Design is courtesy made visible

June 20, 2009

One of the Hammersmith Papers exploring how good design is inherently courteous design:

Click to access courteous.pdf

Looking forward to your thoughts on the examples in the piece. Feel free to add any examples of either flagrantly discourteous design, or thoughtful design.

9 Responses to “Design is courtesy made visible”

  1. Metropolis said

    Excellent article – after reading it, I began to see examples of courteous (and discourteous) design everywhere.

    A few more for you:

    * Trash chutes in apartment buildings that are too small for the bags, so you have to wrestle them in to the chute. Just a few inches wides would have made a difference.

    * The lighting design on most multifamily vanities is designed by rote: the light is typically above the vanity, where it is the least flattering. The lights should flank the vanity instead.

    * The desire to green all the lighting in a home needs to be tempered with the practical aspects of living there: the temperature of the lighting should reflect the warmth and spectrum of natural lighting – especially critical for putting on makeup and being able to accurately gauge what it will look like in daylight.

    * In retail environments, courteous design should extend past the design layer to the way the inventory itself is presented: too many products for senior citizens should not be put on shelves that require bending over or reaching. It’s a logical extension of universal design into the service layer itself.

  2. edificecomplex said

    Thanks, Metropolis.

    My sister, Christina Valhouli (a travel writer who has worked with Forbes and Rough Guides, and a co-founder of also mentioned a good point about bathrooms. A number of boutique, design-driven hotels have bathrooms without doors, or with glass doors. Inherently. Not. Courteous.

  3. Metropolis said

    And one more, from Freeman’s restaurant in NYC: it’s a beautifully-designed venue that incorporates a lot of salvaged historic pieces. The bathroom door features an old-school that, when it locks, displays its status (occupied/vacant). I was at another restaurant later that night that had conventional doors, and people were knocking and rattling the door handle while someone is in there.

  4. Metropolis said

    Oops – missed a word there. That should have read “features an old-school lock that …”

    And another one: some elementary and middle schools have door handles, push plates, and lights that are placed in a way that’s convenient for both adults and kids. If it’s a space for kids, it should feel like a space for kids.

  5. Baphomet said

    Excellent point about the coat/purse hooks under counters and tables, they are a wonderfully convenient feature. Another one that comes to mind is a frosted lower pane in second or higher story double-hung windows. It affords a person a degree of privacy should they pass the window and not be dressed. A nice feature (unless you happen to be an exhibitionist I suppose).

  6. jj1041 said

    Great piece, Constantine. One more bit of courteous design from Apple: the small light on the magnetic power cords for the laptops. It’s a quick way to tell, at a glance, if the cord is connected to the outlet.

  7. jj1041 said

    RT @NickMcGlynn: The new Astor Place David Barton gym has hookups in all the equipment where you can charge your iPhone/iPod and also watch your own movies on the machines larger screen.

  8. edificecomplex said

    I was just at the Janovic Paint store in Soho yesterday, and the Benjamin Moore paint display had a bit of simple, elegant, and thoughtful design – buyers could look at the paint colors under incandescent or fluorescent light, and could toggle between bright daylight or twilight. It was a matter of adding a few bulbs and two switches to a conventional display – but what a difference. Bravo again to Benjamin Moore.

  9. edificecomplex said

    David Byrne’s blog has a wonderful blog post on courteous design vs. high design on hotels:

    (and bonus points for referencing Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, too)

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