The Blog

Design Subterfuge and Misdirection

I've always been a student of design. I have never studied it in a traditional sense, I've always admired clever architecture and regularly find myself stationary, staring at buildings while walking around London. Even when I make notes while working, I find myself sketching my favourite parts of buildings. It's rare to find paper in my office that hasn't been bordered with cornicing, or margins lined with glimpses of London's skyline. It's something of a bad habit. It wasn't until recently that I realised the purpose of good design and clever architecture are to do just this, to stop people in their tracks and take note. Architecture and design are normally inaccessible for the general public, but I hope that over the course of this piece, I can help break down the principle of misdirection for you.

Building design is obviously something of a compromise between style and function. Without practicality, architects won't compromise workable space for aesthetics, unless they have very good reason to. Showcase foyers may be seen in many of London's larger buildings, however many of them serve a purpose. These range from centralising fire systems to serving as infrastructure hubs, making them both essential and focal to building design. The foyer in the Burj Khalifa, the tallest artificial structure on earth, serves as a reservoir of cold air as part of its internal convection cooling system, for example. It is these subtle dual-purposes that really interest me. When an obvious function is trumped by a less obvious one. When architects use misdirection to show off something incredible.

One place that is a clear innovator in subtly using space is MetroBank. Their approach is to smash the traditional mould of banking. The company's customer focussed approach is taking the high street by storm; if you've ever been inside a branch, you'll understand exactly what I mean. The bank's branches are referred to as stores, and have been designed to promote, in their words, 'a bright, relaxed and comfortable environment'. It feels welcoming, more like a hotel lobby that a High Street bank. The physical barriers you normally find for security reasons are gone and the environment is transformed.

MetroBank's enlisted his wife Shirley Hill's help in designing the branches. Shirley Hill is a well known interior designer, and it is her influence that colours the interior design of MetroBank. Despite the overtly obvious aesthetic function for many of the flourishes that have been taken in designing these 'stores', much psychological evaluation and customer profiling has gone into their design. Subtle design features influence every action that customers take from entering to exiting. For example, where traditional banks encourage customers to queue for services using kettling cordon ropes, the company uses subtly coloured floor tiles and suggestive lighting. Not only does this rid the stores of unsightly detritus, but maintains an on-brand image throughout stores.

Misdirection is prevalent throughout all modern design, and now that I've shared a glimpse into its use, I'm sure that you will notice it everywhere. Look out for it next time you notice ceiling coving camouflaging air-conditioning vents or potted plants disguising T1 internet cable; you are now one of the initiated, and can see how the cogs turn in every building - including your office.