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Working Definition: Designing is a process of developing implementable proposals to improve in the future the balance of a current perceived situation.


[Ger90]: design “is a process of the production of a description of an artefact that meets certain functional requirements (the brief).”

[Sim81]: ?Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.?

CDRN, 2006: “Design is the process of making proposals for change.”

[Ste92]: “…the division of labour between the system and the user.”

[Cha93]: “Engineering design[ing] can be considered a problem solving activity where a design problem and its solutions co-evolve.”

[AS92]: “…design [is] the continuous processing of information between and within different design domains.”

[Fre92]: “It is common now to treat the design process as falling into four stages: Analysis of problem, Conceptual design, Embodiment, Detailing.”

[SB93]: “…the development of any complex system or course of action…without an existing plan.”

  • “…a translation from one language to another…”

[BB94]: “The purpose of design is to produce knowledge about a designed object which can then be used to manufacture the object.”

[LW89a]: “…design can be seen as the transformation of functional requirements into a product which fulfils these requirements.”

[Cow93]: “Designing is: describing a new possibility, which is expected to allow the achievement of a preferred situation.”

Post to phd-design by Daniel Chambers, 12 June 2008: “Seeking differentiation through insight.”

  • See also a follow-up posting explaining the terms used.

Post to phd-design by Geoff Matthews, 13 June 2008: “the exploration for and specification of realizable possibilities for change in the material culture.”

Post to phd-design by Ian Rooney, 13 June 2008: “the adaptation of representation.”

Post to phd-design by Rosie Hornbuckle, 13 June 2008: “thinking creatively about problems.”

Post to phd-design by Neal Haslem, 14 June 2008: “Design is materialising our future-selves.

  • A few things about what this type of definition tries to cover:
    • inclusive; 'our'
    • plural; 'selves'
    • ontologically; what we design, designs us.
    • more implications than effecting 'realizable change'
    • greater designer agency than 'adaptation'
    • not necessarily (but hopefully) 'improving the human condition', 'innovative', 'insightful', 'differentiating', 'serving human beings', 'accomplishing human purpose', 'thoughtful'.”

Post to phd-design by Eduardo Corte Real, 17 June 2008: “To Design is the necessary and sufficient depiction of (a) feasible thing(s) to be. In consequence Design is the evidence in things of their previous depiction.”

Post to phd-design by Glenn Johnson, 18 June 2008: “design is an artistic act of exceptional engineering. everything else really harks back to the original def. used in the 50 and 60s.”

Post to phd-design by Eduardo Corte Real, 17 June 2008: “To Design is the necessary and sufficient depiction of (a) feasible thing(s) to be. In consequence Design is the evidence in things of their previous depiction.”

Post to phd-design by Terry Love, 20 June 2008: “The verb form of 'design' can be simply viewed as “to create 'a design'”.”

Post to phd-design by Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon, 21 June 2008: “To me, my intuitive notion of design is fairly clear: design is the deliberate development of some 'solution' that meets specific needs in a given context with an end in mind and an approach that is user- or needs-focused.”

  • “This definition of design can apply whether the design activity is in industrial engineering, software development, fashion, or business services. The solution need not be unique, there may be multiple valid solutions for any design context.”
  • “With this definition, design would not have to necessarily be creative or innovative. It could be an application of rational engineering know-how to produce a solution that meets a perceived or actual need, or be a highly creative and innovative effort that produces something new or reframes or combines elements in a new and unexpected way. But if it is not focused on some sort of need and design context it is not design.”

Post to phd-design by Jerry Diethelm, 22 June 2008: “To make a wish.”

Post to phd-design by Paul Osmond, 23 June 2008: “Design is a process of structuring relationships”. (Attributed to Ezio Manzini)

Post to phd-design by Ken Friedman, 25 June 2008: “I?d propose that design is a process of planning to create something new (or to reshape something that exists) to meet a need, to solve a problem or to transform a less desirable situation to a preferred situation.”

  • “For Fuller, the design process is a comprehensive sequence leading from teleology ? the goal or purpose toward which the process aims ? to practice and finally to regeneration. This last step, regeneration, creates a new stock of material on which the designer may again act. The specific terms may change for process design or services design. The essential concept remains the same. Fuller also used the term design science, though he used it in a different context than Simon did.”
  • “A designer is a thinker whose job it is to move from thought to action.”
  • “The nature of design as an integrative discipline places it at the intersection of several large fields. In one dimension, design is a field of thinking and pure research. In another, it is a field of practice and applied research. When applications are used to solve specific problems in a specific setting, it is a field of clinical research.”

Post to phd-design by Kathryn Simon, 27 June 2008: “I think this is really the work that designers do, organize collaborations-which is why it's often so funny that they get paid for their output (to design a product of some kind) when in fact they are organizing the way we'll think about something.”

Post to phd-design by Elizabeth Tunstall, 29 June 2008: “So with all that I've come to define design simply as “the act of translating human values into tangible experiences.” I know this defintion excludes “conceptual design” but my view is that if it is not something that I can experience through sensory perceptions (including extra-sensory perception for all the metaphysicists) then it just part of an incomplete process of designing.”

  • “The act of translating human values into tangible experiences” seeks to hybridize both the Herbert Simon-esque and craft/engineering based notions of designing. The discussion of translating values getting to Herbert Simon. The discussion of the principles and elements of designing getting to the translation to something tangible to people. The tangibility part is important because it has to hit people at both the emotional and rational levels.“
  • “It allows me to discuss with students and colleagues the relationship between values (from anthropology, ethics, and philosophy), design (from design research on the processes, tools, intentions, authorship, scale), and experience (again from anthropology, psychology, management science, etc). It allows me to discuss the distinctions and blurring boundaries with art and engineering, mostly having to do with intentions and experience. For example, one of the distinctions between art and design has to do with the tolerance for ambiguity of experience. Art tends to have more tolerance for ambiguity, which it perhaps tied to its human values regarding personal expression and the relative lack of transparency in meaning. Engineering, for me, tends to have less tolerance for ambiguity because of its value of precision, which is tied to methods of manufacturability.”

See Also

Design; Concept Design; Configuration Design; Engineering Design; Design theory, cognitive; Design theory, computational; Design science


[Sim81]. Herbert A. Simon (eds). 1981. The Sciences of the Artificial. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
[Cha93]. Amaresh Chakrabarti. 1993. Towards a Theory for Functional Reasoning in Design. In Proceedings of ICED 93, 9th International Conference on Engineering Design (ed. N. F. M. Roozenburg); Heurista, Zurich, Switzerland. pages 1-8.
[AS92]. Leonard D. Albano and Nam P. Suh. 1992. Axiomatic Approach to Structural Design. Research in Engineering Design, 4(3):171-183.
[Fre92]. Micheal Joseph French. 1992. The Opportunistic Route and the Role of Design Principles. Research in Engineering Design, 4(3):185-190.
[SB93]. Gerald F. Smith and Glenn J. Browne. 1993. Conceptual Foundations of Design Problem Solving. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, 23(5):1209-1218.
[BB94]. Marton E. Balazs and David C. Brown. 1994. The Use of Function, Structure, and Behavior in Design. Preprint of Workshop on Representing Function in Design, AID '94 #AIRG-MEB94-AID. Artificial Intelligence Research Group, Computer Science Department, Worchester Polytechnic Institute.
[LW89a]. W.J. Lee and T.C. Woo. 1989. Optimum selection of discrete tolerances. Trans ASME J of Mechanisms, Transmissions and Automation in Design, 111(2):243-252.
[Cow93]. Ross L. Cowie. 1993. A Modelling Framework for Designing. Master's Thesis; Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Ottawa-Carleton Institute for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and the School of Industrial Design.
design/designing.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)