Keyword - design

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The Word


    • It is interesting that the word 'design' has different interpretations in different places across Europe.
  1. The word 'design' derives from several Latin words, including designare, a word that means “to mark out.”
  2. In Scandinavian cultures, the word 'Formgiving' is used as a translation for 'design'.
  3. In France it carries the sense of 'drawing' (i.e. 'dessin').
  4. In Germany it implies 'wholeness' ('Gestaltung')
  5. In China, the traditional word for generic design (設計) means, in essence, 'set up trick'.
  6. In Hindi, the word 'Jugaad' is interesting, as it refers to a low-cost form of inventiveness.
  7. If we combine these concepts, design can be summarised as an imaginative, creative, critical, and reflexive mode of thought-action that tends to emphasise certain visual and formal aspects of a nominated ‘thing’ or ‘set of things in a given context’ (i.e. such as a particular product, image, landscape, building interior, milieu, printed document, etc.)
  8. Design clarifies and details possible specifications to the nominated ‘thing’, or ‘set of things in a given context’ and/or specifies new actualities for the future.
  9. Charles Eames's definition is simpler: "design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose”.
  10. Herbert Simon simplified it further by saying that design can be seen as the ability to move from ‘given to preferred situations’. (Herbert Simon, 1969)
  11. Both Simon's and Eames's definitions echo Aristotle's early definition of design as a final cause.
  12. In reaching this level of instrumentalism, design ceases to seem unique. Zygmunt Bauman says: As concepts, design and management emerged in the 1880s and, as subjects, simply represent alternative approaches to the realisation of an idea (Bauman - Cumulus conference, Warsaw, 2006)
  13. John Chris Jones sought to expand upon these expectations in several of his writings: 'Our new definition of designing as the initiation of change in man-made things implies that there are other objectives that must be achieved before drawings can be completed, or even started. If the object that is drawn is to bring about prescribed changes in the world at large, the designers must be able to predict the ultimate effects of their proposed design as well as specifying the actions that are needed to bring these effects about.' (Jones, J, C, 1970)
  14. Designs customarily take the form of propositional drawings, images, and/or models. Usually, they are also accompanied by, and qualified by, verbal elucidation and/or texts.
  15. On a more operational level, Buckminster Fuller (1969: 319) describes the design process as an event flow. He divides the process into two steps. The first is a subjective process of search and research. The second is a generalizable process that moves from prototype to practice.
  16. The subjective process of search and research, Fuller outlines a series of steps:
    • teleology — > intuition — > conception — >
    • apprehension — > comprehension — >
    • experiment — > feedback — >
  • Under generalization and objective development leading to practice, he lists:
    • prototyping #1 — > prototyping #2 — > prototyping #3 — >
    • production design — > production modification — > tooling — >
    • production — > distribution — >
    • installation — > maintenance — > service — >
    • reinstallation — > replacement — >
    • removal — > scrapping — > recirculation
  • For Fuller, the design process is a comprehensive sequence leading from teleology – the goal or purpose toward which the process aims – to practice and finally to regeneration. This last step, regeneration, creates a new stock of material on which the designer may again act. The specific terms may change for process design or services design.

Some Limitations of Eco-design

  • We now have a huge number of alternative approaches under the generic term design.
  • This has fragmented the design profession into disparate dialects, ideologies and approaches.
  • Some - but not all - represent conscious attempts to create a design for sustainability.

Design Discipline Comparison Diagram

  • Perhaps the biggest challenge facing 'eco-designers' is that, traditionally, designers are empowered to work only on specialist aspects of a larger system.


  • An exciting exception to this is McDonough & Braungart's Cradle-to-Cradle approach.
  • This represents an opportunistic intervention at an economic, managerial and technological level.
  • Potentially, their approach makes the designer responsible for all parts of the transactional cycle.
  • In this sense it can be compared with ecosystem engineering.
  • One limitation of cradle-to-cradle is that it mainly a top-down approach.
  • It often depends heavily upon a few technical experts whose efforts are critical to the success of the whole system.


See article on design time
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