What is design?

This is a question I have been trying to answer for over a year. Instead of a rant, I thought it better to do some research on the matter and get to the root of the problem. This is to primarily answer this question – Did I fulfill my role as a designer after I graduated from design school 10 years ago?  The problem with working for design agencies is that you get caught in the design jargon and forget the real thing sometimes. Design process and methodology is as unique to designers as fingerprints to individuals. When everything starts getting standardized, then intuitive processes suffer. On the other hand, projects with no frameworks suffer from a lack of structured approach creating commotion. Which brings me back to the question – What is design? Were you and I meant to do what we are doing.

From Wikipedia

Design as a noun informally refers to a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawing, business process, circuit diagrams

and sewing patterns) while “to design” (verb) refers to making this plan.[1] No generally-accepted definition of “design” exists,[2] and the term has different connotations in different fields (see design disciplines below). However, one can also design by directly constructing an object (as in pottery, engineering, management, cowboy coding and graphic design).

More formally design has been defined as follows.

(noun) a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set ofrequirements, subject to constraints;
(verb, transitive) to create a design, in an environment (where the designer operates)[3]

Another definition for design is a roadmap or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation. It defines the specifications, plans, parameters, costs, activities, processes and how and what to do within legal, political, social, environmental, safety and economic constraints in achieving that objective.

The last paragraph gives the impression that one can design the government, country, finance, healthcare and myriad other things in life. But it also sounds restrictive, where everything from legalese to politics have to be kept in mind. Design seems to feel more managerial. It feels void of intuition and feeling.

Here is another one from the Design Council of UK

Design is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.’The Cox Review

Most of the results of design are visible, and that lends itself to another simple definition: ‘Design is all around you, everything man-made has been designed, whether consciously or not’.

The question therefore isn’t so much ‘what is design and why does it matter?’ but ‘how can I use good design to make the world around me better?’

‘Everything man-made has been designed, whether consciously or not’ pretty much sums it up. Design has been over specified, there are countless fields and types of design, I was trying to come to terms with ‘behavior’ design and someone sprung a ‘persuasive design’ at me the other day. Provocative articles about the death of design thinking and user experience add to the confusion and create a frenzy. Design for social change engaged me for a long long time till designers started to make a mess of it and I realized how little I knew about international development and governance (which doesn’t mean I should not be learning more about it).

I found this other slide as a part of a University of Illinois Chicago.

Design process is this case could be anything that spat out a bunch of specifications based on needs in the end. The rest of the pdf can be downloaded here.

Design is also loving the ideas you have to throw away.  A more emotional response here.

Non-designers can design using design thinking and buying fantastic books on the subject. A nice article on design thinking in design observer – “ One popular definition is that design thinking means thinking as a designer would, which is about as circular as a definition can be.”

Then there is design build, design research, design management, design strategy none of which I am particularly good at.

Here is a one of the nicer definitions of design I found online. More here.

Design is about finding a balance. There’s a Japanese word for the place in between – “ma”. It’s the interval of time between two things. It’s the point in the swing of a pendulum when the object switches from an upswing to a downswing. It’s the pause just between. It’s the moment just before something happens, or changes, or becomes clear, or comes into focus. But not yet. It’s the best part of the rollercoaster, right after the climb, and just before you fall. It’s anticipation. The space between. – Ma

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