
  • True architectural style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely –even accidently- out of holistic process.
  • “Science works with chunks and bits and pieces of things with the continuity presumed, and the artist works only with the continuities of things with the chunks and bits and pieces presumed.” –Robert Pirsig
  • “A proper building grows naturally, logically, and poetically out of all its conditions.” –Louis Sullivan
  • “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context –a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” –Eliel Saarinen

For more lessons from architecture school, check out Matthew Frederick’s book.