Celebrating Industrial Design: Three Elements Of Great Design

Think about warehouses, exposed brick, beams and formwork, metal roofing and wood flooring that bears the marks of time. You’ve probably already got the exact image in your head. When did this style weave its way into our psyche? Is there a name for it?

There is, and the school of Industrial Design is as prevalent in modern design, if not more than it ever has been. Whether it’s the details of the industrial styling that seem slightly misplaced, or the unabridged rawness to the materials–there is a magical quality to industrial design. In combining these elements, it becomes a stunning way to mix modern design with ageing materials to create a look that is sophisticated.


The elements of the style surround us today and aren’t just limited to inner-city loft-style apartments, but office spaces, public seating areas and break-off spaces. As we celebrate Industrial Design Day, we look at three factors that contribute to the style’s status.


Simplicity & Minimalism


In removing clutter from an industrial space, you begin to see the beauty of the details. The reason the industrial design is so popular is that it evokes a sense of calm and minimalism, so heavy, bulky furniture and knick-knacks are best avoided. While a centrepiece is excellent and will look great when carefully considered, it’s better to avoid using too many interior products and fittings as they create a look than is overbearing. The design should welcome movement and space, so it’s essential to respect this notion when designing.


Modern Industrial

When balanced with carefully selected modern fittings, industrial design elements always look great. Combine a rustic style with shiny metals, use hanging lights, wrought iron, brass fittings, brushed nickel or a wooden island that tells a story. It all offers a contemporary twist and will transform your space. Disregard the fact that the elements came from a different era, play with them and create exciting contrasts that stand out.


Rough, Stressed & Unassuming 


The premise of industrial design lies in its celebration of materials that would usually be disregarded. The style is not about shinier or brighter; it’s about creating a raw look that doesn’t have an ‘off the shelf’ feel. Think ageing metals, stressed fabrics and matte finishes. Combine metal with wood to create interesting contrasts that create a lasting effect. These materials, when combined, can make old materials look entirely new, and freshen an entire space.


If you’ve found yourself admiring warehouse conversion you’ve seen online or the exposed brick at your favourite coffee shop, maybe it’s time to bring some industrial design into your own space!


Every profession has its jargon, a language of its own that allows its practitioners to ‘talk shop’, often to the exclusion and annoyance of lay persons. On the other hand, without a few technical terms business of any kind would be impossible to conduct.

To illustrate, do you know that Gracie Fields song that goes ‘I’m the girl that makes the thing that drills the hole that holds the spring that drives the rod that turns the knob that makes the thing-ummy-bob’ as featured in recent TV advertising for Square, the credit company?

It was a war time favourite that celebrated the role of women factory workers.  Amusing, yes.  But can you imagine engineers specifying components without the use of such handy terms as ‘cotter pin’, ‘sprocket wheel’, ‘flange nut’, ‘ratchet and pawl’ etc?

It’s much the same with architecture.  There comes a time when ‘that bit that goes round the frame of a door’ or ‘the upright bar that separates two adjoining windows’ gets a bit cumbersome and confusing, hence the terms ‘architrave’ and ‘mullion’ to describe each respectively.

So, to mug up your architecture (and impress your dinner party friends when discussing your new home extension) here’s a handy A-Z (or bluffers’ guide!) of architectural terms you can drop into conversation.  They’ll also get your architect to look at you with new found respect and be wary of blinding you with science!


Not that we at SKK would ever do anything like that of course – hence the lexicon below:

An A-Z of Architectural Terms




It’s been said that someone who never made a mistake never made anything.  And that goes as much for designers – even famous ones – as it does for anyone else.  If you learn from your mistakes failure can be a foundation for success.  Of course it’s better, when you can, to learn from the mistakes of others, and as designers ourselves you can be sure we’ve taken the following object lessons to heart.


Leaning Tower of Pisa

Uniquely amongst architectural failures the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a success because it is a failure!  Its wonky design makes it one of world’s best known landmarks and tourist destinations.  Its famous tilt is the result of bad foundations, with ground too soft on one side to support its weight.  It had been inching towards collapse since the 12th century, but was stabilised by a 20th century rescue project.  Health and Safety doesn’t appear to be an issue even today: the guard rails on the top viewing platform only extend half way round – and guess which side they’re on?  Yep, the side that tilts up!


Secret Intelligence Service Building


The SIS building is London’s spook central, HQ of M15 and M16 and the ‘Circus’ of

Le Carre’s George Smiley.  The building is structurally sound and can claim to be both impressive and distinctive – some have compared it to a Mayan temple.  But be that as it may, isn’t it a bit ostentatious and attention seeking for a secret organisation?  It’s like the Masons holding an open evening or the Magic Circle giving show and tell demonstrations!  An underground bunker would be more fit-for-purpose in architectural terms.  But maybe it’s a clever double bluff?


Walkie Talkie Building


The London skyline is peppered with landmark buildings – such as the ‘Gherkin’, the ‘Cheesegrater’ and the ‘Shard’ – that are hailed as architectural triumphs or disasters depending on your point of view.  Amongst these is the ‘Walkie Talkie’, so called because it looks like one.  In 2015 it was awarded the Carbuncle Cup for the worst new building in the UK in the previous six months.  But Health and Safety is also an issue here.  The curved mirrored frontage of the building focuses sunlight on to local streets, damaging parked vehicles and scalding passersby.  One journalist even highlighted the problem by frying eggs on the street!


Sydney Opera House


An unlikely candidate for a gallery of architectural failures you might think, the Sydney Opera House’s sail-like design is a subject of national pride and international acclaim.  Surprisingly for a structure designed as a concert venue, a major problem turned out to be its acoustics!  It was decided that the small sail part of the complex would be the opera house and the large sail part would be the concert hall. Unfortunately the concert hall was too big to fill for most events and the opera house too small for musicians to hear themselves.  A multi-million dollar refit was undertaken – an expense that fitness-for-purpose planning could have prevented.


Millennium Dome


The problem with London’s Millennium Dome was not so much that it was unfit for purpose than that it didn’t have a purpose at all – other than to mark the Millennium and be a vanity project for New Labour.  It turned out to be little more than a big top for a circus with an acrobatic cast of 160.  It cost nearly £800 million, attracted only half of the anticipated 12 million visitors in the first year and closed shortly afterwards.  A stadium for Charlton Athletic and a high-tech business park were amongst the after uses considered for the dome before it was finally redeveloped as the O2 Arena in 2007 with a concert by the rock band Bon Jovi.


Houses of Parliament


The Houses of Parliament are not so much an architectural mistake as a disaster waiting to happen.  The original Palace of Westminster, home of the Kings of England, was destroyed by fire in 1512.  It was replaced by the ‘Old Palace’, which was destroyed by fire in 1834.  The existing ‘New Palace’ – built in the Gothic Revival style by Charles Berry – is now once again considered a serious fire risk and plans are afoot for both houses to vacate the building for a major refurbishment – expected to take six years and cost £3.5 billion.  Which goes to show that the design team must keep abreast of advancing technology and increasingly stringent building standards.