If you’re here because Wikipedia’s definition of design has left you with even more doubts than before, you’ve come to the right place.
When I first approached this world I was full of questions, but when I tried to find some answers on the web, they had definitely increased in number and volume.
Defining the concept and the field that design deals with is complex, no doubt, but today we’ll use some quotes from famous colleagues to go deep into the question and clarify our ideas.
What is Design?
Let’s start with a bit of history: conventionally, the designer’s profession began in the period of the second English industrial revolution, when the term first appeared with the meaning we give it today.
Achille Castiglioni, one of the most important Italian designers, is an exponent of the school of thought (embraced by many) according to which design has always existed, an activity born when human beings began to modify the environment around them. Correct!
The world around us has always been full of problems and objects, often anonymous, solving them in a brilliant way, supported by great design thinking: a light bulb, a pencil, a bicycle. So any object backed by a design thought is design…. or not?
According to another important designer, Gillo Dorfles, there are precise criteria for defining a design object:
- The artefact (physical or not) must be produced exclusively by industrial equipment;
- The artefact must be repeatable, always identical each time, hypothetically infinite times (iterability);
- Designability. The design product must be defined from the planning stage, unlike an artist or craftsman who can modify their work even at the end of the process.
In design, a change to be made after the planning process requires a big step back and the need, often, to start designing again from scratch, or almost.
Obviously, this concept was absolutely valid in the 60s (when Dorfles said these words), today with new technologies, one among all 3D printers, some things can relatively change, although the meaning remains the same.
Unfortunately, however, it’s not enough to just stick to these three rules to make a beautiful design product, that would be too simple.
For example, if we think of the word “design” we are reminded of a series of value aspects that are associated with the term (sometimes erroneously): aesthetics, originality, luxury…
Actually, this is not always true, a good design object can have a different aesthetic than the contemporary and popular one, it can be a redesign of an existing object and it might not be extremely expensive.
Considering what has been said so far, potentially everything can be “design” and this is precisely why there are so many specializations and areas (and a lot of confusion).
From bathroom furniture to cars, from wheelchairs to boats, from jewellery to tableware… Design is first and foremost about solving problems that occur during interaction with the world around us.
But design is also graphic design, for example, a universal language for communicating messages that can be understood by everyone, no matter what language they speak.
Design is also about improving, in many ways, our daily lives.
So it can be defined as a “container word”, which incorporates all the concepts we said that identify this wonderful profession.
Francesco Trabucco defines it as an “engine capable of orienting industrial choices within cultural itineraries”, directing the taste of the masses, of the current style.
It is an instrument of innovation (on many levels: expressive, linguistic, technological…) that is at the service of industry.
If at this point you’re still looking for a precise and concise definition, I’ll tell you that the only one that has so far agreed throughout the design world is the one given by the World Design Organization:
“Industrial design is a strategic problem-solving process that drives innovation, builds business success, and leads to a better quality of life through innovative products, systems, services, and experiences.
Industrial design bridges the gap between what is and what’s possible. It is a trans-disciplinary profession that harnesses creativity to resolve problems and co-create solutions with the intent of making a product, system, service, experience, or business, better.
At its heart, it provides a more optimistic way of looking at the future by reframing problems as opportunities. It links innovation, technology, research, business, and customers to provide new value and competitive advantage across economic, social, and environmental spheres.”
A lot of words.
Giovanni Klaus Koenig sums it up by saying “true design is only possible when there are strong interactions between scientific discovery, technological application, good planning, and positive social effect“.
In conclusion, design is a discipline that involves multiple fields within it: cultural, scientific, historical, technological, psychological… This is why you will find yourself working with different experts or exploring different fields.
It is the ability to solve the problems we face every day in an intelligent way, capable of improving our lifestyles. So you’ll need to be able to ask yourself the right questions before you look for the right solutions.
It is to understand and design, through the skills acquired through experience, in advance the potential of a project and bring them to their fullest expression even before the actual realization of the product.
Had you ever thought of it that way? What idea did you have, or still have about design?
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