What is Design?

I personally like the word “design”. I think it’s fancy, stylish, and vague. You could express the word in countless ways, but most of all, I like the vagueness of what it can mean.

Looking at the Definition

“A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is made”
— Oxford Dictionary

This is the definition of the word “design” in the world wide famous Oxford Dictionary. Right, I agree, and kind of disagree at the same time. In my opinion, design is something that goes beyond what is said in the definition. It is no longer merely “a plan” that’s used to “show the look” of the end product “before it is made”. I think the design itself can be seen as a part of the end product, especially now that web and UI design has become so prominent.

Now, most people would agree that designs for architectures and fashion are created in forms such as a blueprint or a design comp before anything is physically made. In these cases, design is considered as being one (of the earlier) of the many stages within the waterfall workflow process. This worked, when the end product is in a static state. Buildings, clothes, posters, books…they are all static. Once the product is made, nothing is modified.

However, web and UI design are dynamic. They not only get modified after time, but even react and respond on the actions the users take. As web is growing even today, I think the meaning of the term “design” is being expanded as well. Design is something that must be taken into account through out the whole development process of a product/service, or perhaps, even after the end product is made.

Vagueness of the Word

When the word “design” is used, a lot of people would refer to it as “graphic design”. But as I partly touched on in the previous section, the word “design” is used in a variety of fields, such as architecture, fashion, product, package, print, web, UI, UX…etc. The word “design” itself is so vague that when I was back in university (where there were design courses in many various fields), I was literally lost. I didn’t know what design was supposed to mean.

Although I’m not fully confident to state what design exactly is still to this day, I at least know that it has to do with creating stuff, with concept. If there’s no concept, then that’s a decoration. As long as there’s concept in whatever it is that’s created, then I consider it as a piece of design. I love how this word is so vague, it can mean to create pretty much anything you can imagine. And that is why I consider myself as a “designer”, and not a designer in any particular field, knowing that I want to be accessible to all types of creative design works.

Design vs. Art

First, I’d like to make a disclaimer that I won’t get too much into this, since this topic is way too deep to be spoken about in a single blog post. But as far as I’m concerned, design has boundaries, and art doesn’t (for the most part). In design works, the premise is that there are clients, budgets, ROIs, and all of those business related factors. For this reason, it’s sometimes referred to as “commercial design”. These business related factors are what draw the boundaries. With this in mind, you could say that designs are made within the time boundaries, resource boundaries, expression (words, images, etc.) boundaries, target audience boundaries, and so on. These boundaries sometimes make the designers’ work easier to do, and other times the opposite. I’ll also point out that designs are made solely for monetary reasons, and arts aren’t; which leads to my initial point that one has boundaries and the other doesn’t, respectively.

Having said that, design and art do crossover each other a lot. They share many different technical aspects such as layouts and colour schemes, and they both have concepts (or deeply thought out ideas) behind them. Designers always make references to art pieces for inspirations or ideas.

Looking at it from a historical point of view, I agree that design originated from art. But as our ways to communicate through media is becoming more and more diverse, so has the role of design. Design is always at the forefront of the media industry where means of expression and needs of creative solution are continuously rising, especially with the emergence of the web. It is a field that has gone beyond the scope of being just a category of something, and is now a fully distinguished genre.