The primary intention of combining the terms furniture and design together is to articulate an emerging discipline in the combined synthesis of the two terms. The phrase furniture design establishes a framework for an emerging discipline that is comparable to interior design, industrial design, fashion design, or graphic design—a discipline that is co-dependent with other allied design fields and, yet, one that has a core body of knowledge. It is an area of study that extends beyond the summation of furniture and
design. It combines the arts and sciences, business and marketing strategies, and design and fabrication processes. It engages furniture as tangible objects, materials, and built – form, as well as part of a larger history of design; informed by research, ideas, developed by design processes, theory, utility, comfort, use, and aesthetics.
Furniture design needs to be practiced in order to be fully appreciated; however, some aspects can be studied, learned, and taught. Designers, educators, fabricators, industrial entrepreneurs, museum curators, and writers have developed an enormous body of knowledge about furniture design. This body of knowledge is available to the public through books, journals, museum and gallery exhibits, and web sites. A growing number of universities and colleges offer courses in furniture design—many within art, industrial design, interior design, and architecture programs. Generally, the course content and student learning outcomes from furniture offerings address the following areas of research and inquiry:
■ History (societal and cultural themes)
■ Human factors (anthropometrics, ergonomics, and proxemics)
■ Humanities (psychology, sociology, human perception)
■ Theory (inquiry, research methods, aesthetics)
■ Design (processes, phases, paradigms)
■ Skills (drawing, model making, digital design and fabrication)
■ Materials (characteristics and performance)
■ Fabrication processes (means and methods—hand, power, digital techniques)
■ Professional practice
Research methods can focus one’s inquiry within the vast body of knowledge of furniture design. Through the process of gathering, organizing, and analyzing information, a stage is set for producing innovative work. Research can inform ideas and clarify specific knowledge about furniture design. It can enlighten designers and fabricators in ways to resolve technical matters regarding material properties, fabrication processes, marketing strategies, and business planning. There are scores of books, journals, reports, professional organizations, academic institutions, web sites, furniture companies, showrooms, and galleries available to the designer today, and a wide range of professional practice venues, to support one’s study of the field of furniture design.
Within the broader study of the humanities, areas of research include:
■ Human perception/psychology/behavior science
■ Sociological/cultural inquiry
■ Social use/notions of place-making and dwelling
■ Business identity/branded environments
One can study economic, legal, and business matters in tandem with material and technical aspects of fabricating furniture. Research methods can channel and inform relationships between broad areas of inquiry and more focused studies in specific areas. They can also expand focused inquiry into broader, more complex understandings.
There are, essentially, two primary approaches to research methods:
■ Empirical studies (learning by doing)—i. e., designing, drawing, making, testing. Generally, an inductive approach—working from concrete realities into general ideas.
■ Scientific methods (systematic and quantitative)—i. e. gathering information, organizing data, and statistical analysis. Generally, a deductive approach—working from ideas and concepts down to concrete realities.
There is a third approach that is reflective in nature, involving the study of precedent, the writings of others, or investigating design processes. (These approaches tend to be more scientific than empirical.)
Themes and streams of research inquiry include:
■ Theory (human factors, ergonomics, proxemics, comfort, social use)
■ Design (processes, methods, techniques)
■ Material research
■ Fabrication technologies
■ Professional practice
Themes and streams are akin to the braids of a rope—they are interdependent on one another and collectively strengthen the totality of one’s research or inquiry.