What is Design?

The notion of “design” is abstract and broad. As a discipline, design embodies the action involved in problem solving across many domains. According to Herbert Simon, “design is any courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones” (Simon 1998). Adhering to this definition, design becomes more than a single domain of study that fits neatly in the traditional field of art and design. With a broadened definition, design now relates to virtually all domains based on its essence that guides action from existing to preferred. This definition remains abstract without the understanding that design is a process. When methods are chosen specifically for each step of the process, design becomes a methodology. The design methodology varies based on the values and requirements for the context it serves. 

The definition of design is a tacit knowledge that most people have, but few can articulate. The question, “what is design?” elicits a heady response from some and confusion from others. This confusion, or difficulty in articulation, stems from the multiple uses of the word design and its different meanings. Design as a noun refers to something created, whereas design as a verb is more about the decisions that govern action. The latter use of design is more overarching and transferable to an endless supply of contextual applications. It is this understanding of design that dominates my personal design philosophy.

Articulation of theory is paramount in communicating value. This is especially true regarding a personal design philosophy, considering the various directions it could take. The ability to articulate held values in design engenders honest and productive discussion. This honesty and productivity will set the articulate designer apart. Or at least save them from an unnecessary misunderstanding. In order to articulate values as a designer, it is important to identify the facets that constitute that value.

The 6 facets of my design philosophy are as follows:

  • Design should be driven by empathy. Empathizing with users, clients, etc… is an essential element that should be valued even above efficiency. Each person is an expert of their experience. That statement should hold value in every application of design.
  • Design is a creative problem-solving process. It begins with understanding and ends with action planning. Design should not be misinterpreted as the final deliverable created without active participation from the back-end to the front.
  • Design uses visual language to communicate complexity. This visual communication element sets it apart from other problem-solving processes. The element of visualization also serves to aid in communication for future iterations or gathering feedback.
  • Design requires a growth mindset. The ability to frame a problem as an opportunity drives the possibilities for innovation. A growth minded person does not shy away from difficulty or hide from their failures. Instead, a person who encompasses the growth mindset views difficulty as an opportunity to learn and to re-strategize, constantly building on their personal attributes.
  • Design is a collaborative effort. Constant feedback, honesty, and encouragement will maximize possibilities within a design challenge. Diversity at the “design table” will enable the opportunity for impactful innovation.
  • Design should always include humility. Designing for people does not make designers omniscient. Falling prey to design confidence can obstruct systemic vision and hinder impactful design solutions.