what is design?

What is design?

Design is a discipline of study and practice focused on the interaction between a person — a ‘user’— and the man-made environment, taking into account aesthetic, functional, contextual, cultural and societal considerations. As a formalised discipline, design is a modern construct.

Concretely, most people’s experience of design stems from their daily interaction with physical objects, built spaces and digital environments. We interact with what is around us, and each other, through designed constructs. Clothing, devices, transportation, user-interfaces, the landscape, the city, even the chair you are sitting in, were all designed by a designer. 

Beyond their functional and formal attributes, these designed artefacts impact cultural meaning, expressing, reflecting and even forming cultural norms. The field of design is made up not only of practitioners but also educators, authors, journalists, critics and researchers; yielding a rich theoretical canon. 

Whereas we would once have defined design strictly in relation to the concrete world, spanning “dal cucchiaio alla citta” (from the spoon to the city — attributed to Ernesto Rogers), today “design is expanding its disciplinary, conceptual, theoretical, and methodological frameworks to encompass ever-wider disciplines, activities and practice” [Rogers and Bremner]  Today designers work on business strategy, they create virtual environments, they craft digital interfaces, they design service systems and new branches of design are evolving continuously.

Seemingly disparate as these examples may be, they share a common fundament. Regardless of the application, designers follow design methodology and a set of fundamental notions, which inform their approach. Designers are trained to analyse problems holistically, searching to understand not only the immediate or obvious problem but the system that created it. Designers approach the solution from the vantage point of the end-user, seeking to optimise for the specific needs and capabilities of that individual or group.  Designers strive to ‘do more with less,’ they maximise economy (of materials, of investment, of energy, etc.) through creativity and ingenuity; this idea is central design.