What is design? How can design help me communicate clearly, persuasively? Review research and scholarship on design. Learn to use design thinking to develop texts, products, and services.
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What is Design?

Design, most conventionally, is how something looks or works.

More broadly, design is conceived of as

  1. an interdisciplinary field of study, a discourse community, subsuming the arts, engineering, sciences, and humanities
  2. a way of thinking, a method for developing applications, products, and services
  3. a semiotic process, a way to communicate with others, that visual language
  4. a catechism, a set of assumptions informed by epistemologies, anecdotal practices, informal research, and research (see Design Principles)
  5. a curriculum, a sequence of topics including Accommodations, Aesthetics (see Design Principles, Information Architecture, Information Design, Usability.

Designers work in a variety of roles in the design field, including graphic design, product design, user-experience design, advertising, and fashion. Writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . engage in design when they use visual language to inform or persuade audiences.

Design is a complex, somewhat opaque concept that means different things to different users and discourse communities.

  • For engineers, the term design may be used synonymously with sketch, draft, or create or with the act of making a plan for the manufacture of a product.
  • For graphic artists, design may refer to the act of writing copy, editing photographs, and designing data visualizations by writing sequel server queries.
  • For production designers on a movie set, design may be the props, costumes, graphics used for a particular scene in a movie.
  • For writers, design is reflected in the writer’s choice of media, design elements and adherence to or departure from design principles as well as linguistic elements (Style, especially Diction, Tone).

Design is a Method

“Design is a fun word. Some people think design means how it looks.
But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” 

Steve Jobs

Design is a way of thinking, a way of solving problems, and a way of developing solutions for particular users/audiences in particular rhetorical situations,

Design Thinking is a method for developing applications, instruments, prototypes, products, and services. It is a human-centered, empirical research method that employs user-centric methods (e.g., customer discovery interviews, focus groups, usability studies) to solve problems and develop products and applications that people want.

Design is a Signifier of Identity

People, as you know, disagree about style. What some folks might consider cool, others might consider absurd.

As individuals and communities engage in ongoing scholarly conversations about topics, they develop a design that is unique to their purpose and identify. Thus, over time, some individuals, groups, organizations, countries (and so on) are known by their designs. In business, companies spend small fortunes on defining their brand, which includes stylistic issues such as templates for company texts.

Designs can be expressed in a variety of mediums, a variety of canvasses:

  • the painter works with oils on cloth canvas
  • the videographer works with Adobe Creative Cloud
  • the architect, engineer, and construction professional works with AutoCAD.

Design can be a way of classifying a material item. For instance, you might say a building has a Victorian style or an Islamic style. Or you could say someone typically dresses in a business casual style, a street style, or dress techie chic.

[ Semiotics: Sign, Signifier, Signified ]

Design is a Social Construct

Design is a social, historical construct rooted in art, culture & technology. Different cultures and different time periods have distinct conceptions of aesthetics, data visualization, information architecture, and information design.

Design is an Academic Field of Study

Over time user communities cluster around designs, interpretations of designs, and reoccuring rhetorical situations (see Genre). Professional, business, and academic communities form around design methods, design thinking, and design styles.

[ Edit for Design ]

Some Great Books on Design

  1. Cooper, A., Reimann, R., Cronin, D., & Noessel, C. (2014). About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design (4th ed.). Wiley.
  2. Krug, S. (2013). Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3rd ed.). New Riders.
  3. Norman, D. (2013). The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition. Basic Books.
  4. Williams, R. (2014). Non-Designer’s Design Book (4th ed.). Peachpit Press.

Related Concepts:

Composition; Composing Processes; Design Thinking; Gestalt; Information Design