Designing is a complex process that involves the integration of various elements such as form, function, and user experience. However, to create truly effective and impactful designs, it’s important to consider a wide range of factors beyond just the aesthetics and usability. This is where the concept of a design hierarchy comes in.

The design hierarchy is a framework that organizes the various elements of design into five levels, each with its own unique characteristics and considerations. These levels are:

  1. Function: The most basic level of design is ensuring that the design meets the basic needs of its users. This includes functionality, accessibility, and usability. A design that doesn’t work or is difficult to use will not be successful, no matter how aesthetically pleasing it may be.
  2. Aesthetic: Once the basic needs of the design have been met, the next level of design is to focus on the visual appeal. This includes the aesthetics, form, and style. A design that looks good will be more attractive to users and can help to differentiate it from its competitors.
  3. Experience: The next level of design is to focus on the user experience. This includes providing an immersive experience, a wow factor, and interesting elements. A design that provides an immersive experience will be more successful in the long run.
  4. Integrity: The fourth level of design is to focus on the greater impact—commonly referred to as Integrated Design, Holistic Design, or Responsible Design.  This includes designing with a long-term perspective and considering the impact of the design on others and future generations. It also involves creating designs that are authentic, inclusive, sustainable, and in harmony with their surroundings.
  5. Enlightenment: The final level of design is to focus on enlightening the user, providing them with new perspectives and knowledge, and inspiring them to think differently, to question their assumptions and to seek new understanding. This level should focus on designs that provide awareness, meaning, and spiritual growth for the users.

Designing spaces is an important task, and it’s crucial to consider all aspects of the design process. By following the design hierarchy, you can ensure that all aspects of the space have been considered, and that the final design is not only visually pleasing but also functional, inclusive, sustainable and enlightening.


~Jacob Goldman, RA, CID

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