what is design?

The concept of “design” is multidisciplinary and both tangible and philosophical. Here’s a sprinkling:

  • “In general, one might say that a design is a structure adapted to a purpose. Sometimes a single person conceives that structure and its purpose…Sometimes a structure gets shaped to a purpose gradually over time, through the ingenuity of many individuals…Sometimes a structure gets adapted by a relatively bling process of social evolution…” – From Perkins (1986) as part of his argument for “thinking as design”
  • “It’s is actually the design mind that inspires me…The design mind challenges people every day, challenges the user in a good way, to rethink what is aesthetic beauty, form and function and how things relate to one another and how things work.” John Militello (this site features a really interesting set of designers talking about design)
  • “The neglected leadership role is the designer of the ship. No one has a more sweeping influence than the designer. What good does it do for the captain to say, ‘Turn starboard 30 degrees,’ when the designer has built a rudder that will only turn to port, or which takes six hours to turn to starboard? It’s fruitless to be the leader in an organization that is poorly designed. The functions of design, or what some have called ‘social architecture.’ are rarely visible; they take place behind the scenes.”  –Peter Senge (Fall, 1990).
  • “Design, stripped to its essence, can be defined as the human nature to shape and make our environment in ways without precendent in nature, to serve our needs and give meaning to our lives.” – John Heskett, cited in Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. Pink continues: “[Design] is, to borrow Heskett’s terms, a combination of utility and significance” (p. 70).
  • “Idealized design is a way of thinking about change that is deceptively simple to state: In solving problems of virtually any kind, the way to get the best outcome is to imagine what the ideal solution would be and then work backward to where you are today” (p. xxxiii). – Russell Ackoff (this distinguished scholar is absolutely unbelievably prolific), Jason Magidson, and Herbert Addison (2006), Idealized Design: Creating an Organization’s Future. (they also have an awesome systems thinking blog: http://acasa.upenn.edu/)


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