Design Philosophy

There are more than 10,000 designs for chairs, more then 10,000 designs for lighting, sofas, tables, buildings, cars. So what makes good design?

This question can not be answered didactically as if it were a mathematical equation and there truly was only one answer, I can tell you what I believe is penultimate design, which I will do shortly, but another designer will do the same but on their terms, based on his/her values.

I am not so concerned with the ultimate truth insofar as the one that makes the most sense to me, the funniest jokes are the ones that are so true, or make so much sense (“A guy came to me and said here look at this picture of me when I was younger … Every picture is of you when you were younger! Isn’t it about time somebody said that?” Mitch Hedburg. “I like how photos make you immediately reminisce( *snap* ‘aww look at us! We were so young’ ” Demetri Martin), the best economist are so because of their undeniable logic (Dr. Elinor Ostrom), maybe there is a penultimate design philosophy, but the issue is that even if there is one, you cannot convince the masses that this is the right way, no everybody do it. One should push as hard as they can, no doubt, hopefully it will be mainstream, but it will be a branch of design, but not all of it.

I will now share what my design philosophy is, which I established only after I saw the objects I found beautiful, and saw objects that other people found beautiful, and how ugly those objects were to me, and how different those people were to me. The first thing I appreciate in a design is it’s honesty, Louis Sullivan said “form follows function”, I agree that when you look at something, it should tell you something honest about it, the wires are here, the light bulb is there, the legs are connected with this beam. However, if all it does is tell the truth it can be dull, a bit of mystery is always fun, sometimes even a white lie.

Labels – The Good and The Bad

We all use labels whether we realise it or not, I was always against labels, being trained at an architectural school of thought where ideas were abstracted and a word only meant as much as how you defined it, it was merely a starting point to a complex idea. For example, my analysis of a project site was the importance of wind, the site was a park that hugs a river bend, thoughts of changing humidity levels, temperature and sound due to wind speed became central to the design of the space, which then focused on attuning the senses in a ritual-like atmosphere, the word ‘wind’ was no longer the core of the design. My whole education was about an abstraction of ideas that formulate into built space. I was against identifying as Kuwaiti, Arab, Single, Capricorn, Student, Materialist, Immigrant, Rationalist, Modernist, Artist etc. not that I am not proud of any of those labels, but I was irritated by the fact that I had no control over the connotations these labels were perceived as by different people. I remember going to a university event and socializing with other students, first question fellow students asked eachother was which major they’re studying, when I would say architecture a common reaction was “Oh no not another pretentious prick”, later on in the professional world many people were impressed that I was an architect, in essays and articles I’ve seen strong political views for or against socialists, and in Kuwait a cashier wanted to charge me more because AlNashmi is a middle-class family so I could afford to pay more. The idea that a fact about me that I cannot deny (and don’t want to) can result in negative judgement was frustrating.

Using labels took a positive turn when I started working, clients would be sitting in a meeting room discussing something for ages, at times people were debating and two completely different topics but when someone gives them labels, a heavy burden is suddenly lifted, the cloud of confusion fades and there is instant clarity, when we looked each other in the eye we knew we were not only on the same page, but our thoughts are now synched. Things like a shade of colour ( e.g. twilight blue, terracotta red), or the real reason behind a design shortcoming (e.g. buildability, thermal-bridge, improportioned spaces, thematically negligent, lack of due diligence), or even if a friendship is not what it was (e.g. emotional imbalance, new insecurity). When a floating idea is concretised in a word or phrase, it’s like it is now locked in and we can move on to solving the problem, and sometimes that phrase is also the solution. Maybe these aren’t the best analogies, but the idea that labels can have good connotations but more importantly help in problem-solving is very valuable to me.

Considering the fact that labels have led to discrimination against certain social, cultural and economic groups, it is important to understand their power and use them wisely. The larger challenge is to counter the negative labels, the global solution thus far is through awareness, but what if it is a counter-label? Which is already happening in some cases, like when Trevor Noah replied to a French Ambassador that the African immigrants who won the World Cup for France were not just French, and they were not just Ghanaian/Kenyan/Algerian, but they were both. The awareness method is like the Ted Talk Ask Me Not Where I’m From but Ask me Where I’m Local, which says that the labels of two countries isn’t enough, because I identify with certain morals and ethics and social groups which I prefer to be affiliated with, when I said I am proud of being Kuwaiti, this speaker is saying that it is not accurate enough, and is actually misleading let alone the connotations.

All I know now is that using labels to solve problems is very beneficial, and there are times when labels can be misleading that they should be avoided, but I hope the answers of how to reverse the damage of ‘wrong’ labels do surface and help us resolve urban issues that labels create.

Odd Relation Between TV Shows & The Love-Hate Phenomenon

There is a TV series called Big Mouth, which, by the way is very odd. Without riddling through the details, it is a show about a bunch of adolescent kids journeying through puberty and all its bodily surprises, and surprisingly, it is not for adolescents, but for adults, for example, there is an episode in the 1st season called “A Requiem for a Wet Dream”, a reference to Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece. Anyway in that episode, a character makes his debut, Rick, the hormone monster, who I didn’t think much of. In the 2nd season, however, Rick was ever-present. I liked the show, and when I watched the 2nd season where Rick was in almost every episode, I hated him; I thought he was a badly constructed character, half-baked, cringe-worthy. After I while, thinking about the show, one of the memories was of Rick, and how he had a funny catchphrase “What are you gonna do?”, it grew on me, I then re-watched the show just to see Rick, and I loved him, tremendously.

Second show where I had a similar reaction was ‘Derek’, I loved Ricky Gervais from the 1st episode, it was a great show, and I hated ‘Kev’, as equally bland and bismal a character as Rick, a year later I have a mental reminisce, and guess who jumps out as hysterical . . . Kev. I recently re-watching the show just for him.

This is a very new phenomenon to me, the closest thing that’s happened is finding certain buildings charming over time, like a library, or a convoluted building I frequent, or an artwork that I stare out long enough until I see the beauty in it. All these though were initially perceived as interesting or at least decent, but these new cases started as unappetizing or flippant and ended as admirable and beloved. When I think about beauty, what makes things beautiful and in what way, I recall Elaine Scarry’s ‘On Beauty’, which unravels beauty in all its archetypes, one of which was an anecdote of the horrendously ugly experience of someone who lived with a family for a week, who were un-hospitable people, the place reaked of a stenches and odours, and the food was likened to pig food but more bitter, that person was George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier. The outcome of this experience was somehow positive and I never understood why, but now I sort of do, whilst still entertaining the possibility that these phenomena are unrelated.

And here’s a freebie, Lil’ Dicky, who I was introduced to with his video ‘Pillow Talking’, and thought was the lamest, weirdest most banal rap video I’ve ever seen. Now, he is up there with my favourite rappers, and I’ve memorized the song fluently. Another one is ‘Steve Chance’ in ‘Cuckoo’, I’ll stop now.

Design Portfolio for Masters

A lot has happened since 2013, my last portfolio, so I had to essentially start from scratch, take a few projects form the previous portfolio, and add a lot of new ones, including a freelance art & design section and a practice section.

This portfolio was used to apply for a Masters of Architecture & Urban Design at various schools, and I was admitted to:

Columbia GSAPP [MSAUD]


TU Delft [Post-EMU]

UC Berkely [MUD]

London School of Economics [MSc CDSS]

National University of Singapore [MUD]