Design is Design is Design is Design

The whole difficulty in my quest to define design is driven by the difference between an objective definition of design and my own personal one. I can read and find an expanse of definitions written by great minds from across history and within contemporary circles. To name just two…

Construction [Engineering]: Thats for making things hold together; Architecture [Design]: thats for stirring emotion. Architectural emotion: that’s when the work resounds inside us in tune with a universe whose laws we are subject to, recognize, and admire. — Le Corbusier Toward a New Architecture
As a way of working and thinking, design sits between the two poles of science, which observes the facts of the material world, and the humanities, which interprets the complexities of human experience. Design takes a middle path and is primarily concerned with appropriateness, understood as that fragile quality which is achieved when the best of human intentions are realized within the constraints of reality. Design is a culture that blends the concerns of science and the humanities to search for outcomes that are balanced and opportunistic, grounded in the real world but driven by human aspirations. It is equally concerned with probing the limits of our current reality as it is with making new realities possible.” — Recipes for Systemic Change by Boyer, Cook and Steinberg

…these are incredibly inspiring and informative and yet they cannot capture all of the facets that I believe design to be. Now, before going any further, I want to acknowledge that I do not believe design to be undefinable. As mentioned above, there are well qualified minds out there who have given design a clear identity within our current society. I do not assume that role here. Rather this is an opportunity for me to determine my individual strain of design within the larger, understood, context.

To formulate my own definition, I first accumulated a set of action words that describe a design process. Hence, the practice of design can be summed up by a combination of a few, or all of the below:

  1. reframing variables
  2. problem solving
  3. empathy/ human understanding
  4. making (to synthesize)
  5. making (to communicate)
  6. making (to make beautiful)
  7. story telling
  8. abstracting

Next, I sought to determine my purpose for designing. Purpose is found in the subject and impact of my designs. So, if I were to design something right now, it would be something that reveals/unlocks humans’ potential, OR engages humans’ creativity. I am passionate about living and a full, rich, growth-infused lifestyle. As a result I hope that my contribution to design can involve a process of building and growing vibrant life in people.

Finally, I listened. Through the voices and thoughts of my pretty amazing classmates I picked up some pretty inspiring ideas. Simply short snippets of half-realized definitions, this is what I heard:

human behavior and emotion

goals within human context (are there distinctions to these goals?)

is design defined by outcome, process, or problem?

priorities and concerns

curated experience

beauty in context = power

appropriate, fitting, sublime

designerly initiative

moving money/ exchanging value

money affords choices (choices to say no)

aesthetic is to thesis vs. thesis is to aesthetic

spreading of an idea in concrete form

telling vs. understanding a story

order where there is none

Most of these phrases are still bouncing around in my mind as I wonder which are the most important to my own definition of design. Taking all of these things into account; the current definitions of, the actions associated with, the purpose behind, and inspiration surrounding design, I - roughly -identify design by the following.

Design acknowledges or reframes contextual variables allowing human values and behaviors to respond.

I know this sentence could change 6 times before the end of the week but for now, I will keep it at that.

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