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Editor’s Note
: As disciplines grow in complexity, they require organizers to facilitate access to a growing volume of tools and data. Interior design is no exception. It has drawn ideas from a number of disciplines to develop visual codes as a means of classification and a database to store information about options as they are developed.

A Computer Database of Design Methodological
Tool Patterns for Interior Designers

Mihyun Kang
USA / Korea


The purpose of this study is to increase the interior designer’s familiarity with and efficiency in using common, practical design methodological tools. Interior design methods are based on fundamental methodological principles common to all design disciplines. Additionally, as interior designers encounter new and more specialized problems, they sometimes find it necessary to develop new tools of their own. Interior designers must be able to recognize the strengths and limitations of the methods available and adapt the methods to the unique design problems they encounter. Breaking down existing design methods into the collection of individual design methodological “tools” initiates systematic approaches for diverse design problems. Various combinations of tools can be applied to simple and complex design projects. To promote the interior design student’s and practitioner’s understanding of design methodological tools, information about 20 selected tools was organized into tool patterns. Data about each tool were recorded as data units in a database, which summarizes the information in an easily understandable and quickly retrievable form. If designers have access to various tools presented in a common language, they will generate more diverse solutions.

Keywords: design methods, design process, database, interior design, pattern   


Although systematic methods are already in use, the practice of design as a formal process can be made stronger. Interior design is a process planned to yield interiors that function well and are aesthetically pleasing (Kilmer & Kilmer, 1992). The design process has been defined as a sequence of unique actions leading to the realization of some aim or intention (Koberg & Bagnall, 1991). Interior design projects involve a number of steps in a logical order (Pile, 2003).

Jones (1992) considered the most common traditional methods to be intuition, craft evolution, and design by drawing, which rely on human memory or developed form rather than on process and are not always able to deal with complex design problems that require simultaneous progress on a series of design issues. Designers need to use multiple approaches informed by knowledge at all levels. Such is the role of systematic methods. As applied to design methods, the term “systematic” implies a step-by-step approach. The design process can be viewed as a sequence of steps or stages of varying length.

Design methodological “tools” are techniques for advancing through one or more steps of the design process. They are practical ways of doing things to get from one step of the design process to another. Jones (1992) was one of the first to break down existing methods into collections of individual tools that can be configured and reconfigured for different design projects.

The tools used by interior designers generally fall into the same two categories as those used by other design disciplines based on the fundamental design methodological principle common to all design disciplines. As interior designers encounter new and more specialized problems, they find it necessary to develop tools unique to their field’s highly specialized requirements. To promote interior design students’ and practitioners’ understanding of tools, a uniform method for utilizing the tools is needed.

The purpose of this study is to increase the interior designer’s familiarity with and efficiency in using common, practical design methodological tools. Toward this end, it will make two specific contributions: provide interior design students and practitioners with tool patterns, emphasizing their application in interior design and present these tool patterns as a computerized database for the use of interior design students and practitioners. At present, formal design methods are not well utilized by interior designers. Existing design methodological tool options, in particular, need to be introduced in a more uniform method that encourages comparison and initial use. 

Design Process

Jones (1992) attempted to restructure the design process on the basis of the new design methods and techniques of problem solving into three stages: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Jones (1992) acknowledged that the steps could be described simply as “breaking the problem into pieces,” “putting the pieces together in a new way,” and “testing to discover the consequences of putting the new arrangement into practice” (p.63). As the steps are cycled, each cycle is less general and more detailed than the one before it.

Cross (1986) suggested that systematic design methods allow both creative and logical thinking. Creative thinking refers to the random ideas and insights in designers’ minds, while logical thinking refers to data, information, and requirements outside designers’ memories. This binary way of thinking permits and encourages extensive problem exploration and analysis to identify all the factors and their relationships so that all solutions for each factor can be identified.

Based on a comparison of acceptable problem solving procedures, Koberg (1979) suggested a universal process of problem solving, noting that each procedure shows the basic components of analysis, synthesis, and definition, where definition is a bridge between analysis and synthesis. According to Koberg (1979), analysis is individualized and specific, but synthesis involves three parts: searching for ideas, making selections, and implementing selections. He then concluded with two steps that indicate self-motivation and self-improvement: acceptance at the beginning and evaluation after the steps have been completed, for a total of seven steps.

Interior designers, as in most disciplines, have developed unique characteristics for their professional role. Interior design projects are taken through the following steps: programming, conceptual design, design development, contract documents, contract administration, and evaluation. Seemingly linear, there is much reiteration and comparing of preliminary solutions to established objectives and needs.

Design Methodological “Tools”

Design Methodology

Design methodology refers to the study of the methods of designing dealing with the principles, practices, and procedures of design (The Design Methods Group, 1979). Bayazit (2004) states that the complexity of design problems after World War II brought attempts to restructure the design process on the basis of new methods and techniques because traditional methods were too simple and focused only on the design product. An understating of the nature of the rising complexity in problems facing designers brought a need to develop new methods to handle various variables in the emerging design problems (Atwood, McCain, & Williams, 2002). The design methods movement developed at subsequent conferences: Birmingham in 1965, Portsmouth in 1967, Cambridge, MA in 1969, London in 1993, New York in 1974, Berkeley, CA in 1975, Portsmouth again in 1976 and again in 1980 (Cross, 1993). The Design Methods Group (DMG) was founded in 1966 to promote education and communication in the fields of design methodology and applied design methods and in the theories of design and designing. The direction of thinking on design methods has changed dramatically through first, second, and third generations.  The first generation’s approach concerns the procedures of design and applicable techniques such as design strategies and systematic design techniques (Fowles, 1977). First generation designers “break the problems into parts, analyze and solve the problems of the part, and recombine the part into a synthesized solution” (Nasar, 1980 p. 90). Their terminology varies based on differences in the scale and the level of abstraction. For example, “Asimow (1962) with ‘design elements,’ Jones (1963) with ‘factors,’ Archer (1963/4) with ‘sub problems,’ and Alexander (1964) with ‘misfit variables’” (Broadbent 1979, p. 41).

Second generation designers consider first generation methods suited for the solution of “well-constrained” problems since these methods are drawn from the systems engineering techniques of military and space missions. Second generation designers intend to extend the scope of methods to the “ill-constrained problems” of planning and design. The main characteristics were summarized by Fowles (1977), based on Rittel’s description:

  • Expertise does not reside solely in the professional.

  • Design should be an argumentative process within a network of issues.

  • Any given issue can always be viewed as a symptom of a more fundamental one.

  • The ‘transparence of argument’ acknowledgement that the nature of new questions that arise, in the design process, are determined by the line of thinking already taken.

  • The ‘principle of objectification’ to increase the probability of raising the right issues: to reduce the probability of forgetting something that will become important after the fact.

  • Clients maintain control over delegated judgment.

  • Clients participate in forming the solution thereby eliminating implementation problems. (p. 24)

Broadbent (1979) suggested a third generation of design methods, adapting Popper’s “conjectures and refutations” model of scientific methods, synthesizing the better aspects of both the first and second generations, but suggested that designers seek expert design conjectures while allowing rejection by the people for whom they design. This approach promotes growth potential by giving clients the right to make decisions with the information provided by designers (Nasar, 1980). The third generation considers plurality a positive value. Dulgeroglu-Vuksel (1999), for example, insisted the major tendencies in design methodology today encourage the plurality of views, citing Kuhn’s “incommensurability” theory, which claims that one situation is seen differently as the process is changed. 

Tools for Interior Designers

Design methods have been difficult for novice design students to understand and apply. Jones (1992) was among the first to advocate a standardized method of introducing tools. The idea of tools popularized the systemic approach to diverse design disciplines and the application of tools to design problems. Variously combined tools are widely applicable to simple and complex design projects, and can be developed and added to address the changing needs of specific design disciplines. However, tools for use by interior designers have not been given much attention. Through a literature review of design processes and design methodological tools, this study extracts tools for use by interior design students and practitioners.

As with most other disciplines, the interior designer’s understanding of tools is enhanced by a uniform system of organization. Wade’s (1983) unified format maximizes the clarity of design methodological tools and the ease of use. This might serve as the foundation for a standardized format. One important refinement could be illustrations of tools to help interior design students and practitioners understand and memorize the tools. Illustrations are more quickly and directly translated to the brain than the written word and aid in learning and remembering the tools (Dreyfuss, 1984).

Identifying steps in the interior design process aids designers in choosing particularly suitable design methodological tools. Comparing inputs and outputs (Jones, 1992) simply does not show clear relationships within the design process. Jones’s chart involves manipulating the inputs and outputs of the design process rather than the process itself. DMG’s three design phases are based on three fundamental types of acts in designing rather than on design processes. The tools grouped under each step of the interior design process indicate when the tools prove beneficial in the interior design process. In addition, a note explaining use in interior design helps designers determine how to use tools for specific projects.

The information sources for design methods show that applications of tools to interior design processes are beyond the scope of a single review. Books about design methodology generally focus on the use of methods in architecture and industrial design.

In summary, this study proposes to develop uniform methods of introducing tools for interior design methods by employing a two-fold approach: 1) providing a fundamental methodological principle common to all design disciplines and 2) showing the special relevance of the methodology to interior design.


To introduce existing design methodological tools in a more uniform method that encourages comparison and initial use, this study explored the concept of pattern, summarized as a method of maximizing the clarity, consistency, and expediency of learning to use design methodological tools. The composition of tool patterns was developed based on a critical analysis of Wade’s systematic methods description format. Wade’s categories of information were translated into patterns. Illustrations of patterns were added using a cohesive graphic language to enhance an understanding of each tool’s attributes. For relevance to interior design, tool patterns were identified with the applicable steps of the interior design process, and notes concerning each tool’s application to interior design were also included.

Information sources for selecting tools were based on references suggested by the DMG (1979, 1985) and the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) (2000). Tools were selected based on their frequency of citation in the sources. Completed tool patterns were put into a computerized database; information included a name, a general description, a guideline for use, an illustration, applicable steps of the interior design process, a note for use in interior design, and documentation of all sources. To accomplish the purpose of this study, several steps were required:

1.   Develop the composition for tool patterns that include a name, general description, guideline for use, illustration, applicable steps of the interior design process, a note for use in interior design, and documentation of all sources.

2.   Select tools based on frequency of mention in references by DMG and NCIDQ.

3.   Organize information about the selected tools into tool patterns.

4.   Develop illustrations for tools.

5.   Record all information in a computer database.

Pattern Development

Patterns have traditionally been used to summarize common problems of built environments and the solution concepts related to them (Alexander, Ishikawa & Silverstein, 1968; Duffy & Torrey, 1970; Alexander, 1977; Protzen, 1978; Alexander, 1979; Gullichsen & Chang, 1985; Jutla, 1993; Allen, 1992; Alexander, 2004). Christopher Alexander and his colleagues (1968) used a method they called pattern language to generate building designs. The patterns summarized, in text and graphics, common problems of built environments and related solution concepts. The patterns were intended to suggest prototypical designs of imaginary buildings with no special sites or clients and were based on increasing the understanding that “essential, generic ideas, can be applied many times over to special cases” (Alexander, Ishikawa & Silverstein, 1986, pp. 1-2). Each of Alexander’s patterns was described in a consistent format with an illustration for ease in understanding and use. Each pattern addresses one or more small problems, but the real promise and originality of the approach is that patterns can be added to one another to solve whole design problems. The analogy Alexander used draws on the idea that language collects, retrieves, and combines words to communicate, using certain rules, stating that designers are able to “create an infinite variety” of new and unique buildings with pattern language just as ordinary language gives the capability to “create an infinite variety of sentences” with words (1979, pp. 185-186). Here patterns were used to manage abstract information, specifically information on tools, emphasizing their use in interior design.

Tool Patterns

For this study, information about tools was summarized into patterns to increase student and practitioner awareness of design processes and understanding of design methodological tools. The resulting patterns portray different types of design methodological tools in a uniform method that is easily accessible. These tools can be used for any interior design problem regardless of size and scope because designers can combine appropriate patterns to solve the specific problems of their projects.

The composition of tool patterns was created by combining the concept of patterns with Wade’s design methods description format. The composition includes 1) a name, 2) a general description, 3) a guideline for use, 4) an illustration, 5) applicable steps of the interior design process, 6) a note for use in interior design, and 7) documentation of all sources.

Illustrations used a cohesive graphic language to enhance understanding of each pattern’s attributes. Applicable steps of the interior design process and a note for use in interior design were intended to strengthen the relevance to interior design application and efficiency in applying the tools. All sources were cited to encourage further study about the tools.

Illustrations of Patterns

The main advancement of this study beyond Wade’s work was the addition of illustrations, intended to express procedures to aid in learning and remembering tools. Based on reviewing previous illustrations of design processes and methods (Best, 1969; Laseau, 2000; Jones, 1992; White, 1975), a high level of abstraction was necessary for the illustrations in this study. Laseau (2000) stated that these illustrations show three basic parts: identities, relationships, and modifiers. Different shapes, such as circles, squares, triangles, and stars, show identities by means of their contrast. Lines represent relationships. Then, identities and relationships are modified by a hierarchical system. The significance of parts and the different levels of intensity in the relationship between parts are expressed by size, number of lines, line widths, relative size of dashes, and spaces in dashed lines.

Illustration components were developed to express tool attributes, which can be systematically applied to various tools by combining the elements of identities, relationships, and modifiers. The results are detailed in the Analysis of this paper.

Selection of Tools

To develop a balanced awareness of common tools shared among the various design disciplines and those used more exclusively by interior designers, tools of both types were selected for this study. First, common tools were selected from references by the DMG based on frequency in sources. Second, interior design tools a reading list about interior design published by NCIDQ (2000).

To gather the common tools, 12 sources (six proceedings of conferences, one journal, and five books) were consulted. One proceeding of a conference, The Design Activity by Maver, was excluded from among the references by DMG (1979, 1985) because it was out of print. Therefore, to begin the study, common tools were gathered from one journal, Design Methods: Theories, Research, Education and Practice by DMG, and from one book, Design Methods by Jones. In its journal, the DMG (1979) described design methodology and design methods as a series of reference sheets on topics of interest to the new student of design. The journal introduced 14 tools. In his book, Jones (1992) published a survey of 35 tools in association with the Council of Industrial Design. Each of the ten tools finally selected for this study were mentioned in more than half of the 12 sources.

To gather frequently used tools for interior design, six books from the NCIDQ reading list (2000), all about the role of the professional interior designer, were consulted. From these six books, 49 interior tools were first gathered, later, shortened to ten tools to match the number of common tools. Of the ten selected, nine were mentioned in each of the six sources. The tenth tool, post occupancy evaluation, was mentioned in five of the sources and was added in order to address each step of the design process.

Computer Application

A computer database was chosen as the method for managing information due to the ability to expand, accommodate, and manipulate many variables effectively. In using such a database, it is expected that interior designers will be better able to explore methodological tools that address their specific needs. FileMaker Pro and Adobe Illustrator software were chosen for the database. FileMaker Pro, database management software, has an outstanding reputation as a popular and powerful program for novice users. Creating a database file with FileMaker Pro is similar to designing a data form. Text information, separated as data units, was recorded in the specific field “text” in FileMaker Pro. Illustrations were drawn in Illustrator and then copied to and stored in the specified field “container” in FileMaker Pro.

Results and Discussion

Review of Tools Selected

Although this study focused on developing a methodological framework for interior design, it was intended to put forth an interdisciplinary approach rather than a narrow interpretation for an isolated field. The process of selecting tools explored both shared fundamental design methodology and specific needs of interior design. The common tools were selected based on frequency of citation from DMG (1979, 1985) sources, and the interior design tools were selected from NCIDQ (2000) sources.

This study attempted to select tools from each step of the interior design process to provide alternative techniques to advance a particular step. However, the common tools were heavily weighted toward programming (Table 1), but each with a different scope.

Table 1
 Distribution of Selected Tools

Interior Design Paradigm

Common Tools

Interior Design Tools


 1. Brainstorming


 3. Classification of Factors

 5. Cost-benefit Analysis

 6. Critical Path Methods

 7. Determining Components


 9. Interaction Matrix



12. Morphological Approach

13. Performance Specification

19. Systematic Search


 2. Budgeting





 8. Diagrams and Schematics


10. Interview of Clients

11. Inventory Checking






 1. Brainstorming


18. Synectics


 2. Budgeting



 1. Brainstorming


18. Synectics


 2. Budgeting




17. Specifications

20. Working Drawings

Contract Administration


 4. Construction and Installation



15. Punch List

16. Purchase Orders



14. Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE)


The selected tools reveal the diverse types of tools in terms of time and energy for applying them to design. For example, “determining components” requires a great deal of activity and effort to restructure the components of the design problem while “brainstorming” produces many ideas quickly, although the ideas should be further developed by classification. “Specifications” requires a great deal of time and thought to accurately identify construction materials and methods. However, “purchase orders” is a relatively easy task if all items to be purchased were thoroughly documented in specifications.

The selected interior design tools indicate consideration of the professional practice of interior design projects. Interior design tools for programming such as “interview of clients” and “inventory checking” are intended to define design problems based on clients’ present and future needs. Tools for contract documents: “specifications” and “working drawing,” and for contract administration: “construction and installation monitoring,” “purchase orders,” and “punch list,” show the consideration of practical methods to transform design ideas into the reality of interior space.

Review of Pattern Development

The new contribution of this study and the strength of the resulting tool patterns was the inclusion of illustrations for ease of understanding tools. To develop the illustrations of tool patterns, illustration components that represent the selected tools’ attributes were created. Three basic parts of abstract illustration suggested by Laseau, identities, relationships, and modifiers, were applied.

Representations of design steps, activities, issues, and ideas were developed. Circles, squares, and diamonds were chosen to identify design steps (Table 2).

Table 2
List of Illustration Components: Design Steps

Circles identified the steps in the interior design process: programming, conceptual design, and design development. Squares identified the implementation steps: contract documents or contract administration. Diamonds identified the steps of evaluation. Representations of design activities for design methodological tools were also developed (Table 3). Activities performed by young architects in the office consist of drawing, information seeking, thinking, verbal communication, and written communication (Broadbent, 1988). Illustrations for these five office activities and for site observation were developed. The illustrations of design activities were then combined with the illustrations of design steps. For example, a dashed line that identified drawings could be applied to a circle, a square, or a diamond.

Dots identified design issues within a design problem (Table 4). Although different terminologies based on differences in the scale and the level of abstraction were used; “Asimow (1962) with his ‘design elements,’ Jones (1963) with his ‘factors,’ Archer (1963/4) with his ‘sub problems,’ and Alexander (1964) with his ‘misfit variables’” (Broadbent 1979, p. 41); they were represented by the same shape for illustrations in this study.

Stars identified design ideas to solve design problems (Table 4).

Table 3
List of Illustration Components: Design Activities

Table 4
List of Illustration Components: Design Issues and Design Ideas

Relationships were presented as lines and arrows combined with the illustrations of identities (Tables 5 and 6). For example, design steps were combined with arrows to clarify the order of sequences. Scattered design issues were linked if they had strong relationships. The design issues were grouped in boundaries that categorized those related.

Modifiers, such as size, line width, and relative irregularity of lines, enable designers to recognize the most important elements first (Table 7). For example, selected design issues or design ideas were slightly bigger than the original ones since a larger size and thicker line denoted a critical path. The boundaries were changed from organic to elliptical shapes as the categories of design issues were refined. The degree of irregularity showed the process. Several specialized illustrations, such as the dollar sign, plus sign, and check mark were included in illustration components (Table 8). Figure 1 shows the process of illustrating the “classification of factors” tool.

Table 5
List of Illustration Components: Relationship of Design Activities

Table 6
List of Illustration Components: Relationship of Design Issues (Ideas)


Table 7
List of Illustration Components: Modifier


Table 8.
List of Illustration Components: Specialized Illustrations)


The database of tool patterns used a specific data form with data units that provide blanks for condensed information about each component of a tool pattern for presenting summarized tools as easily understandable and usable patterns. The data form was designed in three parts: a general summary of tools, application to interior design, and sources of information (Figure 2). The data form consists of seven data units: a name, a general description, a guideline for use, an illustration, applicable steps of the interior design process, a note for use in interior design, and documentation of all sources. All of the information for the 20 design methodological tools selected is presented in the database, a copy of which is included as Appendix 3.


Figure 1. Illustration Development, “Classification of Factors” Tool.


Figure 2. Data Form.


Figure 3. Data Units.

The capability of a database to store, retrieve, and sort information provides easy access to and exchange of information about each tool. FileMakerÒ Pro software provides access to text data via key words under the ‘find’ command. Data can be sorted using any key words contained in data units. For example, in the data unit box labeled ‘interior design paradigm,’ if the user selects the box of ‘programming,’ the tools for programming are sorted. Also, the database is easily updated because the information in data units is easily revised. Although the database for this study was developed for use by interior design students and practitioners, other design disciplines could modify the database by creating new data units for their own applications and needs.

Additional Research

While this study introduced a database of tool patterns for interior design students and practitioners, several issues were suggested for further study. Based on the introduction of the composition of tool patterns for interior design, other design disciplines might develop compositions of patterns for introducing their tools and adding data units to their databases. This study provided a general summary of tools and their applications but did not address the time and energy needed for using the tools. A data unit that deals with this information might help further the understanding of tools. The current compactly-designed layout of the database allowed entire units to be printed on a sheet of paper. However, a revised layout would be required if extra text information was added. To create a reference of design methods that can be widely applicable for simple and complex design projects of diverse disciplines, tools from multiple disciplines should be added. Such a database could be expanded into one that covers broad and varied applications for the future.

The illustrations of tool patterns were presented in a cohesive and meaningful graphical format. A new data unit that presents the illustration components might provide quick and direct understanding of the illustrations for each tool, saving the time and effort required to find the meanings of illustration components at their lists. The illustrations of tool patterns were intended to enhance understanding of tools. A research study could be designed to test the effectiveness of the illustrations of tool patterns. An experimental group could be taught about tools with the illustrations, while a control group could be taught about tools without the illustrations. The progress of both groups would be noted.


This study attempted to provide a uniform method for the use of tools to enhance interior design students’ and practitioners’ familiarity with and efficiency in using them. The computer database of tool patterns was developed to achieve this. To develop the database, ten common tools were selected from the DMG and ten interior design tools were selected from the NCIDQ. Finally, the information about tool patterns was put into the database to convey the information in an easily understandable and quickly retrievable form. More studies about methodological exploration and utilization will be necessary to further develop an interdisciplinary body of knowledge in design methods.


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About the Author:

Dr. Mihyun Kang is an Assistant Professor at Oklahoma State University. She holds a Ph.D. in interior design from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN; a M.A. in interior design from Iowa State University, Ames, IA; and a B.S. in housing and interior design from Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea. Dr. Kang has commercial interior design experience which includes work in Korea, China, and U.S.


Mihyun Kang, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Interior Design
Department of Design, Housing, and Merchandising
431 HES
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078



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