We need definitions of our evolving profession

I am taking you up on your challenge about increasing design value awareness in the public sector (Comment, DW 11 December 2008).

I believe the design community must know itself before it can outwardly increase design value awareness in any sector. The design profession is evolving to include a new breed of designer and design thinker. Traditionally, design is associated with the creation of artefacts. In this construct, design creates tangible solutions that have a physical manifestation, such as a logo, brochure, website or product.

Whereas the design of intangibles has always played a part in design (typically viewed in the value that design creates), it has come more fully to the forefront of design practice. Service design and experience design are prime examples. Today’s designers, often referred to as design thinkers, enter new realms to design processes and experiences. No longer limited to the design of objects, designers are expanding the context of design and, therefore, its value.

And so, we in the design profession need a new strategy to communicate, describe and present our evolving profession. With design’s many disciplines and a changing landscape, how can this be done?

I believe an important start is to classify design in two dimensions – first as the ‘design of tangibles’, and second as the ‘design of intangibles’. In doing so, we immediately set up an organisational construct that gives space for new design thinking practices.

It also describes design in the language of business, while at the same time redefining it to reflect an important dimension.

This core distinction is necessary before we try to come to a collective definition of individual design disciplines. If our own community isn’t making this distinction loud and clear, how will we ever evolve design and its value in the wider business community?

Lisa Cox, by e-mail

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