Design as... Thinking about what Design might be

By Filippo A. Salustri and Nathan L. Eng.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In this speculative paper, we will consider the question "What is Design?" Instead of a compositional perspective (defining design by its constituents), we will take a qualitative comparative approach, of designing with respect to other
phenomena, to illuminate their boundaries. Obviously, these boundaries are not crisp; they ought never be so. Still, learning more about them can help us understand design without requiring their crisp prescription. One may draw the analogy to a jigsaw puzzle: design is the missing piece; to understand its shape (and thus find the piece), we look at the hole in the puzzle, the boundary with other phenomena (jigsaw pieces). For each phenomenon considered, we will use typical, "common sense" dictionary definitions, to help keep the arguments broadly relevant. We will then consider how designing is like and unlike the phenomenon, thereby illuminating the nature of the boundary between it and design. The specific phenomena we will consider include: problem solving, planning, creativity, synthesis, and naturally evolved human ability. In exploring the boundaries between designing and these other phenomena, we seek to illuminate where design stops and those other phenomena begin thereby helping to "define" design. While no clearcut answers result in this paper, we hope that by stimulating further thought and discussion, a more sophisticated and richer understanding of design will eventually result.

Keywords: Defining Design, Problem Solving, Planning, Creativity, Evolution, Synthesis

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.19-28. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 509.702KB).

Dr. Filippo A. Salustri

Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Filippo A. Salustri, Ph.D., P.Eng. has been teaching, researching, and practising design engineering for 17 years. He has been involved with research and design of cars, aircraft, spacecraft, robots, temporary structures, toys, home appliances, and medical equipment. His research interests include formal and informal methods of designing, information visualisation, and web-based design tools. He is a member of the Design Society, the Design Research Society ASME, CSME, IEEE, and INCOSE; he is a founding member of the Canadian Design Engineering Network, and a member of the Canadian Design Research Network.

Nathan L. Eng

PhD Candidate, Engineering Design Centre, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Nathan Eng is a first-year PhD research student at the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre (EDC). He completed his undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering and Master’s of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada under the supervision of Dr. F.A. Salustri. His current research topics include methods for managing knowledge and information in long-lived engineering systems and, more broadly, the use of representations across engineering work. The goal is to study how the recreation of “experience” or “story” of a design process leads to a better transfer of understanding.

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