Design is so vitally important. 

From contact lenses, hip replacements, cars, air conditioners, buildings, cityscapes and more, if something is designed well, we benefit greatly.  If not, we suffer greatly.

Design is also hugely complex.  Designers need to be intelligent, well trained, experienced and have a perceptual vision that many others do not have.

Design complexities can mislead designers, and clients and users alike.  Designers, knee-deep in it every day, can take things for granted, fail to ask hard self-directed questions, or lack fresh perspective.  Clients and users can be ignorant and inexperienced in design issues, so they often just have poor understanding.

A very simple formula: the 4P’s and the 3Y’s of design can instantly cut out the complexity and basically analyze design decisions quickly in 2 very easy to grasp concepts.  Let’s look at it in relation to the design of a building.


The 4P’s of Design

The 4P’s of design are; 1) picture (aesthetics), 2) planning, 3) performance and 4) price.  Each of these 4P’s need to be of approximately equal importance, input and value.  If one tends to the upside or the downside in importance, input or value, the whole design can get unbalanced, compromising quality.

With picture, the building needs to look good, but trendy, stylistic, or radical aesthetics is only attractive to minimal numbers of people, outdates quickly, and tends to attract numerous impracticalities.

A better aesthetic can be one that most people find acceptable, judged generally as good quality, and is somewhat inspiring visually.  Standard forms using natural looking colors and materials (which have a timeless aesthetic) can achieve this but it needs the designers skill to put it all together artfully.

Planning and its importance is largely self-explanatory.  Good planning allows users of a building to move about and group together efficiently.  Planning suffers with radical aesthetics, the more radical the more it suffers.

Performance and its importance again is largely self-explanatory.  Good performance is about the tools and elements and their arrangements within a building providing efficient utility.  Performance suffers with radical aesthetics, the more radical the more it suffers.

Price is the building construction and post-completion operational costs and is perhaps the most readily understood by clients and users but it can be poorly understood by designers.  Price suffers with radical aesthetics, the more radical the more it suffers.


The 3Y’s of Design

The 3Y’s of Design are; 1) why, 2) why, 3) why?

The 3Y’s can be applied to any part or component of the design and especially good counter when the common enemy of good design, radical aesthetics, starts to do damage.

The design method here is simple; when thinking a part or component of the design may be out of the 4P’s balance, ask three sequential “why” questions about the thing.  If at the end of three “why” questions, a reasonable answer based largely on logical (not subjective emotional) reasoning emerges, the thing is unlikely to start to unbalance the 4P’s.

The 3Y’s are especially good asked within groups of people, especially if the asking is done by the client of the designer.



The 4P’s and the 3Y’s of design are a great way for clients and users to apply a practical, ready-to-use, basic but effective design analysis.  It is good for designers too, as they can miss some fundamentals in the to-and-fro clutter of their busy days.

There will be designers who claim it will hamper their creativity.  These designers fail to understand architecture is not just about visual art, but art within a balanced blending together with logic, technology, construction, and operational realities.


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