The Good and (mostly) Bad of Reality Design TV

As a trained and practicing designer, tuning into reality design shows usually results in a mixed bag of feelings. On one hand, showcasing quick and affordable processes can only make people more aware that design is available (and should be) for everyone. Also, it encourages people to improve their surroundings and quality of life and promotes a DIY attitude.

On the flip side, it also misrepresents the complexities, challenges and amount of work required to bring about good design. Compressing the processes of analysis, planning, revising, purchasing, delivery, construction and installation all within 20 minutes (+ commercials) all for under “$1k” creates totally unrealistic expectations.

Additionally the various shortcuts and mistakes can only be discerned through a trained eye and a high definition TV.  The need for demolition or construction permits is rarely mentioned. And eye protection or proper use of power tools can be glaringly absent when homeowners are asked to participate.

What IS emphasized however is the glowing reaction of the client at the reveal. Surprise and excitement for those brief moments I’m sure, diminishes as the cameras, lights and host are methodically removed from the site. Eventually the limitations of the design reveal themselves and the tradeoffs between time cost and effort become apparent.

A few more days of design and consultation, a few more dollars spent or better allocated, could almost always result in a more optimal and satisfying space. But that of course, would slow the pace of the show.  So they’re fun for entertainment value, but they’re short on true value.

There is also a bit of enjoyment and frustration in design show competitions. It can be amazing what one can do with a hot glue gun and a bit of paint. But is there merit in being able to assemble a room in 30 minutes? There is definitely a wide gap between a TV challenge’s requirements and a real life client’s needs. I believe most designers know this. But potential clients who’ve never worked with a designer might not.

What is the lesson to be learned for both designers and clients alike?

Good design takes time and great design takes more time.

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