Four Definitions of Design

Sonja Sarah Porter has self researched in the topic of design and presented her understanding of what is design? She has explored various field and topics and wonderfully. The author believes that when you consider them together, a greater picture starts to form.

“It’s a fan!” says one blind man, feeling the wind off the elephant’s ears. “No, it’s definitely a rope,” says another, feeling the slender length of the elephant’s tail. “You’re all mistaken,” says yet another near the tusk, “This is definitely a spear…”
“It’s a fan!” says one blind man, feeling the wind off the elephant’s ears. “No, it’s definitely a rope,” says another, feeling the slender length of the elephant’s tail. “You’re all mistaken,” says yet another near the tusk, “This is definitely a spear…”

You’ve got this. Your colleague just opened up for the ultimate discussion: “Can you explain this ‘design’ thing to me?” You’ve waited a long time for this moment, biting your tongue every time your whole field is reduced to “making it pretty”. After many years of study and hard work you know what this design thing is now, right? Yet the words escape you, and all those perfect quotes you found online just don’t seem to cut it. You may fall back to describing the value of design, but describing exactly what design is… that’s harder.


There is an ancient Indian proverb about the blind men and the elephant. The men have never seen an elephant before, and when one is placed in front of them each starts experiencing a different part of the elephant…


And so on and so forth. The proverb is often used to illustrate how good we are at claiming absolute truth based on our own limited experiences, while dismissing the truths of others. I find this idea of multiple truths interesting in the pursuit of defining something so complex as design. In researching for this article, I found a variety of approaches to describing design where the perspective, context, and the goals of the author vary. Many designers have attempted to describe design in a simple elevator pitch, yet these simple descriptions only describe a part of the beast. But consider them together, and a greater picture starts to form.


The following are four of the many useful descriptions of design:


1. The design curriculum

Perhaps the most straight-forward way of describing design would be the way it was described to the designer — through their education. Though design training varies, there are some common themes:


Project-based learning

Most design schools have a focus on learning design by doing design. It is a hands-on major where students learn by model projects requiring them frame the challenge, ideate and present designs, then receive and give feedback through “Critiques”.


Methodology

Techniques for generating and exploring numerous concepts, then methodically narrowing down to the best solution.


Insight, research and co-creation

Designers are taught that the answer always lies with the user. By learning interview techniques, co-creation, facilitation and mapping techniques, designers grow their empathy for users and train to move past their own assumptions and biases.


Storytelling

Humans respond best to stories — it is how we naturally process and store information. Designers learn to harness this both in text, user flows and to sell concepts.


The building blocks of visual communication

How can shape, line, color, and type affect how we receive and respond to a visual message? How can one lead the eye through a composition, or create different feelings through visual elements?