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Design in the Digital Age

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It’s time to return a sense of joy to interior design.
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Caitlin Turner
Director of Interiors
It’s time to return a sense of joy to interior design.

Stylization. Is there a more misunderstood term in interior design? Stylization is the inclusion of artwork, plants, objects, textures and other design elements that bring a space to life.

Though stylization is a crucial component of design, in recent history it has often been written off as frivolous and unnecessary—the type of “decoration” anyone with a modicum of style and a nearby home store might master.

Is that really the case? Is stylization merely an ornamental design frivolity that requires little discernment or expertise?

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If you were born after 1920, you would be forgiven for answering yes. The two design movements that most influenced the past century—modernism and minimalism—each held a dismissive view of stylization. During this same period, and particularly in the past 30 years, rapid advancements in technology have introduced billions of people to a mass-market version of stylization found on Pinterest, HGTV and countless other design media outlets. Little wonder that today stylization is often associated with fast-fashion consumer culture.

Yet thinking that way would give short shrift to the influential role stylization has played in design through the ages. It would also discount its benefits and what we’re now seeing as a resurgence in stylization that we’re calling “Return to Joy.” But before we explore this new future, it’s worth taking a quick look at stylization’s past.

Why Stylization Matters

Stylization connects us to a space in ways architecture alone cannot. Stylization works in tandem with architecture and, likewise, begins at the early stages of the design process. It’s not something that can be tacked on at the end.

Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated. — Paul Rand, legendary art director and graphic designer
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Stylization influences people’s emotions in ways that enhance productivity, encourage connections and boost mental well-being. These experiences stem from two opposite, yet complementary, psychological states of awe and flow. Design elements that foster a sense of awe fill us with a sense of curiosity and admiration, spurring socialization and sharing. On the flip side, design that facilitates the flow state helps us slow down, focus and reflect.

Depending on how a space will be used, designers may choose to prioritize either awe or flow. When we’re designing a new space, we consider how stylization could impact awe and flow in three specific ways:

  • Personalization and customization: How can the design allow users to tailor a space to create a sense of awe or flow depending on their preferences or needs? When considering corporate design, how can stylization offer employees choices while adhering to brand and company standards?
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  • Human connections and sentimental value: Stylization adds warmth and depth to a space in ways that transcend architecture. Art, natural elements, objects and artifacts can inspire a sense of wonderment and awe that draw people together or, conversely, trigger emotions that cause us to turn inward and reflect.
  • Curation of space: Stylization is about experience. Curated spaces go a long way toward reinforcing an idea or story. For companies, stylization can build both authenticity and brand awareness, connecting internal and external audiences to a common concept or mission.
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A Return to Joy

Both modernist and minimalist design stripped out decoration and adornment in favor of a streamlined aesthetic that expressed rationality and refinement and emphasized the inward-facing flow state. In so doing, design lost much of its personalization and emotional connection. It often became sterile, rigid and cold.

In today’s increasingly divided and cloistered world, the average person spends hours in isolation communicating via technology. There’s a need to return a sense of warmth and vitality to our environments. It’s time to insert more joy through stylization.


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“Happiness is something that measures how good we feel over time. But joy is about feeling good right now, in the moment.” — Ingrid Fetell Lee, designer and author of ‘Joyful’

The Return to Joy recognizes the power of stylization to elicit feelings of delight and pleasure and brings back awe and flow to an equilibrium. Moreover, Return to Joy reestablishes the important role of stylization in architecture and design. Stylization is not the design statement itself. It’s the punctuation mark.

Stylization in Practice

What do stylization and Return to Joy look like in practice? Stylization is the curation of space that instills it with personality without overwhelming the stimuli. It’s about harmony, symmetry and balance.

Stylization often incorporates four core components:

  • Artwork to reinforce the overall design aesthetic.
  • Objects and artifacts that link to local culture and history.
  • Natural elements (including plants, leather and wood) to connect nature with the manmade world.
  • Experiential design and graphics to create a positive attitude toward a place.
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Here is how HOK’s designers use these stylization elements to return a sense of joy to the places where we work, live and play:

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