Tell anyone outside the industry that you’re programming, and they’ll think you changed careers. When you think about programming, you might imagine T-shirted engineers at Google or maybe Airbnb…
In interior design, programming is like detective work. It’s the process of gathering and analyzing information about a problem before trying to solve it with design.
The outcome of the programming phase is a written document. Programming lays the groundwork for a solution later in the design phase.
Good designers never start by trying to solve the problem given to them: they start by trying to understand what the real issues are.Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things
Architects William M. Peña and Steven A. Parshall distilled programming down to a five-step process in their book Problem Seeking to simplify the programming process:
- Goals— What does the client want to achieve, and Why?
- Facts— What do we know? What is given?
- Concepts— How does the client want to achieve the goals?
- Needs— How much money and space? What level of quality?
- Problem— What are the significant conditions affecting the design of the space? What are the general directions the design should take?
Designers should look at the whole problem before solving any of its parts. How can a designer who does not clearly understand the problem develop a comprehensive solution?
To find the whole problem, Pena and Parshall suggest identifying in terms these four primary programming considerations:
- Form – existing physical space
- Function – use of the space
- Economy – monetary costs of the space: initial cost, but also operating and life cycle costs
- initial budget
- operating costs
- life-cycle costs
- Time – how time affects and is affected by the three other factors
Programmatic concepts are abstract approaches the designer can use to solve the client’s goals and needs. This differs from the design concept, which represents the physical solution. Twenty-four programmatic concepts are cited in the Interior Design Reference Manual, but here are a few:
- Grouping: activity grouping, people grouping, and service grouping
- Flow: separated flow, mixed flow, and sequential flow
The program document contains all the answers to the answers uncovered during the five-step process and is compiled into a written form. For example, each Practicum Case Study includes the Program Document as one of the resources you will use to answer each item.
A written program document includes:
- Statement of project goals and objectives
- Project drivers
- Client requirements
- List of spaces and areas
- Other programmatic information includes:
- code reviews
- budget requirements
- scheduling constraints
- survey of existing conditions or site analysis
Designers can visually represent this information in either criteria or adjacency matrices.
Interviewing can be a valuable tool because the interviewer can pick up on non-verbal clues from the client. But the process has pros and cons, about the number of people interviewed.
- Do a few people accurately represent the whole?
- People participate less as the group size increases
- Management presence in the interview can stifle honest answers from lower-level staff
Observing what people do and how they act in a space can sometimes be more informative than listening to people speak about it. In other words, actions speak louder than words!
The designer can also use questionnaires or written forms to collect information.
Questionnaires are most helpful when the designer needs feedback from a large group. The number of people would otherwise make interviewing a challenge.
An existing building can be surveyed, field measured and photographed as part of the project assessment and site analysis. The survey of existing conditions analysis considers location, views, and solar orientation.
A field survey should include:
- Copy of architect’s drawings, if available. Otherwise, drawings are completed by the designer.
- Physical site visit(s)
- Research to uncover any building codes, zoning laws, or local regulatory requirements
- Recommendations by outside consultants, if necessary
- Identification of non-load-bearing items and built-ins
- Size and location of doors and windows
- Type and height of ceilings
- Electrical and data point locations and condition/capacity
- Mechanical equipment types and locations and condition/capacity
- Plumbing fixtures and piping location, condition, and capacity of services
- Lighting fixtures and locations
- Orientation (true north)
- Potential sources of disruptive noise
- Architectural features
- Potential environmental problems
FF&E stands for furniture, fixtures & equipment. The designer creates a document listing FF&E requirements and an inventory for any design project when it will use existing items.
An FF&E inventory may include:
- List of existing furnishings that will be re-used or replaced
- Sizes of existing furniture & equipment
- Types and requirements of communication equipment
- Types and quantity of storage (bookcases, shelving, file cabinets, etc.)
- Electrical, A/V, mechanical requirements, and locations on equipment
- Required needs (quality, ergonomics, color, or a particular aesthetic)
Site analysis is investigating and evaluating the project context, site context, and existing conditions. It is part of due diligence and a necessary part of the design process.
Site analysis includes:
- Surveying (described above)
- Project and site context: similar to the site survey, but puts the project more in context to its geographical surroundings.
- Building systems coordination: determines whether the building’s existing systems are adequate for the planned design. This coordination is ongoing throughout the project and typically involves hiring specialized consultants, such as an architect, mechanical/electrical, and structural engineer.
- Environmental and wellness attributes as identified during the programming phase
- Square footage standards, including BOMA
Analyzing programmatic information leads to a design concept and space planning solution that solves the problem.
The programming phase identifies functional solutions to the project’s challenges. Finally, the design concept phase develops a physical solution.
A design concept specifies a physical approach in one to four sentences but is still flexible and somewhat broad.
The spa's design will promote wellness, holistic healing, and solitude. The muted color palette reflects the natural finishes. The spatial design will view the natural landscape. The design will incorporate organic forms and integrate natural lighting.
Diagramming takes information gathered in the programming phase and design concept. It represents the space adjacency solutions. A diagram shows priorities in space adjacencies.
You’ll be tested on these and other design communication types.
- Bubble diagrams – useful for single-level projects
- Adjacency matrices – shows adjacency priorities in a chart format
- Stacking/zoning diagrams – useful for multi-level projects
- Block plans/square footage allocations – illustrates square footage values in a diagram resembling a floor plan