What is design?

I sent many letters to ask the question ‘What is design’ and I received more than twenty letters. Some are from my teachers, some are from friends who study design and others are from ordinary beings. It is interesting to see some quite different answers and I divide them into three kinds and choose some representative views.

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(1)Design is a kind of communication.

‘Design is a way to show people what we think and what we would like people to know. As is known to all, through a product people can easily find out the main idea the designer wants to tell people. For example, an illustrator uses his work to tell stories to the public, and then all the readers will understand the world the illustrator wants to show.’——From my friend who is a Japanese illustrator


(2)Design is a way to improve people’s quality of life/enrich people’s life.

‘For me, what I would like to do is just help my customs to improve their quality of life. I hope all of my customs will speak highly of my work because my design makes them feel comfortable and confident. For this goal, I try my best to design clothes that are functional and suitable.’——From my tutor who teaches fashion design


(3)Design is a way to improve self-cultivation.

‘As a design, I need to keep working hard to absorb new knowledge. If I do not have enough knowledge, I cannot make good design. I spent several years travelling around the world and now I have accumulated enough experience and information. So I am sure I will become a better designer.’——From a design office leader


Beside, some students who are studying design in the university are confused because their teachers ask them just to follow some famous masters. And during practice they are asked to keep painting or keep photographing. And their friends also say ’Ah you are a designer. Can you design for me/draw for me? I think it is quite easy for you, right?’ So they complain to me ‘I hate design! I do not know what I can do. I think design is the most boring thing in the world! All my friends do not understand me!’ And I do not know how to comfort them TvT…

Art & Design

I was just listening to Radio 4‘s ‘Start the Week’ and heard a discussion on Art and Design with Andrew Marr and Antony Gormley, Christopher Frayling, Sarah Teasley and Ron Arad.

Interesting quote from one of the speakers:

“Design is for making life easier and Art is for making it more interesting and challenging.”

I don’t think that it is 100% correct. There are a lot of Design products that make life “more interesting and challenging.” However, I do think this is relevant for our discussions about the range of products between the expressive and the functional. Products which are more expressive, and closer to the ‘Art’ end of the spectrum, do make things more interesting because they are challenging. Objects which are closer to the functional end do “make life easier” – however a product at either end of the spectrum, done well: ‘Makes Life Better.’

When the speakers were discussing the future of art and design education someone brought up this quote from John Ruskin: “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.”

I think that the distinguishing feature between Art and Design here is the aspect of ‘Heart’ – essential in the Artist, but perhaps only a bonus in the Designer (at times we might end up designing things we are not passionate about?).

However the speaker went on to define the categories as: Head: the thinking and research that goes into making things (process), Hand: the craft of making or producing things (products) and Heart: as having your finger on the pulse of society (positioning/ people / progress / problems) So again it is essentially a different way of formulating our categories for what design is.

That last category is really hard to pin down in one term. I think it definitely relates to design as a social phenomenon, that exists in a social context, responds to social problems and is a social/ collaborative discipline… I am going to try and work it out some more today.


Some research

I asked a couple of designers and professionals in my home country of Malta the question of ”what is design?” This was their response via facebook. I’m happy I used facebook as the professionals started to debate between them as a result.

1) Gorg Mallia – Senior lecturer and head of department of Communications at University of Malta. Sent me this link – http://gorgmallia.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/an-essay-on-design/

2) Chris Jensen – Trained animator, freelance Illustrator and street artist.

3) Pawlu Mizzi – Graphic designer

4) Yanov Cutajar – Graphic designer and animator

5) Adrian Gauci – Student in graphic design

6) Steven Scicluna – Illustrator based in London

7) Julian Mallia – Painter, Illustrator, and graphic designer

8) Moira Zahra – Graphic designer and Media Lecturer


Here is an infographic I drew up to display the facebook conversation. Interesting? Confusing? Local minded? What do you think about the Maltese perspective?


What is Design interview

Here are some thoughts about what is design by different designers I asked:

“Design is game, refining, reviving everyday life, beautification of life, impressing, peak of the art, a combination of emotions, skills and contact. Design is the the skill of seeing things  in more impressive way. Power to show things in different angle. Design is causing a sense of grandeur.”

-Aleksandar Topic, graphic and fashion designer

“Design is a discipline which brings visual appeal of the product or identity, express certain characteristic, sends a message and represents product that is…”

-Milan Barbaric, graphic designer

“The idea, as starting point, doesn’t have it’s final form. On the road between idea and form, artist or designer has a great responsibility not to harm the crystallinity of idea, and at the same time to give it form which will show it in full splendor. Artists speak the language of metaphysics, designer speak language of life and experience. It is a great happiness to devote your life in refining things that are used in everyday life. Keep fine illustrated book in your hands, eat with nicely shaped spoon, drive a very comfortable and elegant car only raises energy and quality of life. All of this is idea- which is indestructible and eternal as the design itself”

-Marina Milanovic, illustrator and graphic designer

Ambition in ‘spinning’ process

Hello everybody!

Last meeting on Thursday, an ambitious proposal was brought up when Shalini showed a marvelous mechanical animation, which is produced after sliding a bar-printed acetate against a sheet of paper depicting shapes:

We planned then, to ‘reveal what is design’ literally, so the doors would have this particular print including the words ‘what’, ‘is’ and ‘design’, and the bars should be printed on one (or maybe more) round sides of the structure.

Here are some images that sketch an example of how our object should look.

This is just a sketch, but it shows the idea we discussed about presenting three defining concepts (like the three p’s), one on each door; we can also have three different hidden messages on each opposit side.

About the content, personally, I think we should pay attention to repeating words from definitions provided by Echo, such as: ‘form’, ‘aestethic-functional’, ‘perception’ and ‘emotion’ (sensibility), ‘people’ (concerned about, centered on). This way we can distinguish ‘design’ from other disciplines / professions. Such concepts can be presented as an image, like the dress on the sketch, with a title and a linking element to the next concept.

This way, we have an object that defines design as an instrinsecally ‘motionful’ process, which entails cycles of repetition (iterative), defined by three elements (and three hidden messages). At the same time it’s atractive and engaging.

We can also explore new ideas, give an interesting twist to existing ones, or construct them properly (specially the three concepts issue). Besides we can wait for more people to post the rest of design definitions and look for patterns.

The example of how the animation would work when spinning the doors, will be provided shortly, in the form of a video.

Interview feedback

Hello everyone, i got some feedbacks from the interview, i just translated them by myself, if there are some wrong in it, please let me know! Thank you! :D

[ Desingers or people who work/study in art ]


MSC, Fashion, design and luxury management,                                                         Grenoble Graduate School of Business

Fashion is your lifestyle. its super important to know and to be who u r. and then no matter what u do, is fashion.
Design is kind of creation. Creat trend and aesthetic for customers. Design is exclusive, luxury, gorgeous and art. But its also concern about popular, comfortable and to approach normal life. Design is 360 degree.



Now works in Microsoft (China), used to study of Fashion in BIFT

I felt that the design is reconfigurable, it is based on your perception of things, of course, it’s not entirely material. Then you need to arrange it and do some combinations, that is to say to give your work of your own thought and spirit, make it have you own unique personality.

Your final design has become a part of the perception of others, it can combine yourself wirh outside world, it will have another association and let people learn about your spirit.



BA, Fashion design, BIFT

Design is an unique statement on life. a choice from all possibilities. a combination of the form and the function. moreover, the one changes the world.



[ Not designer ]


Phd. Candidate,
Electrical Engineering;
Purdue University at West Lafayette

In my opinion, design could be either a kind of human activity or the product constructed during this activity.

The objective of the design is to deliver the emotion of the subject who is “designing”.
There is not constraint of the emotion to be delivered, e.g. it could be pleasant or anger or even a mixture of both.
Another attribute I am thinking of is that the subject conducting “design” should be spending time and effort on it.

The work/product of the design could be temporal or lasts for a long time.
Again, of course, there is no limitation of the form of the design. A valuable design could be clothing, software interface, or even skyscrapers.

I still got some feedbacks and i ll translate them later and post on our blog.

Hope these will help us to find out what is design!



BA, Maths&Eco, LSE

I think design is creation, having an idea make it happen. Some of them can make our life more easier.


I still got some feedbacks and i ll translate them later and post on our blog.

Hope these will help us to find out what is design!

Few considerations

Hello everybody!!

Just a thought about functional – aesthetic that is really bothering me…

Da Vinci designed a very interesting variety of machinery for battle. One example:

This is completely on the functional side. In fact he didn’t care about aesthetics at all. Is it still design?

And on the opposite extreme, I apolgize to my dear fashion classmates, but I just find pointless that some outfits are simply never going to be worn. What happens with functionality in these cases?


I also would like to share a link of a creative process, similar to a designer way of working, besides it’s brilliantly made, inspiring and fun:

In pursuit of a general definition

‘Design’ may embrace a whole range of meanings: nature –an organism is a complex efficient design-; or evolution, for example, is a continuous re-designing of life. So, why the need to define a specific definition? Maybe to provide a solid and secure framework in which we can proudly stand and say “I’m a designer, so I must be taken seriously”.

I can imagine different reactions if I told my mom I’m dating a charming pretender; if he was a doctor: ‘He must be a serious respectable man. Marry him!’; or a lawyer: ‘Don’t let him go!’; or a designer: ‘Hum… it’s ok darling; just remember, there are plenty of fish in the pond’.

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating things a bit, but there are similar impressions. I even received a comment from the CEO of a TV firm, something like: ‘How are those little drawings going?’. Am I detecting a certain disdain towards design here? What’s happening!?

Maybe we can get a clue by comparison. For instance, let’s think of the ‘subject of work’ for some respectable and solid professions: a scientist works with concepts; accountants, with numbers; and doctors, with people. But… designers? Ha! First conflict. Drawings? Garments? Metal? Colours? Ideas? I would definitely say: ‘forms’.

There’s a book called ‘Diseño: Estrategia y Táctica’ (‘Design: Strategy and Tactics’), from Luis Rodríguez Morales, in which he marvellously brings together all kinds of design processes in one sole definition: ‘configuration of form’. Just think about it: fashion, illustration, product and space design fit around such statement; even motion graphics.

However I think I would not convince many people with such a definition yet. Perhaps pointing out the outcome of the profession, continuing the previous analogy? A scientist produces theories; an accountant, reports; a doctor ‘produces’ health; and a designer, perceptions… Huzzah! There may be the problem. Perceptions are one of the most difficult things to measure. If you got the mistaken equation, the space rocket won’t launch; if you give the wrong medicine, your patient will die. But there’s not such objectivity regarding perception, as this is constructed from personal previous experiences.

There is never a hundred per cent certainty about the way a ‘design’ is going to be perceived, even if an ambitious marketing strategy for feedback is performed; which many firms won’t even bother to do. And even managers and final decision-makers may not come to an agreement.

Such situation makes me think that any degree of objectivity within the discipline should be rescued; to leave less room for discussion regarding the designer’s work, and promote the relevance and seriousness of the profession.

Therefore, in pursuit of a design definition, considering previous thoughts, I’d say: ‘Design is the configuration of any kind of form, in order to be perceived by each member of an audience in the most similar way possible’.

Maybe my mother would be happier this time if I date a designer? Or just confused? Anyway… Maybe there are some aspects that still need to be included, most probably the aesthetic – functional span topic, but I think it’s pointing a good direction.


Some ideas on process

I was just looking at the design council’s website and thought their ideas on ‘how designers design’ might be good for our section on process. They talk about the ‘double diamond’ and divide the design process into 4 distinct phases Discover > Define > Develop > Deliver.:

We could think about this as a framework for our illustrations on the process section – maybe with a more narrative and humorous concept  – could work in the style of the ‘how to lead a creative life’ image Shalini posted.

Thinking Outside the Box

Ha! Paradox. This person definitely thought ‘outside the box’, to come up with this. For those who don’t know, this blue box is the TARDIS, a time machine from a popular BBC series, Doctor Who. Its bigger on the inside! I just thought it was ironic and funny, since all of us are obsessed with thinking outside the box.

Postmodernity and Design

I completely agree with what Shalini has said – Design defies any singular definition – Although I think that the point about storytelling and communication is definately something we could explore.

This point about design being multifaceted and the notion of narrative actually links quite nicely with something I have been thinking about for a while: Design as being closely linked with the Postmodernity. Postmodernism’s relationship with design has been explored before – for example the recent exhibition at the V&A ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990′ which looked at the stylistic influence of post modern concerns such as ‘the vernacular, high and low culture, pop culture, nostalgia, parody, irony, pastiche, deconstruction, and the anti-aesthetic’ (Keedy 1998).

I thought this was a great exhibition in some ways – particularly it’s curation, however having some familiarity with Postmodern and Poststructural social theory, I feel that it missed an important element about the postmodern condition. Postmodernism is also a social theory, and with design being a social practice we can look at this underlying relationship rather than purely looking at is influence on style.

Lyotard’s description of the postmodern condition states: ‘I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.’ (Lyotard in Seidman, 1994:27) He was describing how in the post war era, the overarching, defining principles that had previously governed social discourses (social, political, philosophical, religious, aesthetic, academic etc) were fundamentally destabilised. The understanding of any ‘metanarratives’ (such as christianity, communism, fascism, liberalism) as legitimate were called into question. This notion did not begin in the post war era, Nietsche is considered to have laid the foundations for this way of thinking in the 1800s and it can be seen in the work of artists like Picasso and Cezane. However postmodernism in terms of an approach to social theory came to prominence and popularity in the 1960s.

In this particular article Lyotard was specifically exploring this concept in relation to science as this field as a metanarrative undermined many that went before (eg science ‘discredited’ religious thinking). In a social sense Science was the overarching way of making sense of the world that many still consider ‘legitimate’. However Lyotard wanted to demonstrate how even science could not claim legitimacy outside of the language games that it employs to construct itself and therefore was no different to any other metanarrative which should be fundamentally questioned.

Nigel Cross explores Design (with a capital ‘D’ as a discipline) in terms of forms of knowledge unique to the designer. He directly places Design as distinct from Science or Humanities. These more established disciplines have far more established sets of rules and ‘metanarratives’ which gave them legitimacy. As several of our tutors have remarked upon – Design is insecure because it is ‘young’ and perhaps because it doesn’t have the weight of grand narratives and a long history backing it up. Whilst design as a practice has been going on for as long as humans have existed Design as a discipline is far more recent.

Design does of course have sets of rules, principles, assumptions, knowledge and  language games and a relationship with power structures that can be deconstructed and questioned, as postmodern, subversive design of the 1970’s – 1990s explored. However I would argue that Design as a discipline has certain intrinsically postmodern attributes.

The postmodern condition states an end to metanarrative – which Design does not easily have, certainly not to the extent of the Humanities or Sciences. In terms of it’s values Design’s ‘concern for appropriateness’ is not as universalistic as the Science’s ‘concern for truth’ or Humanities ‘concern for justice’ (Cross 1995). In the quest for appropriateness it is already ‘locally determined’ (Lyotard in Seidman 1994: 27). Design deals with ‘ill-defined problems’ (Cross 1995:04) and is an ill-defined discipline. It is made up of overlapping micro-narratives or smaller disciplines which links with postmodern themes of hybridity and interdisciplinarity (Seidman 1994: 2). Another feature of postmodern thinking is to highlight the construction of identities in relation opposites or binaries. For example Arts and Humanities could be considered as the opposite of Science as they generally have opposite values, methods and intention. Design however does not easily sit in opposition to a discipline such as Art or Science. Its closest opposite is perhaps nature, as Design is necessarily man made. It is unflinchingly socially constructed. This in itself links with the postmodern understanding that everything is socially constructed and therefore should be deconstructed in order to question assumptions of legitimacy.

I’m not certain how useful any of this is in terms of providing a definition to ‘What is Design’. I’d be wary of trying to impose the statement ‘Design is Postmodern’. However as an area it brings up some interesting questions and possibilities.

Maybe because the discipline of ‘Design’ only began to be established and critically explored in the post-war era, it cannot help but be a product of the postmodern condition.

Art and Design

I found these two posters while prowling the internet:

This makes sense to me. The purpose of design is to get the message across. As for art, the artist may have a singular intent for making a piece of artwork, but it may be interpreted differently by the viewers.

So…Design, uh…yeah

I think this is going to be the hardest thing to do. Defining design is not easy, folks. This is mainly because there is never going to be one definition that says it all. Design doesn’t fit into universal mapping properties.

I came across so many statements about design, and I found myself agreeing with pretty much all of them, even when some contradicted each other!

I’ve avoided writing this post for so long, mainly because I don’t know what to write! But I have narrowed down on two possibilities: Design from the user’s point of view and Design from the designer’s point of view.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, good design makes the product shine and is in some cases not noticeable, because the designer has done a good job of it. But I feel like that’s only from the user’s perspective. A designer on the other hand may marvel at the genius and simplicity of the same design. The user of a product may not be too interested in the skill with which a designer has met his constraints.

Is it easier to define when broken up? What is Graphic Design? What is Communication Design? What is Exhibition Design? What is Packaging Design? In my opinion, yes. It’s easier to define these smaller yet still large components of design than try and define design as a broad concept.

About Wikipedia’s definition of design from Daniella’s post, it’s a laboured sentence, but it does seem to cover many areas. It seems to work as a general statement.

I found myself agreeing with this statement the most:                                                        “As far as I’m concerned, all design is storytelling. Brochures, websites, and books tell stories in a very familiar way; they have covers, chapters and pagers… even logo tell succinct moral tales. Thinking of design as an act of storytelling may help you focus your choices as you work.” – Chamli Tennakoon

This works, because design as an act of storytelling fits into the realms of design being a key tool for communication, and I find that thinking of design as storytelling does help me.

Hence, Design: because you can’t not communicate!


Before I start this post, I wanted to share this with you




I was rather intrigued, if not amused by this ”installation” piece by JULIAN CHARRIÈRE. Apparently pigeons were dyed with food dye and photographed. The pigeons are roaming about in the streets, so keep your eyes open for coloured birds!


I’ve been going through our reading list, keeping in mind the question ”What is Design”. A couple of statements stuck out more than others, so I made a list of them;

  •  ”Every problem has a structure of its own. Good design depends upon the designer’s ability to act accordingly to this structure and not to run arbitrarily counter to it” – Chermayeff & Alexander (1963) quoted from How Designers Think by Bryan Landon
  • ”There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence.” – Massimo Vignelli
  • ”The problem is that design is not one way of thinking, but two: it is a mix of creativity and analytical reasoning.” – quoted from Kees Dorst in Understanding design.
  • ”Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” – Joe Sparano
  • ”Design is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.” -Sir George Cox in the Cox Review, sourced from http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/about-design/What-design-is-and-why-it-matters/
  • ”Design is the search for a magical balance between business and art; art and craft; intuition and reason; concept and detail; playfulness and formality; client and designer; designer and printer; and printer and public.” – Valerie Pettis
  • And finally as every stereotypical student, I checked wikipedia;
    ”(noun) a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints;
    (verb, transitive) to create a design, in an environment (where the designer operates)” – wikipedia
    I do not generally use wikipedia as a source but I thought it would be interesting to check out, and it pretty much sums it up nicely.

I will keep making regular posts with additional quotes/ideas. Do feel free to discuss or debate ;)



Philosophical Warm-up

Hello everybody!

I was chatting with Ahmed from Turkey some weeks ago (he’s also from Graphic Design) and he told me: ‘I think design is as simple as this: creating ideas’.

I started thinking about the possibilities of such a definition and I remembered a scientific experiment by L. Blair and L. Watson in the 1970s. You may have heard of it before. It’s called “The hundredth monkey”.

Basically, there was this community of monkeys by the sea that were fond of sweet potatoes, which weren’t that tempting for eating while covered in sand. So a single monkey had this idea of washing the potatoes in the sea to get rid of the sand. Many monkeys started to copy it.

My question to you is: if design is about creating ideas, is this monkey doing design?

It can be interesting to think that design isn’t an activity found only in human performance.

Popular Lies* About Graphic Design

I came across some extracts from this book by designer, typographer and TED speaker, Craig Ward. It is “an attempt to debunk the various misconceptions, half truths and, in some cases, outright lies which permeate the industry of design.”

One that I thought was particularly relevant given some of the discussions around that special typeface we all seem to love to hate:

One part reads:

“To be clear, this is a typeface we’re talking about. A digital file. Not a murderer or some carcinogenic substance. And what’s worse, it is completely unjustified vilification. From the vitriol you read online you would be right in assuming this typeface offends designers more than any image of Third World poverty ever could.”

Food for thought…

Here are some other extracts:

The book is due to be published on December 1st and is available on pre-order from Amazon.


Eiffel Tower Scissors

I found this little scissors online, i think it is a good desgin, so i would like to show it to you guys.

It’s beautiful, it’s creative and it’s functional.

what do you think about it?

This picture almost won the most love in the another magazine. And the Cute Eiffel Tower Scissors are by Typo. They appear to be sold out online.