Design as...: Thinking of What Design Might Be
In this speculative paper, we will consider the question "What is Design?" Instead of a compositional perspective (defining design by its constituents), we will take a qualitative comparative approach, of designing with respect to other phenomena, to illuminate their boundaries. Obviously, these boundaries are not crisp; they ought never be so. Still, learning more about them can help us understand design without requiring their crisp prescription. One may draw the analogy to a jigsaw puzzle: design is the missing piece; to understand its shape (and thus find the piece), we look at the hole in the puzzle, the boundary with other phenomena (jigsaw pieces). For each phenomenon considered, we will use typical, "common sense" dictionary definitions, to help keep the arguments broadly relevant. We will then consider how designing is like and unlike the phenomenon, thereby illuminating the nature of the boundary between it and design. The specific phenomena we will consider include: problem solving, planning, creativity, synthesis, and naturally evolved human ability. In exploring the boundaries between designing and these other phenomena, we seek to illuminate where design stops and those other phenomena begin thereby helping to "define" design. While no clearcut answers result in this paper, we hope that by stimulating further thought and discussion, a more sophisticated and richer understanding of design will eventually result.
Journal of Design Principles and Practices, 1:1(19-28), 2007.