Designing is commonly used as a synonym for creating, innovating, fashioning, conceiving. Though it is common in English usage to say that engineers "design", scientists "design", entrepreneurs "design" and even that small children "design," we maintain that it is important to make a distinction between this colloquialism and the reference to the professional act that designers undertake. When the Council refers to designing we are indicating a very specific professional methodology and skill-set.
Design-ing has at its core a methodology integrating function, form and experience, generating a solution adjusted to a specified user. It applies human creativity as a response to a specified problem, taking into consideration the constraints imposed by the context and resources available. The solution is (almost always) produced to be replicated or experienced serially (i.e. the serial reproduction of objects or images, the digital replication of interfaces or information, to processes or systems meant to be used by a multiple of users, etc.) and the success of the design is objectively measurable.
Design methodology is a process that follows a structured sequence of steps that are repeated iteratively and often overlap. There are many models of this but the process generally is comprised of some version of the following:
Research: analysis, observation, gathering of information on the user, the problem, the context
Ideation: where designers attempt to solve the problem. Most designers begin by sketching.
Prototyping and testing: In this stage the first versions of the designs are “mock-ed up” or built in a rudimentary form. There will be many prototypes produced, gradually refining the design by subjecting the solution to a series of tests.
Implementation: when a design is finalised it must be implemented. This is the phase where a web design will be programmed, where a piece of clothing will move from the runway to the production floor, etc.
Above and beyond the process determined by design methodology, designers follow a series of guiding principles and philosophies that underpin their practice. These are by no means standardised but there are a few that are almost universal.
- 'more with less': with some ingenuity, you can do more (give more value) with less (less resources, less material, less cost, less energy consumption, etc.)
- 'user-centered': all design should be centered on the needs of the user. Not those of the manufacturer. Or the distributor. Nor of the technology.
- 'innovation': for good or for bad, designers tend to prime the new and innovative over the old and familiar.
- 'honesty': his idea is expressed in many ways (‘truth to materials’ is a common maxim in industrial design) but the idea is the design should not lie. Neither in its appearance (wood painted to look like plastic) nor in it’s promises. If it looks light, it should be light. If it looks sturdy, it should last.
- 'coherence': Dieter Rams described this as “good design is thorough down to the last detail” noting that everything about a design is deliberate and follows an internal logic that is consistent throughout.
Counter to common understanding, design is not purely about aesthetics. But because design is focused on the needs of a user — a human user that is a largely visual creature— designers do employ visual language. For instance, order is universally easier to navigate than disorder and certain forms/ colours/ materials can solicit predictable emotional responses. The aesthetic aspect is not ‘artistic’ (narrowly defined as visual expression) but rather a complex ‘language’ for transmission of important cues and information. Assembling know-how from art theory, semiotics, psychology, cognitive science and ergonomics, designers consciously and purposefully employ these visual codes.
IMPACTS: SOCIAL, CULTURAL, ENVIRONMENTAL
Beyond its narrowly intended function, the outcome — the design— must be consider the social, cultural, economic and environmental impact as integral parts of the solution. Designs have enormous impact on society and on our planet — often far beyond the intentions and reach of a particular product or message. A worthwhile design contributes value. A poorly conceived design causes damage. Designers must not take their responsibilities trivially.