Toward a New Design
By placing the genesis of design in the discovery and use of the cave, the way toward establishing a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to its distinct disciplines can be justified. As already acknowledged, whether graphics, objects, or buildings, the design process has always shared common attributes, which remains the case today. With technological advancement and a broadening of design-related services, the conventional boundaries between the disciplines are forced to dissolve and the fields blur. However, designing an object still requires skills and knowledge – regardless of the object’s scale and function – that are distinctly different from those required to design a void.
Recently, the greater acceptance of the design process has manifested a phenomenon called “design thinking. In the past three decades this has migrated from a relatively esoteric subdiscipline of computing to a management service offered by consultants to high-profile clients. The popularity of the concept as both a design methodology and a comprehensive service necessitates closer inspection.
Design thinking as it has been introduced in business-school environments refers to the cultivated ability to integrate rigorous analysis with creative ideas. The careful observation of people, markets, and behaviors is undertaken to envision the kinds of outcome that analytical thinking alone cannot offer.6 This expanded application allows the generic design process to serve as a method for problem solving (particularly at a strategic level). Design thinking has now taken a place alongside other models of organizational theory and systems analysis. Here, the designer’s role lies closer to management consulting than to the more traditional job of design making. Indeed, any physical design work is mostly left to specialists since design-thinking services tend to be offered by non-traditionally trained designers. This development is not surprising, given the increasing popularity of, and desire to use, the marketable label of “design.
Alongside design thinking, another reason why the definition of design has expanded comes from the specialized disciplines themselves, which are attempting to extend the boundaries of their practices. This trend was originally initiated by industrial designers in the interwar years when the services they provided to their long-standing corporate clients evolved from product
Stylization to include packaging and marketing materials (branding) and, eventually, commercial interiors. Interior design A case in point: In the early 1950s, after working with Lever Brothers for many years, Raymond Loewy was retained to design the interiors of the company’s new office building on Park Avenue, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. More recently, graphic designers have expanded their outreach by identifying themselves as communications designers. Today, all the design disciplines claim to have the skill to design anything from a logo to a uniform to architecture. In theory this may be the case, but in practice designers’ expert knowledge has been diluted. Though we may interpret such developments as proof of design’s omnipresence, they have not provided any clarity about what it is and what designers actually do. If anything, the popularity of design thinking has made design less accessible to the general public.7
A number of leading American business schools have introduced curricula geared toward integrating design thinking into corporate operations. One of the most sophisticated documents of design as a management strategy was formulated in 2003 by the Danish Design Center (DDC) in the form of a ladder or hierarchy that is reminiscent of psychologist Abraham H. Maslow’s pyramid of needs from 1943.8 The ladder, based on a survey of business practices conducted by the DDC along with a research firm and a university, reads from the bottom up:
Step No. 1 Design is an inconspicuous part of, for instance, product development performed by members of staff who are not design professionals. Design solutions are based on the perception of functionality and aesthetics shared by the people involved. The points of view of end-users play very little or no part at all.
Step No. 2 Design as styling: Design is perceived as a final aesthetic finish of a product. In some cases, professional designers may perform the task, but generally other professions are involved.
Step No. 3 Design as process: Design is not a finite part of a process but a work method adopted very early in product development. The design solution is adapted to the task and focused on the end-user and requires a multidisciplinary approach, e.g. involving process technicians, material technologists, marketing and organizational people.
Step No. 4 Design as innovation: The designer collaborates with the owner/management in adopting an innovative approach to all – or substantial parts – of the business foundation. The design process combined with the company vision and future role in the value chain are important elements.9
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