Socially responsible design

Socially responsible design


Social responsibility is a term that is used in many contexts and has varied in popularity throughout history. Today, it is indeed popular, but can mean different things in different contexts.

In the context of corporate life, CSR (also known as “Corporate Responsibility” and “Social Responsibility”) is not limited to “going green”; it refers to “a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the company’s effects on the environmental and social well-being.”

In the context of interior design, socially responsible design addresses a wide range of dimensions and practices. It is a shorthand for saying that designers consider human and environmental factors in design. In practice this means that designers take into account current and future resources and needs.

When we think about human factors in design, we think about the users’ sensory experiences. How do we experience a space? It has to be pleasing to the eye (aesthetically appealing), a view that is truly in “the eye of the beholder”.

Consideration of human dynamics also means that design should be acoustically appropriate. For example, the sound of water fountains has a calming effect and they are well placed in a spa or other settings where serenity is to be conveyed. The sound design of a media room in a residence is important. Certain surfaces amplify sound and may be undesirable (i.e., a loud restaurant).

The way design feels to the touch is also vital. I’ve written before about the tactile significance of textiles.

Pleasurable smell is equally essential for retailers, spa owners, homeowners and real estate developers. Aromas can link to past memories, pleasurable and unpleasurable.

In short, an interior designer’s aim is to create a space that offers an enhanced sensory experience. Considering the human factors is one aspect of socially responsible design.

In addition, environmental factors need to be taken into account.

Here, while being socially responsible can mean “going green” and using sustainable materials, it can also mean taking into account the environmental factors dealing with the safety and comfort of the user.

Is the design functional? For example, do the height of the kitchen counters and cabinets and the position of the appliances make it easy to cook in that kitchen? Are the dimensions of furniture ergonomic, i.e., a good fit between the user and the environment?

Design needs to address some special considerations, too. Is it accessible/barrier-free? Can it adjust or adapt to our changing needs (e.g., getting older)? Is the design child safe, if it needs to be?

Designers can provide solutions to societal problems in their designs, too. Would the specification of a staircase over an elevator help address society’s obesity problem? Architects and interior designers can also design schools to better facilitate learning.

Finally, socially responsible design can also mean green or sustainable design, the practice of taking into account the reduction, reuse and recycling of materials. Interior designers take a major role in the selection of materials, and many clients wholly embrace the use of renewable resources.

Whatever interior design project with which you are involved, look for the design to provide a sensory experience, express your personality/brand, foster privacy or socialization, as appropriate, be of comfortable proportion, functional, safe, adaptable and conserve energy.

Deborah Macdonald is the Napa-based owner of Napa At Home, an interior design enterprise. For information about her products and services, visit her website,, call 707-255-0246; or email

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