How Should We Define “Design”?

How Should We Define “Design”? by Gardi Amit

1. Is there truly a “new design” phenomenon?
2. Is any idea, whether it’s an initiative for social progress or a clever way to market movies, enough to be declared a work of design?
3. Can a construct such as a “process,” “business plan” or a “system” be work of design?
4. Lastly, are these metaphysical constructs always design or is there a threshold of beauty, a rigorous process, or another quality standard that must be met for something to be considered a design? In other words, is a ‘business plan’ always a form of “new design” or does it have to involve some level of good, “old fashioned” design to be considered more than an ordinary business plan? And, if the latter, what are the requisite elements that would distinguish one from the other?

5 Comments leave a comment below

  1. I always thought it meant “remove the sign.”

  2. Processes are indeed works of design. Design can be purely functional, and a process is often that, but sometimes a process is developed with a certain beautiful symmetry or flow (often intentionally). Processes, like all designs, endure both good and bad conceptualization and implementation.

    In general, I associate intent and some level of pre-visualization as prerequisites for the word “design.” There is a distinct difference between “design” and “beauty.” A tree in the woods may be beautiful, but it is not designed. Design requires some level of intervention.

  3. And is selection design?
    When I choose the cutest puppy it seems merely selection. When I breed the cutest puppy from each subsequent litter does this process somewhere along the line become design?
    We can now create stuff without conscious intervention, using genetic and other algorithmic means. Is the desire to create design?
    The labels are getting fuzzy.

  4. Some of these comments on Amit’s page say that design is something new and better. Does that mean design only exists in the present and never in the past?

    I have always felt that everything is designed, whether it is intentional or not. When a 4th grader takes notes on a wide ruled piece of paper, they are designing the page. When you set your table for dinner with the family, you are designing. When you walk down the street you are designing a route to walk in.

    Maybe a tree in the forest isn’t designed. Or maybe it is… I would argue that both evolution and the limitations of the tree’s resources affected the way it has grown. And so it has been designed. There are reasons as to why it looks the way it does. And why it is beautiful. If there were not reasons to why a tree was beautiful I would say it is not design, but instead decoration.

  5. Well, I meant to use the “tree in the forest” metaphor as an abstract example of a process that occurred without human intervention, but the presence of which is nonetheless beautiful.

    @Walt – good rebuttal and I wouldn’t argue that there needs to be a hard line between what is and is not design, or what is and is not art. Reductionism will always blur the distinction of what is and what is not. I suppose I personally like to think that design involves intervention by a willful entity, whether it be a spider spinning a web, or a human laying out a grid.