The 'Experience' of Great Design

There’s a lot more to great design than merely the sum of its various parts. Kitchen and bath design that’s truly memorable – and most meaningful to clients – is more than simply a clever combination of creative space planning, intelligent product selection and trendy new features. Similarly, it’s more than just the product of innovative applications, state-of-the-art technology and custom details.

Those components, to be sure, are certainly essential to any well-designed kitchen or bath. But truly great design goes far beyond all of that.
Great design is about creating a client experience, stirring an emotion, getting inside a client’s heart as well as inside their head.

Top-notch kitchen/bath design professionals have known that for years. They recognize, almost instinctively, that great design, at its core, is really the language of feeling. It’s about how a space makes clients feel about themselves, their lives, their homes.

The notion of the best design being experiential is getting a lot of attention these days. As Leslie Hart notes in her compelling “Consumer Insights” column, kitchen/bath marketers can most effectively reach today’s most powerful consumer segment – Baby Boomer women – not by “shrinking and pinking” a product, but by understanding those women’s motivations, values, life stages, aspirations and emotions. Citing a groundbreaking new book, Hart points out, for instance, that leading-edge Boomers seek personal gratification and are more concerned with spirituality and simplifying their life than they are with status-oriented material items or empty, tired stereotypes.

Architect, author and cultural visionary Sarah Susanka echoes this notion of emotional connectedness between homeowners and their home. Her “build better, not bigger” approach, communicated through six best-selling books (and a soon-to-be-released follow-up), is helping to redefine the American home.

Susanka encourages design professionals to focus on quality rather than quantity – in other words, on what brings meaning and fulfillment to homeowners’ lives rather than on what impresses the neighbors.

Her message is simple: While much of society associates “bigness” with “success,” great design is not about square footage. In sharp contrast, it’s about character, functionality, comfort, details. It’s about understanding the psychology of scale, and how people experience space. It’s about what makes people feel relaxed and comfortable. It’s about creating intimacy. It’s about touching people’s hearts.

This mindset should apply not just to Baby Boomer women – but to every kitchen and bath prospect who walks into your showroom.

Kitchens, like most American homes, have grown increasingly cavernous with time. They’re more elaborate and impressive than ever. But are they warm? Are they cozy? Are they comfortable? Do they engender meaningful connections with loved ones? Do they provide a sense of self-expression? Do they evoke special memories? Do they make people feel good?

Those are questions designers need to ask when they create residential spaces. They need to ask if they are engaging their clients emotionally through their showroom displays, their marketing message, their sales approach, their willingness to listen, and the features and products they design and specify.

The answers to those questions are nothing short of critical. They’re answers that could easily spell the difference between whether a kitchen or bath design is merely good – or if it’s great.