When do we talk about something as “design”?

Behind all “design” is a professionally titled designer?

Indeed, design jobs do not require professional certification, unlike fields like architecture or engineering. While design can be studied in colleges and universities, a solid portfolio can land a design job without a matching degree.

Does our view of “product” challenge what is design?

The ongoing expansion of the design field might seem like a puzzling factor in understanding when something is “design.” For example, a few of my former classmates and colleagues — all professionals from various design disciplines — have questioned the “design-ness” of some emerging design approaches. For instance, calling service design “more something like business” and “not design practice because it does not result in anything tangible.”

Table of the cultural transition from modernism to constructivism. The modernist culture has viewed things as ‘found’ and design limited to professionals. The constructivist culture recognizes a reality where things are ‘made’ and therefore everything is redesignable. Design is part of every area of social life. (Krippendorff, 2000)
Transition from a modernist culture towards constructivism (Krippendorff, 2000). Image by the author.

Design of Symbols, Things, Action, and Environments

When do we talk about something as “design”? And if it’s “design,” what kind? One way to answer could be by applying Buchanan’s suggestion of the four orders of design. Here, each order is a place to rethink the nature of design and explore the changing meaning of “product” (Buchanan, 2001).

Buchanan’s four orders of design: symbols, things, action, and environments (Buchanan, 2001).
Buchanan’s four orders of design (Buchanan, 2001). Image by the author.



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Eeva Lehto

Eeva Lehto

Design research enthusiast, MA | Design Advocacy, UX writing & Content Design🔎