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Design is used both as a noun and a verb. The term is often tied to the various applied arts and engineering. As a verb, "to design" refers to the process of originating and developing a plan for a product, structure, system, or component with intention[1]. As a noun, "a design" is used for either the final (solution) plan (e.g. proposal, drawing, model, description) or the result of implementing that plan in the form of the final product of a design process[2]. This classification aside, in its broadest sense no other limitations exist and the final product can be anything from socks and jewellery to graphical user interfaces and charts. Even virtual concepts such as corporate identity and cultural traditions such as celebration of certain holidays[3] are sometimes designed. More recently, processes (in general) have also been treated as products of design, giving new meaning to the term "process design".

The person designing is called a designer, which is also a term used for people who work professionally in one of the various design areas, usually also specifying which area is being dealt with (such as a fashion designer, concept designer or web designer). Designing often requires a designer to consider the aesthetic, functional, and many other aspects of an object or a process, which usually requires considerable research, thought, modeling, interactive adjustment, and re-design.

Being defined so broadly, there is no universal language or unifying institution for designers of all disciplines. This allows for many differing philosophies and approaches toward the subject. However, serious study of design demands increased focus on the design process[4][5].

Typical steps

A design process may include a series of steps followed by designers. Depending on the product or service, some of these stages may be irrelevant, ignored in real-world situations in order to save time, reduce cost, or because they may be redundant in the situation.

Typical stages of the design process include:

  • Pre-production design
  • Design during production
  • Post-production design feedback for future designs
    • Implementation - introducing the designed solution into the environment
    • Evaluation and conclusion - summary of process and results, including constructive criticism and suggestions for future improvements
  • Redesign - any or all stages in the design process repeated (with corrections made) at any time before, during, or after production.

These stages are not universally accepted but do relate typical design process activities. For each activity there are many best practices for completing them.

Philosophies for the purpose of designs

In philosophy, the abstract noun "design" refers to a pattern with a purpose. Design is thus contrasted with purposelessness, randomness, or lack of complexity.

To study the purpose of designs, beyond individual goals (e.g. marketing, technology, education, entertainment, hobbies), is to question the controversial politics, morals, ethics and needs such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs. "Purpose" may also lead to existential questions such as religious morals and teleology. These philosophies for the "purpose of" designs are in contrast to philosophies for guiding design or methodology.

Often a designer (especially in commercial situations) is not in a position to define purpose. Whether a designer is, is not, or should be concerned with purpose or intended use beyond what they are expressly hired to influence, is debatable, depending on the situation. Not understanding or disinterest in the wider role of design in society might also be attributed to the commissioning agent or client, rather than the designer.

In structuration theory, achieving consensus and fulfillment of purpose is as continuous as society. Raised levels of achievement often lead to raised expectations. design is both medium and outcome generating a Janus like face, with every ending marking a new beginning.

External links


  1. See dictionary meanings in the Cambridge Dictionary of American English, at (esp. meanings 1-5 and 7-8) and at AskOxford (esp. verbs).
  2. See dictionary meanings at, esp. meanings 10-12. Note that meaning no. 9 in the same entry is the product of a design process.
  3. This is sometimes seen in religion. In the Old Testament or Torah, God arranges how the Jewish Passover should be observed. Also consider Jehova's Witnesses' observance of The Memorial, they being a religious body that began in 1879.
  4. College of Design, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Iowa State University. (Mission statement, 2nd paragraph, from "Analytical thought ..." ).
  5. Judith E. Sims-Knight, Richard L. Upchurch and Paul Fortier, A Simulation Task to Assess Students’ Design Process Skill (Introduction, 4th paragraph, line 4)
  6. Cross, N., 2006. T211 Design and Designing: Block 2, page 99. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
  7. Ullman, David G. (2009) The Mechanical Design Process, Mc Graw Hill, 4th edition
  8. Holm, Ivar (2006). Ideas and Beliefs in Architecture and Industrial design: How attitudes, orientations and underlying assumptions shape the built environment. Oslo School of Architecture and Design. ISBN 8254701741.
  9. Mark Getlein, Living With Art, 8th ed. (New York: 2008) 121.
  10. American Psychological Association (APA): design. (n.d.). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved January 10, 2007, from website:
  11. American Psychological Association (APA): engineering. (n.d.). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved January 10, 2007, from website:
  12. Examines the role of embedded behaviour in human environments.
  13. Concerns the existence and construction of mathematical set systems that have specified numerical properties.
  14. Actively involving users in the design process.
  15. Drafting and other forms of modelling.
  16. Includes economic, environmental and political issues.