What is design?

22 Jul 2015

[Draft 21.07.15]

Design exists in different planes.

In the first instance, design is a tangible entity, and product of sorts, that is identifiable on textiles, motor vehicles, advertising, soft drinks and a plethora of items that surround us daily – sometimes they are the item, or they are part of the item and other times the are applied to the item.

Then there is the act or process of designing. This, in a way, is a considerably more interesting notion of design, for it represents how we think, collaborate, conceive, consider and deliver – it is our minds at work combined in a judicious and creative way. And to this, the question of how design happens is perplexing. I know well how to prepare for the action we call designing, and I can teach that readily (and have done so professionally in the past) – this includes disciplines such as research, drawing, typography, interpersonal skills, colour theory, finance, digital marketing and the list goes on – but that critical moment or series of moments that results in a design solution, the ‘aha’ moment for a project, is beyond learning – and that does not trouble me: design should remain mysterious and risky.

But the challenging existence of design is, well, existential – the embracing of design as a mindset. In this sense, design is a space of thinking, an expectation, even a philosophy, that drives existence. It can be almost spiritual, in a way. Clearly there are designers who live in this space, but when a client is able to do the same, either in an individual or organisational way, then there is a difference at hand, where design is working at its hardest. 

Therefore, grammatically, ‘design’ exists equally as a noun, verb and also an adjective –we all know which word types make our linguistic existence rich!