One – Defining Design

10.03.17 – Defining DESIGN

How does one define design?

This was appropriately the focus of our first tutorial in Design and Creative Thinking. By exploring our own preconceived perception of the word, describing our own strengths, weaknesses and values that drive our desire to design, and by constructing tattoos that represent ourselves as creators, we began a process of defining design.


Initially in pairs, we were charged with the task of articulating our understanding of the term. My partner and I began with a series of stray words:  “visual”, “product”, “solution”, “process” and so on. These opening remarks, I presume, stemmed from our expansive exposure to the wide array of visual communication that we as consumers in a society bound by materialism are ambushed by daily – the words we were adopting are solely concerned with the physical aspects of design, with an inclination toward a business-oriented frame of mind. Based on these words, we noted “Design is an innovative process that creatively produces visual communications and products.”

Upon consultation with another pair, we built on this definition by combining both of our one-sentence-wonders; “Design is an innovative process that creatively produces visual communication and products with the intent to create structure in everyday living.” This raised our consciousness, bringing to bear the matter of intent; strategic design is intended to influence or result in certain user behaviour

From the layout of shopping malls to digital rights management, our everyday lives are full of examples of products, systems and environments which have been designed to shape, guide or control our behaviour (Lockton). By influencing our thoughts and actions, design is not only influenced by culture, it also has the potential to fabricate it. insert some example photos

“[As designers] beaviour is our medium” (Fabricant, 2009)

In turn, as a group of eight, we established that “Design is the innovative process that allows for the conceptualisation of functional solutions to create structure in everyday life.” Yet, there was one seemingly discernible feature, almost inherent to the nature of design itself, which all groups had completely neglected; the necessity to be aesthetically pleasing – would design be design if it were not to appeal to the visual demands of the user?


Through this process of collaboration that captured each individual’s voice we were able to effectively develop a definition founded upon core principles which were universally recognised as implicit in design. Fundamental aspects that were common to each group’s definition included ‘innovation’, ‘creativity’, ‘solution’ and ‘concepts’, all of which resonate with me as a designer who appreciates that design is not an end but the very process itself. The experience is not limited to the user but also develops the creator’s understanding and enhances their perception. Hence, the only word I would deem fitting to add would be ‘learning’:

“Design is an innovative learning process that allows for the conceptualisation of functional solutions to create structure in everyday life.”

Other sources’ commentary on the definition of design also align with our collective interpretation:

“Design” is a process of developing purposeful and innovative solutions that embody functional and aesthetic demands based on the needs of the intended user (Swedish Industrial Design Foundation)

Realization of a concept or idea into a configuration, drawing, model, mould, pattern, plan or specification and which helps achieve the item’s designated objective(s) (BusinessDictionary, 2017).

But what is ‘design’ actually? Is it a logo? A WordPress theme? An innovative UI? It’s so much more than that. It’s a state of mind. It’s an approach to a problem. It’s how you’re going to kick your competitor’s ass. Design is problem solving (Wells Riley, 2012).

The attributes of process, innovation, intention, solution and functionality are parallel to the terms we proposed as a class. One idea that stands in contrast is the phrase ‘It’s a state of mind’, which suggests that a large portion of the process in psychological and may not necessarily translate into tangible material. This concept resonates with my strongly, as I find my state of mind deeply affects my style of design and productivity.

In addition to the overarching definition of design, key skill categories and complementary qualities were identified which one endeavouring in the field would hope to obtain:

  1. Creativity and imagination
  2. Critical thinking and problem-solving
  3. Motivated and passionate
  4. Communication and collaborative

Although committed, passionate and swift at solving problems, I feel that as an individual content creator I need to improve my ability to brainstorm and be detached from perfection. Often, I tend to withhold my ideas in fear that they are not satisfactory enough to bring to the drawing board – a false misconception that limits the critical thought process from the beginning. I must also learn to communicate my thoughts openly and articulate my justification for decisions clearly and concisely. These qualities will develop as I consciously interact more frequently with fellow students on group tasks and refine the arts of ideation and consultation.

To further explore our identity as designers, we carried out the task of constructing a sandwich that represents us as a designer. I approached the task by listing physical elements of the sandwich such as taste, smell, texture, size, shape, weight and relating qualities, values and skills that I possess as a designer to these areas. I then brainstormed objects and components that may represent these areas, for instance, cheese symbolises that as a designer I value patience (cheese is tastier with time). I began experimenting with various arrangements; using a prayer book as the base to represent the influence of my Faith, placing the contents of the sandwich ‘out of the box’, creating a deconstructed assembly, using mirrors, and using physical figures to resemble metaphoric terms such as a ‘knuckle sandwich’.

These initial thoughts then translated into a series of sketches which with annotations justified my decisions in relation to form, material, size, order and composition. With these sketches in mind, I set out to purchase ingredients. With limited resources and time, I structured and restructured the composition multiple times. This process involved a lot of intuition; my gut-feeling told me when a certain design just wasn’t right.

Eventually I constructed the featured sandwich from the following:

  • Prayer book plate: to show that my Faith is the foundation for everything I do.
  • Open wrap: the circular shape demonstrates life in its wholeness, its cyclic movement and ultimately its perfection
  • Camembert cheese: sliced into segments, the cheese represents the multiple facets of life that influence my design; family, faith, study, social life, personal time etc. each of which is distinct yet interrelated to the others. And design requires patience, just as cheese requires time to age
  • Chilli: just because my life is full of spice and all things nice
  • Eggplant: small cubes of eggplant hint toward the cultural influence of my Persian background
  • Earphones: when I design, I listen. The music I listen to tends to influence my method
  • Teabag: this addition represents the work ethic that my father led me to adopt; he loves his tea
  • Playing card: I’m known to be a bit of a joker
  • Skewer: labelled ‘service’, the skewer brings all elements of life together by viewing them through the lens of serving others
Final front view
Final birds-eye

Reflecting on the process, I definitely felt that the Squiggle of Design Process proposed by Newman was accurate. Defining, researching and ideating all happened concurrently. I was adamant to use a DSLR to capture the creation, which limited my time shooting as I don’t own one myself. Perhaps this was a mistake, however I am happy with how it signified the essence of the sandwich. I would, however, reconsider the setting in which the photos were taken – the current scene is rather bland. Overall, I am content with the final product.

Through the exercises in this tutorial, I realise I still have much to learn about the nature of design, how it can apply and manifest itself in numerous situations, and who I am as a designer. It offered an introduction to the processes and methods designers employ when designing in a contemporary cross-disciplinary environment and has enticed me with a new way of thinking and solving problems. I look forward to further exploration next week.