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Designing as Planning

How is designing different from planning?

Definitions of planning:

  • “decide on and arrange in advance; make preparations for an anticipated event or time.” (dictionary)
  • “a process to determine goals and objectives and to devise the means by which they can be accomplished.” [Var01]
  • Thesaurus entries for planning include: “preparations, organization, arrangement, design.”
  • These are close to Simon's definition of designing (see the introduction of boundaries of designing and [Sim81]).

* Given designing as problem-solving, is designing also just a kind of planning.

While planning is close to designing, they are not identical.

  • While one usually plans for an eventuality, one designs to cause an eventuality.
  • The differences are therefore intent, its expectations for the future, and the extent of its conditional nature.

Example: the occurrence of an influenza pandemic.

  • In the planning perspective, the direct artifact (a plan) is implemented only if the pandemic occurs.
    • From the point of view of the plan, the pandemic's occurrence is a certainty.
  • In the designing perspective, the direct artifact (a design) is implemented to cause an eventuality – for example, to prevent the pandemic, or to limit deaths.
    • The occurrence of neither the pandemic nor the designers' intent is certain.

This may all seem like splitting hairs.

  • The result in either case is the same: the design is the plan, and the overall processes used under both perspectives will likely be very similar.
  • Planning and designing could be confounded.

The difference is the nature of the underlying assumptions.

  • In designing, there is more and different uncertainty of the eventualities on which the act is focused.
  • One is entirely focused on getting as close to the desired end-point as possible.

Note: “a design as a plan” highlights that the design is more than just a rendering, a CAD model, or a market study.

  • If the designed product is a vehicle of beneficial change, then the design must include all this information and more.
    • It must include everything needed to implement the intended change, not only the artifact to be used to bring the change about.

The difference between planning and designing impacts on the certainty of the process by which planning (or designing) occurs.

  • Given the assumed certainty of the eventuality, planning processes can be more definitely specified.
    • Design processes, must be more adaptable and flexible, because one is only increasingly sure of the target as one takes successful steps toward it [Ged98].

Therefore, a metric to distinguish between planning and designing is the degree of certainty assumed of the outcome, target, or eventuality for which it is being planned/designed.

See Also


[Sim81]. Herbert A. Simon (eds). 1981. The Sciences of the Artificial. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
[Ged98]. H. Gedenryd. 1998. How Designers Work. Making Sense of Authentic Cognitive Activities. PhD Thesis. Lund University Cognitive Studies #75. Lund, Sweden: Lund University. (link)
research/designing_as_planning.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)