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  Welcome to the era of design

Forbes: Welcome to the era of design

Post 1

The 'era of design' suggests that we've entered into a time in which design features as the primary driver of, or, is primarily responsible for successful interventions in the world. That, for example, design has been responsible for the commercial success of Apple and Ikea

The tools of design have indeed become ubiquitous and trained designers are readily available. The cost of employing designers has fallen dramatically over the past two decades, to the extent that design as an exclusive offer isn't worth much

The problem lies in the fact that design hasn't yet been properly defined and misconceptions about how design adds value are common and widespread. Generally, designers who don't add value beyond design aren't worth employing

One aspect of design is to take existing elements and configure them in a new way. The result can be described as having 'form'. But, on closer inspection this type of form is only as a result of configuring existing elements that have already been formed. In comparison to the strong definition of design as 'form-giving', which is to literally and directly shape something, the form that can be said to have been derived from configuration is weak, and in this sense it doesn't make sense to speak of design unless a designer has been actively involved

The key insight that results in the failure of the claim that we've entered into an era of design lies in the secondary and weaker definition of design as 'configuration'

To illustrate the point, Steve Jobs played a pivotal role in configuring Apple into the successful company it is today. He can be said to have given the company a distinct form but he didn't design the company in any way that makes sense

Steve Jobs employed professional designers to make some aspects of the Apple experience more effective. Designers such as Jonathan Ive added value to Apple through design in the form-giving as well as configuring sense but it is only in the form-giving sense and where designers like him were involved that it can be said that design is responsible for some of the successes of Apple

Because all things can be configured it can therefore also be said that all things can be designed. This is far too broad a claim for design for it to be meaningful. And, given the ubiquity of design tools this interpretation of design renders the claim that we've entered an 'era of design' without substance

It is only in the literal form-giving sense that the value of design can (and should) be appreciated. It's high time designers stopped making over-blown claims about what design can achieve

Post 2

The 'framing' of design in terms of 'form' is necessary to understand what value can be attributed to design. It's imperative to frame design in this way in order to make reasonable claims about what can be achieved by design

If the configuration aspect of design is offered as the primary definition of design then it can be claimed that most types of value added to experiences can be attributed to design, which is problematic to the point of rendering design redundant

Most designers don't recognise the limits of design because they're not aware of the form-giving versus the configuring aspects of design and often falsely attribute the value they add to experiences to design. It's usually the adeptness of a designer at handling a particular type of content that adds value to an experience and design merely provides an effective means to express the value added

Design is most useful when material form is crucial to the total value of an experience, particularly when factors such as ergonomics and aesthetics play a significant part in determining the effectiveness of a designed thing

We haven't entered into a era of design, we have merely entered into a time when it's become possible to configure aspects of an experience with tools that were previously limited to specialist designers; a time when configuration-oriented designers are readily available to parse content at low cost

Everyone can design in the configuring sense but this doesn't necessarily make everyone a designer. It only makes sense to label someone a designer when they actively form aspects of an experience in a literal and direct way, and when the configuration aspect of design is understood to be a given


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