what is design anyway?!

Polemics archive

Design has vast, untapped potential, but is defined in many different ways. If we want to come together as an international community to support its evolution, we must not be afraid to discuss, dissect and disagree on what design is, does, and can do. Self-examination is a crucial step in the maturing of any profession; it is only through an open critique that we can address the factors that inhibit professional recognition and growth. There is nothing like lively debate to resolve our internal contradictions, transform our ideas, and ultimately form a solid basis of collaboration.


'Design' is complicated. We all have different definitions of what design is, what it achieves, and what it could accomplish, if only it was more effectively implemented. Furthermore, the application of design is not perfect. It can be used for good but it has also been exploited to do a lot of harm. As our world becomes increasingly interconnected and technology evolves into areas we do not yet fully comprehend, resulting environmental and social repercussions impact the daily lives of millions — design is challenged. Designers are faced with moral dilemmas. Being the professionals that we are, we must not shy away from these challenges; they are opportunities for growth and transformation.

Self-examination is a first step to self-determination. It is by knowing ourselves that we develop a solid professional ethos that we can articulate and defend. Self-examination takes introspection, curiosity and passion. We cannot be afraid to really probe, to be both critical of ourselves and aware of our moments of good judgement. Most of all, we have to be open to asking the ‘hard questions’.

'On Design': defining design for ourselves and for non-designers. An important challenge to the design profession has been the understanding (or misunderstanding) of what design is. In our new section 'On Design' we provide our perspective on what design is (as a discipline) as well as what designers are, who designs, and distinctions between "design", professional design, and good design. We delineate between design, designing, designers and designs. This exploration in defining the profession is a kind of ‘living document’. Our aim is to provide a foundation for us to build upon as a community. We hope that these definitions will help you discuss your own perspectives on design and help you to articulate the value of design to non-design stakeholders in a simplified, common language.


Discussing design. Another important avenue is discourse. We should not be afraid to think critically, to disagree and debate, with the goal of forming new ideas. Wisdom comes from challenging the things we hold to be true and examining the values that underpin them:

“It is time that theoretical issues be expressed and debated to provide a forum of intellectual tension out of which meanings spring to life (...) It is time to debate, to probe the values, to examine the theories that are part of our heritage and to verify their validity to express our times. It is time for the word to be heard. It is time for Words of Wisdom.”

— Massimo Vignelli, forward to the 1983 Graphis Annual

Polemics, the Greek art of discussion. ‘Polemics’ is the ancient Greek art of engaging in controversial debate or discussion. Because design, as a practice, is tied to a range of things made in the world, and the diversity of people who use them, it is inevitable that our profession stir up debate, touching on societal issues that are complex and nuanced. This new section in our website, the Polemics Archive is where we will introduce a growing reservoir of opinions on the current design issues, drawing on expanded perspectives and emerging contexts. We invite contributions from all sides. Sometimes we take a stance. But above all, we hope to engage you and stimulate conversations about the practice of design in the evolving world.

Welcome to the 'Polemics' section of our new website. This is a place where we want to explore discourse and thought on the contemporary practice of design. We aim to take a critical view of the profession and the controversial issues that surround its practice. Much like the famed 'Design Crit' an examined practice is one that becomes more honed, better formulated and more meaningful.