What is Design? | Student perspective: Hannes Hofmann, Italy

I’m impressed, what you, Ralf, made out of my questions or observations regarding to the different approaches to design. I clearly like the way of meta-thinking, just to challenge the pragmatic way to think and act as we practise it in every days work life. So thanks for your posting Ralf.

Now my comments and contribution to the argument: As I’m coming from an engineering background, since the beginning of the MBA program at the Zollverein School I’m in search of the definition of design. However more and more I recognise that this ultimate definition does not exist. Today I see design very much located between the two ends: engineering and anthropology.

At the beginning of the MBA program I perceived design from the perspective of my designer colleagues as more linked to engineering. During the MBA very quickly my understanding moved towards the direction of anthropology and to the role of design as a more “cultural” discipline. This aspect opened a lot of new perspectives to me and I think this is also where design can create the best benefit for management as well.

For me useful ideas for better understanding the design discipline were the insights provided by Ruedi Baur and Christoph Böninger during the MBA program. While I found their approaches in some aspects very different: more “cultural” from the side of Ruedi Baur and more “methodological” from the side of Christoph Böninger and designafairs.

However while thinking and writing about innovation and brands recently, I found some other good statements about design which I would like to share with you:

Bettina von Stamm in her book “Managing Innovation, Design & Creativity”, (Wiley, 2003; page 12 and 13):

“In the context of Innovation, three relevant interpretations of design can be found:
- Design is the tangible outcome, i.e. the end product of design such as cameras, cars, etc.
- Design is a creative activity.
- Design is the process by which information is transformed into a tangible outcome.”

For me it seems that the last item, “Design as a process”, is the most commonly used one, and this is how I understand the design as well. Design is the act of conscious decision making so I would vary the definition slightly and add the word ‘conscious’. Accordingly my definition reads:

“Design is the conscious decision-making process by which information (an idea) is transformed into an outcome, be it tangible (product) or intangible (service).

Extending this definition into the area of design and design education Bettina von Stamm writes:

“Whereas managers’ education and training tends to focus on analytical studies such as accounting and finance, designers are educated and trained to deal with projects that involve unfamiliar concepts, are predominantly visual than verbal, involve fuzzy problems and high levels of ambiguity, and assessments which are ‘Variously, subjective, personal, emotional and outside quantification’.”

Furthermore Adrian Forty in this book: Objects of Desire. Design and Society 1750-1980, London 1986 (p.93); quoted by Wolfgang Ullrich (www.ideenfreiheit.de) states:

“Through the designs of knives, watches, clothes and furniture to suit every rank and station in life, one can read the shape of society as manufacturers saw it, and as their customers learned to see it. For, like any representation, be it in the form of painting, literature or film, this strange and cumbersome masterpiece created by manufacturing industry nor only correspond to that what was seen to exist, but, without recourse to language, metaphor or symbolism, also showed people social boundaries and distinctions that might otherwise have been invisible to them, or to which the might have been indifferent. Yet, unlike the audience for the works of art, which is generally only a minority, that for manufactured artifacts in the nineteenth century was enormous: even though people might have possessed only a few of them, or even none, the range of designs would have been familiar to them. And to know the range of different designs was to know an image of society.”

Last but not least in their article “Brand Design of the long term” to be found in “Design Management Journal” 14(1) (p. 34), Marco Bevolo and Reon Brand (2003) write about Stefano Marzano and Philips Design:

“Beginning in 1991, Stefano Marzano, CEO and chief creative director of Philips Design, has been developing a new role for design, based on the simple but challenging ideal - to anticipate and create preferable and sustainable future through design. This thinking matured into the notion of High Design. According to High Design principle, design is multidisciplinary synthesis enriched by diverse and complementary bodies of knowledge - from human sciences, technology, and materials expertise to aesthetics and communication sciences.”

Well, it seems I have to go on in the search for the ultimate definition of design.

One Response to “What is Design? | Student perspective: Hannes Hofmann, Italy”

  1. Zollverein School Blog » Blog Archive » Innovation = Engineering? Says:

    […] Just in case you’ve thought that the design is mentioned in the context even once I have to disappoint you. However the more you will be surprised to read that a trained engineer and Zollverein School student, Hannes Hofmann, will graduate later this year. In his recent blog posting Hannes Hofmann discussed the question “What is Design?”. Even though he did not end in a final answer some of his quotations could have clearly added invaluable dimensions to the engineering profession. Here is a snippet from his quotation of Zollverein School lecturer Bettina von Stamm: […]

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