If everything is design, then nothing is design

Design is basically a positively charged word. The word itself gives a kind of stamp of quality. When it is combined with other words, we are often upgrading the other words. Design furniture is better than furniture. Designer clothes are something more than just clothes.

It is obviously a temptation to apply this effect to just about anything. Many people have something to sell and many people feel the need to embellish what they do. The result is that the word design is used by far too many people — about far too many things — and so there is some risk of the actual term design being devalued.

Fortunately, most people feel that we need to differentiate between good and bad design in the same way as we do between good and bad music. I don’t know anyone who would use Mozart’s The Queen of the Night sung in Florence Foster Jenkin’s soprano as evidence that music is a monstrosity as long as we can also listen to so many fabulous versions of the same aria.

Design defined to some extent

The design industry is developing rapidly, no doubt about that. The Great Norwegian dictionary describes design in the following manner: “Design is an international name for fashioning. Design describes the process of establishing the final appearance of a product with a view to both functionality (type of use) and appearance. The term is also used for the results of this process.” But it also states the following: “With time, it has also become common to use design in the sense of a plan, outline or template. This corresponds to the English use of the term.”

For a design company like Mission, where branding, identity design and graphic design dominate, one of the most important things is that the design actually does a job for a client — and, implicitly, that it works for investors, employees and also the customer’s customers. In our book, we look at design as a holistic mindset. Fashioning is one side of the coin, but it does not always cover important elements such as the design process and design strategy. In other words, we are not always enthusiastic about the diluting of the concept of design.

It’s a jungle out there

If every job that uses a plan, outline or template were to be called design, it would not be easy to separate the wheat from the chaff or the important from the unimportant. In fact, there is a dense jungle of terms and expressions in the field of design. Just look at some of the many, and particularly very digital, professional titles that show up on a Norwegian website for jobseekers if you use the searchword, Design:

User experience designer,UX/UI Designer Lead, Interaction Design, Analog IC Design Engineer, process designer, Technical designer, Webpage development and design, graphic designer, FPGA Design Engineer, Design Structural Engineer, Discipline Engineer — 3D/2D Design, Graphic / Motion Designer, Corporate Design Lead, Structural engineer design PDMS, Systems Design Engineer, Mechanical Design Engineer, EIT PDMS Designer, Senior Visual Designer, Senior Structural Designer, Hardware Design Engineer, Assistant professor in Interaction Design, UX Design internship with Mingl, Mfg Design Engineer, Experience Design Consultant, senior FPGA / ASIC SoC Design Engineer and Digital Design Engineer.

We are by no means saying that some of these jobs do not involve design: just that not everything that has something to do with technology can automatically adorn itself with the title of design. Not in any case the way we interpret it. Technology is not a goal in itself, but it is a means of making it possible to achieve a number of goals. For this reason, it is a natural thing for the design companies of today to employ or ally themselves with capable computer people, people who can take ideas and thoughts to new digital heights.

An attempt at tidying up the design shelves

The design tree has a number of branches, some of these entirely or partly outside our own range. At the same time, it is interesting to note how many of these touch upon our own job, just because the ability to think in a broad, deep and uniform manner is one of our advantages. In other words, there are a number of border areas between different branches of design, but here is an attempt at dividing the competence areas into design areas as we might have done if we were arranging an Olympics in design:

  • Architecture
  • Brand design
  • Exhibition design
  • Furniture design
  • Graphic design
  • Identity design
  • Interactive design
  • Interior design
  • Landscape design
  • Packaging design
  • Product design
  • Textile and fashion design
  • Urban planning and urban design

Design is also about economy

It is not the case that design only brings money into the design industry itself as some people like to assert. Surveys in the UK (Design Council´s Design Leadership Programme) show that, for each pound invested in design, companies can expect to get back twenty pounds in increased incomes. The better the design, the better the results, of course. With powerful figures like this, it is proved beyond all doubt that design is responsible for a great deal of the wealth creation in society.

In Denmark, a country of design, the Danish Design Centre and Confederation of Danish Industry carried out a survey in 2016 of 805 decision-makers in the areas of business development, product development and innovation in Danish companies regarding how they perceived the use of design.

  • 74% say that design has a positive influence on their bottom line.
  • 80% say that design strengthens their brand.
  • 68% say that the use of design leads to increased customer satisfaction
  • 67% expect to increase their competitiveness by means of design in the next five years.

When the same people are asked about how they themselves make use of design in their own company, the figures are not as impressive.

  • 58% say that they make use of design
  • 40% say that they do not use design systematically
  • 30% say they use design as an integral element and tool in connection with work processes.
  • 13% say that they use design strategically and in such a manner that design methods and thinking contribute to the company’s business development and strategy.

In other words, it looks like not all of them are consistent about how important they feel design is when it comes to their own workplace. Denmark is considered a country that is very dedicated to design, so the figures could differ even more substantially in Norway when it comes to intention and action. It is unfortunately the case that not everyone has the opportunity to allow design to take the role it deserves where they work.

Do you have a well-grounded hunger for design you do not get to express in your organisation? Perhaps you should speak to someone about it? Someone who can show you what it could be worth?

This article was written by Ole Abildsnes, and was first published on Mission’s website. Find out what other fascinating issues we write about.