Design is a funny word. Mention it in a conversation and it adds value without adding a precise meaning. If you hear “that’s the great design” do you know exactly what your interlocutor meant by that? Aesthetics? Function? Both?
How about “I’m designer”? Couple of months ago I was presenting for a group of experienced Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. One gentlemen in his late 60’s told me after the presentation “I’m a designer as well. I used to design circuits”. Unfortunately that’s not the kind of design I can understand, so we didn’t find a common ground.
Design is a dangerously obscure term. Especially in the Age of Design in which “good design” mark might be a highway to success for any product and “bad design” may doom anything.
Diving deep into the nature of design can give us some kind of clear view for the matter, so let’s get back to pure words and try to define design in a general way:
1540s, from Latin designare “mark out, devise, choose, designate, appoint,” from de- “out” + signare “to mark,” from signum “a mark, sign”. Originally in English with the meaning now attached to designate; many modern uses of design are metaphoric extensions.
1580s, from Middle French desseign “purpose, project, design,” from Italian disegno, from disegnare “to mark out,” from Latin designare “to mark out” (see design (v.)).
(Source: Etymology Dictionary)
Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams and sewing patterns). Design has different connotations in different fields.
(Source: Cambridge Dictionary of American English)
DESIGN: (noun) a specification of an object, manifested by some agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to some constraints.
(Source: Ralph, P. and Wand, Y. (2009). A proposal for a formal definition of the design concept. In Lyytinen, K., Loucopoulos, P., Mylopoulos, J., and Robinson, W., editors, Design Requirements Workshop (LNBIP 14), pp. 103–136. Springer-Verlag, p. 109)
To design is to devise courses of action aimed at changing existing situations
into preferred ones
Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate
The common notion in all the definitions seems to be regarding to design as to purposeful action, a plan of solving particular problem. Design, regardless of the particular pragmatic discipline, is a deliberate set of actions that are meant to provide value for the receiver of a “designed thing”.
The term Design will gain a deeper meaning by thinking about it like this. Design is more then aesthetics. Design is more than just planing function. It’s about giving meaning to something. It’s about experience. That’s why the concept of the design transcends single disciplines and can be applied to web, mobile, software, fashion, industrial, interiors etc.
Isn’t that something?
Here’s a little graphic representation of a design definition. Feel free to download it and share it with your friends.
What does design mean to you? How do you understand it?