Thanks for this clear post, and yes, it does seem to be a perennial thing to try to define what design is and is not.
Simon's definition is still one of the best (in being so inclusive) 'definitions' of what we would like to call this human activity (not forgetting the politics of the artificial - Margolin). I like your translation, because it reads very much like a cybernetics/systems solution that aims at sustainability.
"Alexander's 'harmony' - a situation in which all the interacting elements benefit from those
interactions in a way that maintains the stability of the overall system" = this is a perfectly good description of actor-network theory seen from a designer's viewpoint! Thanks for this insight- and it fits in very well with our faculty's (deliberately all-inclusive) research focus of "designing interaction spaces for useability and usefulness".
I also agree that design proper should be distinguished from other practices: "design" is a special way of seeing the world = Nigel Cross would say this is the search for a designerly way of knowing = so what is it that makes the modern idea of design so distinctive?
Design has moved on from focusing on products (leaving a lot of Sitting-with-Nellie designers behind), since we know more than enough now about how to engineer and manufacture the widgets, and that particular stream to artefact/object/hard systems design has split off in an almost biological and evolutionary development.
What we had left was the focus-on-the-process-design stream, which was most overdue and very welcome. In a very short space of time (all is relative) we have done with that, and the "natural" design development has split off once again. We now have a focus on the experience of design's productions: this means a shift in focus away from any mention of the designer as primary mover and shaker, to the user as prime focus. As far as I am concerned, all design education should now be based on the tenets of interaction design.
We know how to design the hardware, and there are few surprises left.
We know enough about managing the processes of design, so now it is about time everyone focuses on the most important and most difficult of all design challenges = how to really "design" for people.
Designers are peculiar people who think and see in three dimensions, while playing with Heraclitus' river, and with a human awareness of context to boot.
Most other people - the ones who need our services, cannot do so. I see this everyday, and use these examples when my students ask me, if cybernetics and system think is so wonderful and so powerful, why does everyone not use it? Because ... oh, several different reasons, mostly bad for the planet and society.
The point is, they cannot "design" for themselves, and they need "us". Who are we?
I asked my students this question (they are in fact the Industrial Design department's students) as a project: who are you, as a person, and then, as a designer, who are you? Are these two identities the same person?
Filippo, my design theory is focused on their design practice, not in the sense that it teaches them anything about their practice, but it can teach them something about thinking in a human way. I use phrases such as "A designer does not exist ... without that for which you are designing for" - meaning as a designer you are a human being first, and must know how to communicate with other human beings.
If you cannot do that, you cannot design for them.
By the way, there IS no such thing as a designer, just as there is no such thing as society - these are mere constructs that individuals can hide behind.
"Modern" design is ... people (who have taught themselves how to deal with four dimensional thinking processes) designing for people (who teach themselves other things, most of which designers can situationally use to ... "design")
>>> "Filippo A. Salustri" <[log in to unmask]> 06/17/08 2:37 PM >>>
Daniel et al,
It's that time or year again, when we have a discussion about what design is.
Not ssage, I comment on a number of different posts all at once, rather
than replying to each msg individually. No slight is intended to those who I
don't mention here. There's just so much time I can spend on this at any one
My definition is based largely on Simon's definition, with sprinkles of sundry
> Designing is a process of developing implementable proposals to change a
> current situation that is perceived to be unbalanced to a preferred situation
> that is perceived to be more balanced.
And "design" is the discipline (body of knowledge) explaining how to do designing.
"Balance" is, for me, very close to Chris Alexander's notion of 'harmony' - a
situation in which all the interacting elements benefit from those
interactions in a way that maintains the stability of the overall system.
I wrote a paper in DPP that considered the boundaries between designing and
other things, like problem solving.
F.A. Salustri and N.L. Eng. Design as...: Thinking of what design might be,
Journal of Design Principles and Practices, 1:1(19-28), 2007.
Real web site: http://ijg.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.154/prod.14
Unofficial draft: http://deed.ryerson.ca/~fil/I/Papers/NleFasDpp07Preprint.pdf
I'm one of those people who think design can be distinguished from other
undertakings. That's what I don't like about Daniel's definition - it can
apply to other things that we've already named. I'm not saying design doesn't
happen in marketing, etc. And I'm not saying design *actually* happens
conflated with other activities. I am saying there's merit in distinguishing
design from other activities that require2Fuse it.
Gunnar suggested it's flawed to think that design is distinct from other
activities. I don't think so. Granite is only granite if there's quartz in
it. Take away the quartz and it's not granite, but that doesn't mean quartz
isn't distinct in itself. That's how I think about design(ing).
We shouldn't "impose" (per Gunnar) a definition of design, but having a
"reference definition" as a touchstone to ground discussion - even though we
might all admit it's 'wrong' in one way or another - would be, I think, very
As I suggest (and I'm not the only one), it's not a matter of saying
everything is design. Perhaps we need to consider: (nearly) every activity
/has some design in it/. Again, it's not a matter of claiming territory, but
of partitioning knowledge into manageable interrelated chunks.
Anthony Cahalan suggested two definitions.
The first - "Design is the research, analysis and creation of innovative
products and services which shape the human experience" - has a could of
little problems, I think. Parsing it, I get "Design is the research...of
innovative products...." How can you research something you haven't designed
yet? Also, I'm not sure all design must be innovative. And anyways,
innovation is a relative term. What's innovative in one product may be
mundane in another.
The second - "Design bridges the gap between the present and the future as a
catalyst for improvement of the human condition" - isn't operational enough
for me - but that's just me. I like that it explicitly mentions the future,
for nearly everything we design will be used /later/, and we're never really
sure what /later/ will be like. I also like the notion of catalysis: the
design or its implementation won't improve human condition per se. But it can
provide the means for that improvement.
Alun Price contributed a definition attributed to Richard Buchanan. I agree
with the 1st paragraph. It's not immediately clear that the second paragraph
is part of the same excerpt. I think it's a little too specific ("artefacts
of visual and tactile communication"), but I like the connection it makes to
communication, and to specific receivers of that communication.
Karen wrote that design is "thoughtful living." Personally, I see it the
other way around: living thoughtfully has driven me to want to design. Again,
thapective. Insofar as I
consider this kind of work as /design research/ rather than design, I'd say
that his interpretation of Daniel's definition is pretty good. However, if
this perspective is applied to doing research on the subject(s) for which
design will be done, I worry: I believe the difference between creativity (in
the sense of creating something) in design and in the arts is distinguished by
the object. IMHO, artists create primarily, though not only, to express
themselves; conversely, designers create primarily, though not only, to
express others. If this is what Johann meant, then I'm concerned about the
designer-centricity that I read (perhaps mis-read) there. However, Johann's
last paragraph, about taking the other into account, makes me think my first
interpretation is the right one.
That's what I've got so far. Hope I haven't bored or annoyed anyone.
Daniel Chambers wrote:
> Dear all,
> I'm sure we have all wrestled with definitions at some point or another. I
> have been pondering if there is a simple, all-encompassing definition of
> 'Design' that works in all contexts. I would like to offer the following
> for your critical analysis, discussion and thoughts:
> 'Seeking differentiation through insight'
Prof. Filippo A. Salustri, Ph.D., P.Eng.
Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
Ryerson University Tel: 416/979-5000 x7749
350 Victoria St. Fax: 416/979-5265
Toronto, ON email: [log in to unmask]
M5B 2K3 Canada http://deseng.ryerson.ca/~fil/