Guide to Design: What Is Design?

by Frederick H. Carlson
Guide to Design: What Is Design?

Design involves processes and people who create for the end user rather than for beauty alone. Form follows function, as we say.

Certainly the quality of 'beauty' influences why and how we choose to utilize or select one product over another, and visual aesthetics are vastly important in both the 2-D and 3-D design worlds, but 'beauty' is not the end in itself, as is defined in art-making. It is interaction between the user and the product that is of prime concern, and a never-ending process of re-evaluation, market survey, process improvement and invention energizes the design field.

"Human factors" and "ergonomics" describe the way the industrial design process looks at how something works and how it can work better. "Readability" and "visual impact" describe the way designers in the print and advertising fields measure the success of their work. These analytic models are not always perfect, but they provide the design process with data in a way that is not intrinsic to the "art" process.

To understand the immensity of this huge design field, let's jump into an exercise seeing what we typically come into contact with that requires "design" during an average day:

  • The furniture we sleep, sit, and eat on begins the day.
  • The tools, appliances and gadgets we use to make our food, get through the working day, and entertain ourselves are all designed.
  • The newspapers, magazines, computer screen displays, billboards, packaging, and television and movie set designs we gaze at are all designed by creative people, and many of the production supervision at all levels in everything that is manufactured requires design expertise.
  • The clothing we wear and the cars we drive are giant sources of work for design professionals, and the advertising specialists who sell them.
  • Finally, the vast complex of interactive and interdependent processes that involve the "assembly line" of manufacturing, the "farm" to "table" of the agribusiness world, and the visual planning of our transport networks and urban interfaces have increasing degrees of input from design workers.

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