Design | Definitions


This morning there was a fantastic debate held as part of the DRS 2014. What struck me during the debate, but especially during the following comments/questions from the audience, was the importance of defining our terms.

Members in the audience came from a diversity of design disciplines (interaction, graphic, architecture, engineering, product, industrial, and others) and, speaking at least for interaction design, and maybe there are disparate intradisciplinary discourses surrounding the meaning of design and its implications for research and practice. When we come together to talk about an umbrella term that seemingly unites us, it seems to me that it is incumbent upon us to at least acknowledge that we bring a diversity of understandings of design as well as what it means to be a designer.

Is the professions definition of a designer different than the philosophical definition? If so, how? And if not, why not? These are important questions if we’re debating the future of design and the role of the designer. What is the nature of the object of debate?

What does it mean for design to become more important? What does it mean to say that designers are going to become less important? I suggest that before we answer these questions, we have to define our terms.

Defining terms creates the common ground atop which we might enter into more constructive debate.

This should not be taken as an indictment of this morning’s proceedings. Clive Dilnot and Anna Rosling-Ronnlund presented wonderful arguments in favor of and against, respectively, the claim that design will become more important in the future while designers will become less so.

Their debate incited wonderful questions and comments from the audience, and it was clear (at least from the informal hand-raising poll at the end of the debate) that thinking had been challenged and minds changed by the event.

Thanks to the DRS for organizing such an engaging conference programme.

ADDENDUM: In light of a discussion at lunch with Clive and Aseem Inam, I want to add that I’m not advocating for a universal definition of design. I’m advocating for defining our terms explicitly such that our readers, listeners, allies, and opponents (in debate) are in a better position to evaluate our contributions, whatever form they may take.

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