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A design is a plan or specification for the construction of an object or system or for the implementation of an activity or process, or the result of that plan or specification in the form of a prototype, product or process. The verb to design expresses the process of developing a design. In some cases, the direct construction of an object without an explicit prior plan (such as in craftwork, some engineering, coding, and graphic design) may also be considered to be a design activity. The design usually has to satisfy certain goals and constraints, may take into account aesthetic, functional, economic, or socio-political considerations, and is expected to interact with a certain environment. Major examples of designs include architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams, and sewing patterns. [1]


The person who produces a design is called a designer, which is a term generally used for people who work professionally in one of the various design areas—usually specifying which area is being dealt with (such as a fashion designer, product designer, web designer or interior designer), but also others such as architects and engineers. A designer's sequence of activities is called a design process, possibly using design methods. The process of creating a design can be brief (a quick sketch) or lengthy and complicated, involving considerable research, negotiation, reflection, modeling, interactive adjustment and re-design.

Design as a process

Substantial disagreement exists concerning how designers in many fields, whether amateur or professional, alone or in teams, produce designs. [2] Kees Dorst and Judith Dijkhuis, both designers themselves, argued that "there are many ways of describing design processes" and discussed "two basic and fundamentally different ways", [3] both of which have several names. The prevailing view has been called "the rational model", [4] "technical problem solving" [5] and "the reason-centric perspective". [6] The alternative view has been called "reflection-in-action", [5] "co-evolution", [7] and "the action-centric perspective". [6]

The rational model

The rational model was independently developed by Herbert A. Simon, [8] [9] an American scientist, and two German engineering design theorists, Gerhard Pahl and Wolfgang Beitz. [10] It posits that:

  1. Designers attempt to optimize a design candidate for known constraints and objectives.
  2. The design process is plan-driven.
  3. The design process is understood in terms of a discrete sequence of stages.

The rational model is based on a rationalist philosophy [4] and underlies the waterfall model, [11] systems development life cycle, [12] and much of the engineering design literature. [13] According to the rationalist philosophy, design is informed by research and knowledge in a predictable and controlled manner.

Example sequence of stages

Typical stages consistent with the rational model include the following:

Each stage has many associated best practices. [15]

Criticism of the rational model

The rational model has been widely criticized on two primary grounds:

  1. Designers do not work this way – extensive empirical evidence has demonstrated that designers do not act as the rational model suggests. [5] [6] [16]
  2. Unrealistic assumptions – goals are often unknown when a design project begins, and the requirements and constraints continue to change. [4] [17]

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. [6] It posits that:

  1. Designers use creativity and emotion to generate design candidates.
  2. The design process is improvised.
  3. No universal sequence of stages is apparent – analysis, design and implementation are contemporary and inextricably linked. [6]

The action-centric perspective is based on an empiricist philosophy and broadly consistent with the agile approach [18] and a methodical development. [19] Substantial empirical evidence supports the veracity of this perspective in describing the actions of real designers. [16] 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.

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 "evaluating 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. [5]

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". [6]

The concept of the design cycle is understood as a circular time structure, [20] which may start with the thinking of an idea, then expressing it by the use of visual 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. [21]

Philosophies of design

Philosophy of design is the study of definitions of design, and the assumptions, foundations, and implications of design. There are also countless informal or personal philosophies for guiding design as design values and its accompanying aspects within modern design vary, both between different schools of thought[ which? ] and among practicing designers. [22] Design philosophies are usually for determining design goals. In this sense, design philosophies are fundamental guiding principles that dictate how a designer approaches his/her practice. For example, reflections on material culture and environmental concerns (sustainable design) can guide a design philosophy.

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.

Some of these approaches include:


Design can broadly be applied to various fields such as art, engineering and production.

A terminal at Barajas airport in Madrid, Spain M-T4.jpg
A terminal at Barajas airport in Madrid, Spain

Design and art

Today, the term design is generally used for what was formerly called the applied arts. The new term, for a very old thing, was perhaps initiated by Raymond Loewy and teachings at the Bauhaus and Ulm School of Design in Germany during the 20th century.

The boundaries between art and design are blurred, largely due to a range of applications both for the term 'art' and the term 'design'. Applied arts can include industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, and the decorative arts which traditionally includes craft objects. In graphic arts (2D image making that ranges from photography to illustration), the distinction is often made between fine art and commercial art, based on the context within which the work is produced and how it is traded.

Some methods for creating work, such as employing intuition, are shared across the disciplines within the applied arts and fine art. Mark Getlein, writer, suggests the principles of design are "almost instinctive", "built-in", "natural", and part of "our sense of 'rightness'." [29] However, the intended application and context of the resulting works will vary greatly.

A drawing for a booster engine for steam locomotives. Engineering is applied to design, with emphasis on function and the utilization of mathematics and science. Booster-Layout.jpg
A drawing for a booster engine for steam locomotives. Engineering is applied to design, with emphasis on function and the utilization of mathematics and science.

Design and engineering

In engineering, design is a component of the process. Many overlapping methods and processes can be seen when comparing Product design, Industrial design and Engineering. The American Heritage Dictionary defines design as: "To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent," and "To formulate a plan", and defines engineering as: "The application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends such as the design, manufacture, and operation of efficient and economical structures, machines, processes, and systems.". [30] [31] Both are forms of problem-solving with a defined distinction being the application of "scientific and mathematical principles". The increasingly scientific focus of engineering in practice, however, has raised the importance of more new "human-centered" fields of design. [32] How much science is applied in a design is a question of what is considered "science". Along with the question of what is considered science, there is social science versus natural science. Scientists at Xerox PARC made the distinction of design versus engineering at "moving minds" versus "moving atoms" (probably in contradiction to the origin of term "engineering – engineer" from Latin "in genio" in meaning of a "genius" what assumes existence of a "mind" not of an "atom").

Jonathan Ive has received several awards for his design of Apple Inc. products like this MacBook. In some design fields, personal computers are also used for both design and production MacBook Pro, Late-2008.jpg
Jonathan Ive has received several awards for his design of Apple Inc. products like this MacBook. In some design fields, personal computers are also used for both design and production

Design and production

The relationship between design and production is one of planning and executing. In theory, the plan should anticipate and compensate for potential problems in the execution process. Design involves problem-solving and creativity. In contrast, production involves a routine or pre-planned process. A design may also be a mere plan that does not include a production or engineering processes although a working knowledge of such processes is usually expected of designers. In some cases, it may be unnecessary or impractical to expect a designer with a broad multidisciplinary knowledge required for such designs to also have a detailed specialized knowledge of how to produce the product.

Design and production are intertwined in many creative professional careers, meaning problem-solving is part of execution and the reverse. As the cost of rearrangement increases, the need for separating design from production increases as well. For example, a high-budget project, such as a skyscraper, requires separating (design) architecture from (production) construction. A Low-budget project, such as a locally printed office party invitation flyer, can be rearranged and printed dozens of times at the low cost of a few sheets of paper, few drops of ink, and less than one hour's pay of a desktop publisher.

This is not to say that production never involves problem-solving or creativity, nor that design always involves creativity. Designs are rarely perfect and are sometimes repetitive. The imperfection of a design may task a production position (e.g. production artist, construction worker) with utilizing creativity or problem-solving skills to compensate for what was overlooked in the design process. Likewise, a design may be a simple repetition (copy) of a known preexisting solution, requiring minimal, if any, creativity or problem-solving skills from the designer.

An example of a business workflow process using Business Process Model and Notation. BPMN-DiscussionCycle.jpg
An example of a business workflow process using Business Process Model and Notation.

Process design

"Process design" (in contrast to "design process" mentioned above) is to the planning of routine steps of a process aside from the expected result. Processes (in general) are treated as a product of design, not the method of design. The term originated with the industrial designing of chemical processes. With the increasing complexities of the information age, consultants and executives have found the term useful to describe the design of business processes as well as manufacturing processes. [33]

Design disciplines

See also

Related Research Articles

Creativity Phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed

Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible or a physical object.

Industrial design Process of design

Industrial design is a process of design applied to physical products that are to be manufactured by mass production. It is the creative act of determining and defining a product's form and features, which takes place in advance of the manufacture or production of the product. In contrast, manufacture consists purely of repeated, often automated, replication, while craft-based design is a process or approach in which the form of the product is determined by the product's creator largely concurrent with the act of its production.

TRIZ, literally: "theory of inventive problem solving " is “the next evolutionary step in creating an organized and systematic approach to problem solving. The development and improvement of products and technologies according to TRIZ are guided by the objective Laws of Engineering System Evolution. TRIZ Problem Solving Tools and Methods are based on them.” In another description, TRIZ is "a problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature". It was developed by the Soviet inventor and science-fiction author Genrich Altshuller (1926-1998) and his colleagues, beginning in 1946. In English the name is typically rendered as the theory of inventive problem solving, and occasionally goes by the English acronym TIPS.

Design research was originally constituted as primarily research into the process of design, developing from work in design methods, but the concept has been expanded to include research embedded within the process of design, including work concerned with the context of designing and research-based design practice. The concept retains a sense of generality, aimed at understanding and improving design processes and practices quite broadly, rather than developing domain-specific knowledge within any professional field of design.

Product design as a verb is to create a new product to be sold by a business to its customers. A very broad coefficient and effective generation and development of ideas through a process that leads to new products. Thus, it is a major aspect of new product development.

In planning and policy, a wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and "wicked" denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Another definition is "a problem whose social complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point". Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.

Human-centered computing (HCC) studies the design, development, and deployment of mixed-initiative human-computer systems. It is emerged from the convergence of multiple disciplines that are concerned both with understanding human beings and with the design of computational artifacts. Human-centered computing is closely related to human-computer interaction and information science. Human-centered computing is usually concerned with systems and practices of technology use while human-computer interaction is more focused on ergonomics and the usability of computing artifacts and information science is focused on practices surrounding the collection, manipulation, and use of information.

Computer-aided production engineering

Computer-aided production engineering (CAPE) is a relatively new and significant branch of engineering. Global manufacturing has changed the environment in which goods are produced. Meanwhile, the rapid development of electronics and communication technologies has required design and manufacturing to keep pace.

A concept of design science was introduced in 1957 by R. Buckminster Fuller who defined it as a systematic form of designing. He expanded on this concept in his World Design Science Decade proposal to the International Union of Architects in 1961. The term was later used by S. A. Gregory in the 1965 'The Design Method' Conference where he drew the distinction between scientific method and design method. Gregory was clear in his view that design was not a science and that design science referred to the scientific study of design. Herbert Simon in his 1968 Karl Taylor Compton lectures used and popularized these terms in his argument for the scientific study of the artificial. Over the intervening period the two uses of the term have co-mingled to the point where design science may have both meanings: a science of design and design as a science.

Design methods are procedures, techniques, aids, or tools for designing. They offer a number of different kinds of activities that a designer might use within an overall design process. Conventional procedures of design, such as drawing, can be regarded as design methods, but since the 1950s new procedures have been developed that are more usually grouped together under the name of "design methods". What design methods have in common is that they "are attempts to make public the hitherto private thinking of designers; to externalise the design process".

Design thinking is a term used to represent a set of cognitive, strategic and practical processes by which design concepts are developed. Many of the key concepts and aspects of design thinking have been identified through studies, across different design domains, of design cognition and design activity in both laboratory and natural contexts.

Social design is the application of design methodologies in order to tackle complex human issues, placing the social issues as the priority. Historically social design has been mindful of the designer's role and responsibility in society, and of the use of the design process to bring about social change. Social design as a discipline has been practiced primarily in two different models, as either the application of the Human Centered Design Methodology in the social sector or governmental sector, or sometimes is synonymously practiced by designers who venture into social entrepreneurship.

The engineering design process is a common series of steps that engineers use in creating functional products and processes. The process is highly iterative - parts of the process often need to be repeated many times before another can be entered - though the part(s) that get iterated and the number of such cycles in any given project may vary.

Outline of thought Overview of and topical guide to thought

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to thought (thinking):

Design science is a research paradigm focusing on the development and validation of prescriptive knowledge. Design science methodology refers to the research methodologies associated with this paradigm. It spans the methodologies of several research disciplines such as for example information technology, which offers specific guidelines for evaluation and iteration within research projects.

Human-centered design (HCD) is an approach to problem-solving commonly used in design and management frameworks that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Human involvement typically takes place in observing the problem within context, brainstorming, conceptualizing, developing, and implementing the solution.

C-K theory

C-K design theory or concept-knowledge theory is both a design theory and a theory of reasoning in design. It defines design reasoning as a logic of expansion processes, i.e. a logic that organizes the generation of unknown objects. The theory builds on several traditions of design theory, including systematic design, axiomatic design, creativity theories, general and formal design theories,. Claims made for C-K design theory include that it is the first design theory that:

  1. Offers a comprehensive formalization of design that is independent of any design domain or object
  2. Explains invention, creation, and discovery within the same framework and as design processes.

The Design Society is an international non-governmental, non-profit organisation with a focus on engineering design. The Design Society is a charitable body, registered in Scotland under the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, number SC 031694. The Design Society's flagship event is the biennial International Conference in Engineering Design (ICED).

Systems-oriented design (S.O.D.) uses system thinking in order to capture the complexity of systems addressed in design practice. The main mission of S.O.D. is to build the designers' own interpretation and implementation of systems thinking. S.O.D. aims at enabling systems thinking to fully benefit from design thinking and practice, and design thinking and practice to fully benefit from systems thinking. S.O.D. addresses design for human activity systems, and can be applied to any kind of design problem ranging from product design and interaction design, through architecture to decision making processes and policy design.

Design culture is an organizational culture focused on approaches that improve customer experiences through design. In every firm, the design is significant since it allows the company to understand users and their needs. Integration of design culture in any organisation aims at creating experiences that add value to their respective users. In general, design culture entails undertaking design as the forefront of every operation in the organisation, from strategy formulation to execution. Every organisation is responsible for ensuring a healthy design culture through the application of numerous strategies. For instance, an organisation should provide a platform that allows every stakeholder to engage in design recesses. Consequently, everyone needs to incorporate design thinking, which is associated with innovation and critical thinking.


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