Design Matters: Making Sense of Forms


Train your eye to see the layers in a great design.
By George R. Walker
Pages: 20-21

From the April 2010 issue #182
Buy this issue now

Early 20th-century filmmakers used timelapse photography to dazzle audiences with never-before-seen images of flowers emerging and bursting into bloom. Critics with Victorian sensibilities objected that something so intimate should best be left hidden. Sometimes a well-designed piece of furniture can feel like it holds on to its secrets. We sense there are many hidden design lessons if we could only see them. A good place to start is to learn how to recognize and visualize forms.

A form is a combination of simple shapes that together make up a composition. A form is what catches your eye from a distance; it’s the “bones,” or what some refer to as the “lines of a piece.” When I study a design I start by looking at it from across the room and take in the overall form. A Corinthian capital is a form. Underneath all those leaves and volutes is a simple vase shape, or you might imagine it as an inverted bell. Can you visualize that simple shape underneath all those leaves? Ancient legend holds that the form is inspired by a basket left at a graveside. An acanthus plant grew up around the basket providing the germ of an idea for this form.

Online Extras

* Read the Design Matters blog.

* Take a visit to George Walker’s shop.

* Read the review of the DVD Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design.


From the April 2010 issue #182
Buy this issue now