The Definition of Design

There has been a lot of conversation lately about the definition of design, design vs. art, etc. Well, I shouldn’t say lately, I think the conversation has been going on for a while now. It would be fun to get you the people to contribute your ‘nawlij on this and post your definition of design, and or design vs. art.
Here are some starters for you

Eames – [design is] “A plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.”

Steve Jobs – “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

Here is one of my faves, and more than one person claims to have come up with it – “The cultural appropriation of technology”

Some other good articles / blogs on the subject >> core77 >> bokardo >> Wikipedia

One thing that I will throw out there that should reduce your chances of being suckerpunched in the back of the studio… are you talking about Design or Industrial Design?

This entry was written by darnballou and published on June 26, 2007 at 4:23 am. It’s filed under Art, Design. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “The Definition of Design

  1. darnballou on said:

    I’ll start it off with my art vs. design stream of consciousness rant.

    Art and Design are like democrats and republicans in the senate. both are creating policy (culture and artifacts) but they go about it in different ways, and each of them have different values. There are Neo-Conservative crazies on one side of the aisle (Engineers) and Liberal Wackos on the other (Surrealists), and in between are Flip Flop Moderates (artsy designers, or corporate artists). But they all influence each other, work together, and from an outside view are involved in the similar pursuit of engaging humans with their ideas. So I don’t think there root motivations are all that different, but artists, like liberal wackos, are more about feeling, where designers, like crazy right wingers, are more about thinking.”

  2. throwingspork on said:

    Oh man, this is the issue that really pushes my buttons. People think design is the form, and engineering is the function. Or more specifically, design is making things bean-shaped, and engineering is getting more power out of something. And this just isn’t true- look it up:
    de·sign (dĭ-zīn’)
    v. de·signed, de·sign·ing, de·signs

    1. To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent: design a good excuse for not attending the conference.
    2. To formulate a plan for; devise: designed a marketing strategy for the new product.
    3. To plan out in systematic, usually graphic form: design a building; design a computer program.
    4. To create or contrive for a particular purpose or effect: a game designed to appeal to all ages.
    5. To have as a goal or purpose; intend.
    6. To create or execute in an artistic or highly skilled manner.

    The truth of the matter is that design is the holistic process of making informed decisions to achieve a goal. That means that if I have to remove a sharp edge from something to protect somebody’s hand, it’s a design change. If I have to move a rib in a housing to prevent sink and make the parts work or look better, that’s a design change. If somebody adds soft-touch, or changes the color of something to make it better fit the product’s intent, that’s a design change. There is no ‘on the design side’ or ‘let’s talk about design details’. They’re ALL design details. If you want to talk about aesthetics, talk about aesthetics. If you want to talk UI, talk UI. Don’t say ‘you wouldn’t understand, you’re not a designer.’ Guess what, kids- if I make design decisions, I am a designer. And DFM, mold design, plastic part design, mechanical & structural design- all these things fit the definition. Look at the terms… see the d-word in there? It belongs there, and there’s a reason why.
    What most people would fit to the term design is making something beautiful or stylish. I object to this- that effort is styling. Design is making informed decisions with a goal in mind. Styling is making unsubstantiated decisions to make something look pretty to you. Design should be quantifiable, because it has a goal- it is objective. Styling is arbitrary, because it is subjective.

    A designer can make a product look and feel the way it needs to look and feel to fit marketing’s goal. If it needs to appeal to an 8-year old girl, the designer can do that. If it needs to appeal to an 80-year old male who likes to golf, a designer can do that.
    A stylist can really only make something look desirable to themselves, usually because they can’t get past their own ego. They’ll swear up and down that this toothbrush will appeal to children, but it looks like an Audi TT, because they like the Audi TT and they like the idea that everybody should think the way that they do. Ever work with anyone like that? If they can’t explain why they made a change, it’s subjective. If it’s subjective, they’re styling. There’s nothing wrong with styling, but call it what it is, and treat it for what it is.

    So if you ever catch yourself saying ‘Oh, we can design anything,’ understand that what you are saying is that you understand everything about the product in question, who is buying it, how it is made, and how those people use it. If what you mean to say is ‘I can make anything look pretty,’ then say that. It’s arrogant to suggest that off-the-cuff you can understand any market better than the people that live there. Research and being informed is a necessary component to design, and designers know and respect that. Stylists just shoot from the hip and depend on ego to get them where they think they need to be. And that’s why their products are only relevant for a short time before they get passed by the products of people who do their homework and work hard to understand so they can innovate.

    And while I’m ranting, ‘engineering’ is not ‘making things work’ or ‘making things go together’ or ‘doing all the stuff that is not design’:
    en·gi·neer·ing /ˌɛndʒəˈnɪərɪŋ/
    1. the art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences, as physics or chemistry, as in the construction of engines, bridges, buildings, mines, ships, and chemical plants.
    2. the action, work, or profession of an engineer.
    3. skillful or artful contrivance; maneuvering.

    Engineering is making a design or process practical. It’s not the invention (that’s design, the series of decisions that shapes an endeavor), but the restructuring and optimization of a design to make it the most economical to produce. It’s not about ‘making stuff work’, folks. It’s about building stuff repeatably and cheaply, and getting a predictable result. To say a product ‘looks engineered’ means nothing. You might say a line of products look engineered, because they all look the same (the manufacturing process is repeatable). But if you mean it looks structural, or functional, or chunky, or boxy, or whatever it may be… that’s design, kids.

    Phew. Glad to get that off my chest.

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