What design is versus what design was

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Aaron at Product Behaviour contributes to an age-old discussion:

What is ‘design,’ anyway? Is it the ability to draw stuff? Is it the ability to cobble together a mechanism? Those may be part of it, but they miss the real point. Design is how you decide what to draw, and what to cobble together.


The project teams are made up of smart people with widely varying backgrounds. They’re capable of analyzing the situation in the field, coming up with solutions, building and testing prototypes. What they need help with, in the end, is making decisions: filtering the requirements; rating the criteria for a ‘good’ solution; knowing when to stay within the paradigm of current solutions to a problem and when to develop completely new technology.

Those are the things ‘professional’ designers really do. The technical skills are important, sure, but it’s decision-making that separates an OK solution to a problem from a great solution.

(Via Product Behavior.)

This ties in to previous posts here, and to the thinking at the New Views 2 conference. Design, at university certainly, shouldn’t be focused solely on ‘skills’ as traditionally perceived (life drawing, typography, pattern cutting etc) but on ‘higher skills’ (strategy, decision making, analysis), and the design industry should be employing graduates in roles that use those higher skills.

Unfortunately, look at any issue of Design Week or Creative Review, or look at the D&AD student awards, and you see higher skills almost completely ignored in favour of technique and aesthetics. And this drives what design courses try to achieve, meaning that what design is, as defined above, gets shoved out in favour of what design was.

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