What is Design?

Being a designer is both a profession and a way of life. Design intersects with philosophy, religion, and science. The word "design" has been defined in the following ways:

  1. Design is that it is the art of planning.
  2. "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." —Steve Jobs
  3. "Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones." —Economist Herbert Simon
  4. "Design is the art of considered creation." —Google Design Guidelines

My own definition of design is the following: 

“Design is the intentional creation of order and meaning.”

Human activity can be divided into two categories. Intentional and non-intentional. Intention implies purpose and deliberation. Design is distinguished by being more purposeful and deliberative than most other human activities.

Everything is created twice; first mentally; then physically. Designing something well involves deep spiritual and mental activity combined with turning that activity into a physical or digital reality. One's capacity to create something physically is limited by one's capacity to create something mentally. 

The activity of intentionally creating things mentally is not wholly separate from the activity of creating things physically. One's capacity to understand their own goals and purposes is enhanced during the process of creating things physically. In other words, design requires that one begin with an end in mind, but as one works toward those ends, a sense of possibility helps those ends more clearly take shape. For example, when I sit down to write my thoughts, I have an idea of what I want to write, but during the process of writing, I gain greater clarity about what I was writing.

Order and meaning only exist relative to conscious beings. In other words, order and meaning do not exist independently of consciousness. Good designers create well-designed objects and experiences by understanding consciousness and human nature. For example, when designing a knife, a good designer will deeply consider the function and purposes of a knife. She will ask, "What is the essence of a knife?" and, "How will people use this knife?" A well-designed knife will not only perform its function well, it will feel good to hold in a person's hand. Its form will be pleasing to look at. It will have meaning because of some story about the knife and how it was produced, or it will have meaning because of the special activities where the knife will be used, such as a family dinner.