Messages Archive

More on Design *PIC*

Bill Tindall, E.Tn.
As I plug away at the new desk I am thinking about some points and questions raised about “design” in an earlier discussion. Taking this desk as an example.....

Ian Kirby (
advocated that “design” was a distinct step before “making”, requiring different skills and experience. For me design further divides into three steps of design.

Function design: This part of design is largely arithmetic. It’s a desk. Desks have rules, even for the creative folks that eschew rules. It must accommodate a chair, be of convenient height for working, have drawer storage, and fit between a door and the frig. Function determines the design parameters for the dimensions of height, width, drawer heights, kneehole height, etc. This design function is easily learned from books, or copied from an existing desk, and coupled with the space it must fit, completes this phase of design. The rules and arithmetic determine the height of the pencil drawer and the total height of the rank of drawers. The only design left to design is to proportion the drawer number and heights to the space the rules allow.

Engineering design The next step of the design is to decide how to put it together. This step too has rules stemming from physics and the properties of wood. Books, classes and examples of similar furniture provide training on how to engineer a desk. This desk is an example of “case work”. For me it was useful to take a class in casework from a shop that does it well (Headley and Sons) and use what they use for ever more. I was guided by construction used in high end Period Furniture. Drawer dividers are dovetailed into the legs, the top rail is dovetailed into the outer legs and bridle joint for the middle legs. When I built in the style of Krenov, I had to learn and employ entirely different engineering.

Aesthetics design The third phase of design is to design the aesthetics of the piece. This step turns an ordinary desk into something special, or not. The desk above is ordinary at this point and is likely to remain so.

I built this desk some time ago for my daughter. I copied the unraised panel side from something I saw somewhere, as well as the clever bowed stretcher. The curved leg idea came from the Krenov school. The black cock bead I thought of. Some other ideas are not to be seen because Susan, my design mentor, banished this clutter from the drawings. This desk moves beyond ordinary, but not as a result of my creativity.

The creative part of design I struggle with. How thick should the leg, dividers and top be? What esthetic elements will be added to the ordinary desk? There aren’t books and classes to help with this part. Popular now days is to substitute fancy wood for design creativity. It’s an inadequate substitute, but fools some. Alternatively, we copy something someone else creatively designed. Or we live with ordinary, AKA Shaker.

I don’t even know if this part of design can be taught. But if it can there is a need to be met.

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