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Developing a Design Language: Why is it Important

Learn how design language is important for creating a shared vision and for establishing a collaborative way of working with experts and stakeholders
An image from workshop showing different words used by participants to describe a space

Design is all around us. From our kettles to our cathedrals, design solves problems, creates opportunities, affects our emotions and senses, and helps us function. We can easily forget that while we don’t all use the same language to discuss design, we are all constantly responding to it, evaluating the design of everyday objects around us and the places we inhabit, whether consciously or not.

Looking at any building through a design lens helps us to see those assets differently, to look beyond aesthetics and to consider aspects of a place that give us the opportunity to achieve something of value: something that we want or need to be able to do or feel. Taking a design lens perspective is therefore about looking and thinking about these elements of a place that enable (or hinder) us to function and feel in ways that we value. For instance, the choice of floor materials or wall divisions may influence the level of noise in a building and our feelings and experience of praying. Through a design lens, we can start thinking about the way a space may include or empower people with physical or mental disabilities to participate in rituals. Thinking about the ways that a building is lighted or heated has effects not only on our perceptions of comfort but also has wider implications on energy consumption and carbon footprint.

Places of worship are buildings that bring with them a complex layer of faith, history and heritage. When entering into a dialogue about adapting them, particularly when it is to explore their potential for new uses and users, it is essential to be able to look at them through a design lens and develop a design language. Developing a design language is about developing a vocabulary that will allow different people to articulate their values and explore in what ways different elements can affect what they are able to feel and do. In this week, we will particularly focus on material elements of a place such as the form and shapes of built spaces, their colours, textures and lighting and how these elements enable people to function and feel in ways that they value.

All of this is essential to ensuring that any adaptation being made to a place of worship stems from a key principle of good design: our ability to develop, articulate and communicate our design lenses. Helping designers and non-designers establish that shared design language is a crucial part of design enabling. This need not be a daunting task. Developing a basic shared design vocabulary into the project journey can make a substantial difference to all involved. It can help lay the foundations for a good working relationship between the client and design team, and can support the development of an open and inclusive dialogue with current and potential users of the building, and with the wider community.

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Enabling Community-Based Leadership in Design: Sustainable Development of Historic Faith Buildings

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