Chapter 9: Design
Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object, system or measurable human interaction (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams, and sewing patterns). Design has different connotations in different fields (see design disciplines below). In some cases, the direct construction of an object (as in pottery, engineering, management, coding, and graphic design) is also considered to be design.
Designing often necessitates considering the aesthetic, functional, economic, and sociopolitical dimensions of both the design object and design process. It may involve considerable research, thought, modeling, interactive adjustment, and re-design. Meanwhile, diverse kinds of objects may be designed, including clothing, graphical user interfaces, skyscrapers, corporate identities, business processes, and even methods of designing.
Thus “design” may be a substantive referring to a categorical abstraction of a created thing or things (the design of something), or a verb for the process of creation, as is made clear by grammatical context.
Design as a process
Substantial disagreement exists concerning how designers in many fields, whether amateur or professional, alone or in teams, produce designs. Dorst and Dijkhuis argued that “there are many ways of describing design processes” and discussed “two basic and fundamentally different ways”, both of which have several names. The prevailing view has been called “The Rational Model”, “Technical Problem Solving” and “The Reason-Centric Perspective”. The alternative view has been called “Reflection-in-Action”, “Evolutionary Design”, “co-evolution”, and “The Action-Centric Perspective”.
The Rational Model
- designers attempt to optimize a design candidate for known constraints and objectives,
- the design process is plan-driven,
- the design process is understood in terms of a discrete sequence of stages.
The Rational Model is based on a rationalist philosophy and underlies the waterfall model, systems development life cycle, and much of the engineering design literature. According to the rationalist philosophy, design is informed by research and knowledge in a predictable and controlled manner. Technical rationality is at the center of the process.
Example sequence of stages
Typical stages consistent with The Rational Model include the following.
- Pre-production design
- Design brief or Parti pris – an early (often the beginning) statement of design goals
- Analysis – analysis of current design goals
- Research – investigating similar design solutions in the field or related topics
- Specification – specifying requirements of a design solution for a product (product design specification) or service.
- Problem solving – conceptualizing and documenting design solutions
- Presentation – presenting design solutions
- Design during production
- Post-production design feedback for future designs
- Redesign – any or all stages in the design process repeated (with corrections made) at any time before, during, or after production.
Criticism of the Rational Model
The Rational Model has been widely criticized on two primary grounds
- Designers do not work this way – extensive empirical evidence has demonstrated that designers do not act as the rational model suggests.
- Unrealistic assumptions – goals are often unknown when a design project begins, and the requirements and constraints continue to change.
The Action-Centric Model
The Action-Centric Perspective is a label given to a collection of interrelated concepts, which are antithetical to The Rational Model. It posits that:
- designers use creativity and emotion to generate design candidates,
- the design process is improvised,
- no universal sequence of stages is apparent – analysis, design and implementation are contemporary and inextricably linked
The Action-Centric Perspective is based on an empiricist philosophy and broadly consistent with the Agile approach and amethodical development. Substantial empirical evidence supports the veracity of this perspective in describing the actions of real designers. Like the Rational Model, the Action-Centric model sees design as informed by research and knowledge. However, research and knowledge are brought into the design process through the judgment and common sense of designers – by designers “thinking on their feet” – more than through the predictable and controlled process stipulated by the Rational Model. Designers’ context-dependent experience and professional judgment take center stage more than technical rationality.
Descriptions of design activities
At least two views of design activity are consistent with the Action-Centric Perspective. Both involve three basic activities.
In the Reflection-in-Action paradigm, designers alternate between “framing“, “making moves”, and “evaluate moves.” “Framing” refers to conceptualizing the problem, i.e., defining goals and objectives. A “move” is a tentative design decision. The evaluation process may lead to further moves in the design.
In the Sensemaking-Coevolution-Implementation Framework, designers alternate between its three titular activities. Sensemaking includes both framing and evaluating moves. Implementation is the process of constructing the design object. Coevolution is “the process where the design agent simultaneously refines its mental picture of the design object based on its mental picture of the context, and vice versa.”
The concept of the Design Cycle is understood as a circular time structure, which may start with the thinking of an idea, then expressing it by the use of visual and/or verbal means of communication (design tools), the sharing and perceiving of the expressed idea, and finally starting a new cycle with the critical rethinking of the perceived idea. Anderson points out that this concept emphasizes the importance of the means of expression, which at the same time are means of perception of any design ideas.
Approaches to design
A design approach is a general philosophy that may or may not include a guide for specific methods. Some are to guide the overall goal of the design. Other approaches are to guide the tendencies of the designer. A combination of approaches may be used if they don’t conflict.
Some popular approaches include:
- Socio-Technical System design a philosophy and tools for participative designing of work arrangements and supporting processes – for organizational purpose, quality, safety, economics and customer requirements in core work processes, the quality of peoples experience at work and the needs of society
- KISS principle, (Keep it Simple Stupid), which strives to eliminate unnecessary complications.
- There is more than one way to do it (TIMTOWTDI), a philosophy to allow multiple methods of doing the same thing.
- Use-centered design, which focuses on the goals and tasks associated with the use of the artifact, rather than focusing on the end user.
- User-centered design, which focuses on the needs, wants, and limitations of the end user of the designed artifact.
- Critical design uses designed artifacts as an embodied critique or commentary on existing values, morals, and practices in a culture.
- Service design designing or organizing the experience around a product, the service associated with a product’s use.
- Transgenerational design, the practice of making products and environments compatible with those physical and sensory impairments associated with human aging, which limit major activities of daily living.
- Speculative design, the speculative design process doesn’t necessarily define a specific problem to solve, but establishes a provocative starting point from which a design process emerges. The result is an evolution of fluctuating iteration and reflection using designed objects to provoke questions and stimulate discussion in academic and research settings.
Methods of designing
Design methods is a broad area that focuses on:
- Exploring possibilities and constraints by focusing critical thinking skills to research and define problem spaces for existing products or services—or the creation of new categories; (see also Brainstorming)
- Redefining the specifications of design solutions which can lead to better guidelines for traditional design activities (graphic, industrial, architectural, etc.);
- Managing the process of exploring, defining, creating artifacts continually over time
- Prototyping possible scenarios, or solutions that incrementally or significantly improve the inherited situation
- Trendspotting; understanding the trend process.