Designing furniture can be organized into phases. Designers can determine where they are in the process of designing furniture by understanding the expectations for each phase of work. Designers rarely skip a phase, although the process can move backward as well as forward. Designers can spend more time on one phase than another. There are few rules in design that cannot be broken.

It is ineffective to micro-manage the sequence of the design phases. However, a degree of flexibility should always be factored into the process of design. An enormous amount of time may be used to research and program ideas of "sitting" when designing a chair for the first time. The design development phase for a room divider might take a long time due to the complexity of the technical details. Nonetheless, designers are expected to understand where they are in the process of design. Organizing the phases of designing furniture into a linear structure is useful to determine where one is in the design process—if not for one­self, then for the client, who is likely to ask, "How far along in the design process are we?"

Regardless of the means and methods of design, there will always be phases to the process of design. An outline of design phases follows:

■ Predesign, research, and programming

■ Schematic design

■ Design development

■ Fabrication drawings

■ Pricing and contract negotiation

■ Shop drawings, templates, and working prototypes

■ Fabrication

■ Delivery and installation

Predesign, Research, and Programming

A well defined problem is 50% of the solution.12

Albert Einstein

The predesign, research, and programming phases involve necessary work that designers generally accomplish before designing a piece of furniture. Even before the research and programming phases, designers must prepare themselves by organizing their personal time and committing to the project. The design of a suite of Catholic church furnishings may require a substantial investment of time to understand the purpose and environment in which the furniture will be placed. A significant effort may be required to understand the Catholic liturgy and the purpose of each liturgical furnishing. Designing furniture for a salon or spa may require a visit to various salons or spas to observe all services offered and how customers and staff interact with one another. When designing furniture for a particular space, existing architectural conditions may need to be recorded in order to accurately represent important aspects and dimensions of the space. Observation, documentation, and analysis provide an important foundation in the process of design and are considered predesign work.

Predesign, research, and programming may also entail research of technical standards driven by code, economic, or fabrication limitations. Generally, this phase of design takes a significant amount of time to complete—time that the client is not usually eager to pay for.

Programming can be as brief as a few written notes or as complex as a booklet. A pro­gram articulates in written form the goals and objectives of the design process. It is a tool to guide the design process and shape the parameters for how the design will be evaluated. It is an effort to organize and define the scope of work, the purpose of the work, the resources and conditions in which the work will be placed, and the schedule for all aspects of the work. Although they bring no guarantee of success, programming and research efforts may increase the likelihood for a successful project.

Regardless of the method one uses to determine the program and establish the intended purposes for the furniture that will be designed, basic questions can and should be consid­ered by the designer. These questions are based upon six terms: who, what, why, when, where, and how.


■ Who is in the market for this product?

■ Who will use this product?

■ Who will sell or distribute the product?

■ Who will maintain the product?


■ What is its intended purpose?

■ What are other things that it might do?

■ What is the competition?

■ What functions should be included?

■ What is the product’s life expectancy?

■ What is the expected cost for the furniture?


■ Why is the furniture needed?

■ Why would someone buy this product?

■ Why is a new design needed?

■ Why will the furniture be used?

■ Why use hand, machine, or digital technology in its fabrication?


■ When will the furniture be used?

■ When will the product require maintenance?

■ When will it not have enough capacity?

■ When will it be stored or moved?


■ Where will the furniture be located?

■ Where should it not be located?

■ Where will it be sold?

■ Where will its materials come from?

■ Where will it be fabricated?


■ How does it work?

■ How is it used?

■ How many functions will be served?

■ How well does it relate to all people?

Schematic Design

Schematic design is generally considered the first phase in the process of designing furni­ture. Generally, designers spend between 10 and 15 percent of their total design time on this phase of work.13 During this phase, general decisions regarding size and form are explored. Sketches and rough study models are made to communicate ideas and study compositional aspects (Figure 6.57). There may be some degree of resolution regarding material selection or detail, but generally these aspects are unresolved.

Design Development

As a rule, designers spend between 15 and 20 percent of their total design time on design development.14 In this phase, designers refine ideas, formulate general dimensions and materials, and resolve the direction of the work. During this phase, schematic design draw­ings are developed into measured drawings, either by manual drafting or by using computer software. At the end of this phase, decisions regarding size, proportion, material, color selection, and visual quality will have been explored and generally made. While further

Figure 6.57 Schematic design for NBC studios. Drawing by Gil Born.



resolution of detail and joinery may be needed, the basic formal qualities of the design should be determined at this point (Figure 6.58).