Define: Design

Yo! brought up some marketing guy having a business card that stated they were a “Business designer”. It made me think, ‘have I ever bothered to look up what design means?’. I think not. More interesting is the word origin:

1540s, from L. designare “mark out, devise,” from de- “out” + signare “to mark,” from signum “a mark, sign.” Originally in English with the meaning now attached to designate; many modern uses of design are metaphoric extensions.

I had always assumed that the root was associated with the french “dessin” or drawing. That comes from desseing or “graphic representation”. I think in latin, although I’m not used to using french dictionaries, so I’m not sure.

However, it comes from designare which is also the root of designate. It seems to me that design is about making a decision. Designating a solution as it were. Perhaps a marketer can designate as well as a designer.

Interestingly the proper french term for a designer (the term is used in french) is “concepteur”, which is associated with the verb “concevoir” or to conceive (an idea). I think that’s probably a closer defintion to what we imagine. Someone who conceives or imagines a new solution or idea. Perhaps we can take inspiration from the romance languages and make a new word, “imaginiste” or something for designers?

As a side note, a graphic designer is called an “infographiste”. Basically, someone who graphically presents information. Perhaps that’s why they are even more neglected as a profession in Canada. It seems a step down from being a designer.

Interesting 914. If someone called themselves a social architect or business architect, there would be no doubt that they are not an actual architect. We actually jave “technical architects” here. Yet there is no need to modify that word for it’s true meaning, I don’t think we will see an architect need to clarify their title as a building architect. The definition of the word is strong enough to defy confusion.

This is a rough sketch, but I thought this little Venn might help facilitate further conversation.




[C16: from French architecte, from Latin architectus, from Greek arkhitektōn director of works, from archi- + tektōn workman; related to tekhnē art, skill]

Interesting. So an architect is a workman with technical skill. I remember one of my architecture history teachers ranting about the need to go to building sites. I guess he was right.

Moreover, the use of architect in different ways, such as “computer network architect” could be valid. As long as the person has an understanding of both craft and the higher level concept of technique. I don’t think one could be a social architect (meaningless) or a business architect (imprecise).

my point is that even if there is a “computer network architect” everyone still knows what an pure, or real, or however you want to say it, “architect” does. It does not modify the core definition, nor does a “computer network architect” seem to want to modify that definition of an architect as someone who designs buildings.

The root words are helpful, but we cannot forget the modern context is what is of the greatest import here I think. Both the root, and the present definitions will help us shape and refine the future definitions of these words… which are ultimately defined more by our actions as designers.

So what is a pure, real, “designer?” I guess perhaps that’s the real question here. It seems industrial/product designers have been trying to claim the title of true “designer” of late (which I won’t really object to), but I had always felt that there wasn’t any pure “designer,” unless that person is a multi-disciplinary designer. If anything, among the general public, I think fashion designer is the first profession people think of when they hear “designer,” though I think product design has made headway with just plain “design” (no -er). I guess it’s nice, as a product designer, to think we are the real, pure ones, but I’m not sure everyone would agree.

Or maybe you’re putting fashion designers, graphic designers, and product designers (and maybe others who can be placed in the center of Yo’s diagram) into the category of pure, real designers under which there are sub categories (like commercial or residential architect)?

If anything, among the general public, I think fashion designer is the first profession people think of when they hear “designer,” though I think product design has made headway with just plain “design” (no -er).

This is precisely why I don’t use the term “designer” - I like product developer or product development professional/consultant as it has no arty fashion designer connotation.

I use Herbert Simon’s definition of Design - “The purposeful move from a current situation to a preferred situation.”

Pretty much says it all.

Too vague to define design in my opinion.

Herbert Alexander Simon (June 15, 1916 – February 9, 2001) was an American political scientist, economist, sociologist, and psychologist, and professor—most notably at Carnegie Mellon University—whose research ranged across the fields of cognitive psychology, cognitive science, computer science, public administration, economics, management, philosophy of science, sociology, and political science. With almost a thousand very highly cited publications, he is one of the most influential social scientists of the 20th century.

I’m defining true designers as people that lie at the intersection of the Venn diagram, so absolutely it would include product/industrial designers, graphic designers, fashion designers, interior designers, landscape architects, and yes, even architects, making architects a subset of designers which I’m sure they would love. Don’t forget Raymond Loewy did almost all of these things… with no design education, it didn’t exist then. A degree in ID does not make you an industrial designer.

My primary point being that if you are a problem solver with great verbal communication skills, you may be a great marketer, policy maker, strategist or political activist, but in my book, your not a designer. Conversely, if you have a deep knowledge of craft, and implementation, and visual communication skills, but no verbal or problem solving you may be a craftsman or an engineer of sorts (though I should hope there would be some problem solving there, but judging from a lot of ME programs, I’m not sure), again you’re not a designer in my book. I recognize my book is not the only one, but it happens to be the one I go by. I qualify this as my opinion though.

I think you have to have a foundation in all four to be a true designer. Of course we are all weighted in one direction or another, but you must have something.

The 5th circle that is implied is that you have to be good to work with.

or let me put it another way with the below:

More to come later, but for the moment, (and to press some buttons) Yo, what do you see as the difference between a designer and engineer?

I think most competent engineers would meet your Voltron definition.


I think the engineer’s right hand would look a little different than voltron the designer’s right hand. Instead of synthesis and analysis, the engineer may want to optimize and evaluate, so possibly not a designer by this definition.

Someone mentioned the arty connotation, it seems to me you are confusing arty and humanistic, developers and consultants connote to me to be interested in the business, instead of the mutual benefit of the business and end user.

I’ve never met an engineer with that capability set. If you have then let them know I consider them a designer and they are entitled to a pay cut. :wink:

Someone mentioned the arty connotation, it seems to me you are confusing arty and humanistic, developers and consultants connote to me to be interested in the business, instead of the mutual benefit of the business and end user

Specifically, I was referring to an earlier comment that most people think of fashion designers when they hear the word “designer.” I think it’s a ginormous problem for the word - that connotation is fluffy, not very useful, and doesn’t speak well to problem solving.

TimF: HERBERT SIMON! BOUNDED RATIONALITY! WOOOOO! I love Simon. He wrote some surprisingly enthralling papers on dairy markets.

Yo: Funny (the engineer pay cut).

Playing Devil’s advocate, specifically which skills?

An engineer may have different visual skills, but I’m sure a guy building a bridge needs some visual skills to imagine what it will look like and how a 3d solution can be created, for example.

I remember in University I had a prof who actually suggested that we should all be called engineers. Something to do with the root of the word coming from “idea” or something like that.


Is fashion not on the level?

personally, I think interior design is the problem… they even refer to themselves as “ID.” How is throwing some colorful pillows on a couch in a disheveled manner “design” anyway?!

r, that’s your first mistake, listening to someone in a University!

(uncomfortable laughter…)

I suppose it depends on if you think what I called in the diagram “the ability to build compelling stories through visual mediums” means. Just CAD? Not for me.

Was John Augustus Roebling (engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge) a designer, and engineer, both? I’m comfortable with both in his case. You can find the exceptions in any rule, but they tend to be just that, exceptions, as they are typically exemplified by exceptional people who do not represent the average.

There’s a difference between interior design and interior decorating (You sound like you’re referring to interior decorating). Unfortunately they both start with Ds.