What is Design?

24 May 2013 by Graham Morehead, posted in culture, human learning

Design is an abstraction. It is both visual and functional. It can take on a slightly different flavor depending on context, just like soy beans.

The people who designed your nuclear reactor are not the same people who designed your favorite font. You can design a disaster recovery plan, and you can design an electric toothbrush. Do these skillsets have anything in common? Someone seems to think so. Design itself is a subject to study. There are design classes springing up everywhere. Stanford even has a new institute dedicated to it, called the Institute of Design at Stanford, or "d.school."

Here is one definition:
de·sign, /dəˈzīn/, Noun, A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made.

The definition of design is expanding.

In high school, one of my three best friends lived in a house designed by Walter Gropius, founder of the German Bauhaus movement. I like Gropius' definition better:

Design: "broadly embraces the whole orbit of man-made, visible surroundings, from simple everyday goods to the complex pattern of a whole town."

Design is everywhere and it is inextricably linked to our culture and experience. I see it everywhere, not just in the obvious places such as architecture and fashion.

A friend of mine studied Theoretical Architecture at Harvard (yes that exists). His biggest takeaway was that typical American architecture is designed to intimidate you. It's meant to make you feel small. I often feel in awe as I walk through a city like New York. I do feel small. In contrast, I feel remarkably happy as I walk though an old European city. Medieval and baroque structures lift my spirits.

I endeavor to develop technology that is designed for human connection, design to empower us, and designed to be beautiful.

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