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The term DESIGN covers a wide variety of meanings and the distinction between these meanings is blurred due to the essentially flexible nature of the English Language. By simply changing the position of words within a sentence the whole context and definition can change.

We have to examine the variability of the word in time and occasion e.g. it is doubtful whether design drawings were prepared by the Ancient Egyptians for some of their artefacts as few visual records of design ideas exist from that period of Man’s history. The artefacts of that period may have been produced by architects, craftsmen, or artisans who were skilled in a particular art or trade, working from verbal instructions and without preliminary sketches.

There is no doubt that Leonardo Da Vinci ( Circa 1452-1510 ) produced inventive designs for helicopters, ballistas and other devices but these were never fully developed until a later society with more advanced technology and manufacturing capability evolved.

The term ARTIST may be easier to define, and generally means someone who has the ability to paint or draw an image.

The work of a DESIGNER may involve both painting and drawing but the term DESIGN itself is perhaps woolly in comparison with less historical tradition or clarity.

Dictionary Definitions suggest that:-


To draw, to mark out

To contrive, invent, imagine
To intend
To destine, appoint to a certain use
To model (simplified versions of reality


A preliminary sketch
A plan in outline
A model or scheme formed in the mind
An intention (to create reality)
A relation of parts to the whole
A disposition of shapes or forms or colours
A pattern or visual arrangement
An adaptation of a means to an end
Conceived in the mind, of something to be done


One who produces designs or patterns, A plotter,
One who is artful or scheming, One who marks out, specifies, nominates, proposes,

Every human being is a designer, teachers particularly – they plan, organise, execute their timetable commitments. The good ones look back at their efforts or results and evaluate to improve the content and presentation of their lessons where possible.

Each expert in the field of DESIGN EDUCATION has attempted to define the term DESIGN, but surprisingly enough there is little repetition in the various versions they put forward. There appear to be as many definitions as there are writers, and if every person is potentially a designer, then the interpretations and meanings of the word are boundless.


  • Design is the antithesis of accident Vernon Barber 1978
  • Finding the right physical components of a physical structure C Alexander 1963
  • A creative activity, it involves bringing into being something new and useful that has not existed previously J B Reswick 1965
  • Design is goal - seeking, problem-solving at its best J C Jones 1966
  • The imaginative jump from present facts to future possibilities J K Page 1966
  • Designing has to be a comprehensive, anticipatory science Buckminster Fuller 1965
  • Decision-making in the face of adversity, with high penalties for error M Asinov 1962
  • Design is the area of human experience, skill and knowledge that reflects Man’s concern with adaptation and appreciation of his surroundings in the light of his material and spiritual needs Bruce Archer 1975
  • ( Everything We Design ) is a lash-up, something inept and provisional David Pye 1964
  • A goal-directed, problem-solving activity Bruce Archer 1966
  • Simulating what we want to make (or do) before we make (or do) it, as many times as may be necessary to feel confident in the final result P J Booker 1964
  • (Engineering) Design is the use of scientific principles, technical information and imagination, in the definition of a mechanical structure, machine or system, to perform prescribed function with maximum economy and efficiency G R B Fielder 1963
  • Design is technological creativity at its best, and good designs are those which meet real human needs without demanding unnatural adaptations either of humans or the environment Open University 1978
  • The effect of designing is to initiate change in man-made things J C Jones 1970
  • The design process at its most complete is one that can be used to describe, analyse and hopefully improve every aspect of human activity. Rational, logical analysis Prof J Eggleston 1976
  • A critical and informed appraisal of the way man deals with his environment Bernard Aylward 1973
  • Design is not a matter of material, but the stuff of life Walter Gropius 1925
  • The performing of a very complicated act of faith J C Jones 1966
  • The optimum solution to the sum of the true needs of a particular set of circumstances E Matchett 1968
  • The patterning and planning of any act towards a desirable, foreseeable end, constitutes the design process V Papanek 1972

DESIGN is therefore a difficult word to define precisely. “All that we do almost all of the time is Design”
To the person in the street the DESIGN of a building may possibly mean its style, shape, colour, textures or arrangement of windows etc.
To the builder DESIGN might mean the drawings or plans he works from
To the architect DESIGN may be the process he went through to produce the plans or outline
To the owner or occupier DESIGN would be the internal arrangements of rooms, cupboards, corridors and facilities inside.

It may be easier to define BAD DESIGN!
A person passing in the street might describe it as ugly
The builder may mean that the drawings were difficult to work from
An architect may suggest that it was difficult to resolve his problems or ideas
The user would possibly mean it was cold, draughty or items were badly positioned inside

It may be that DESIGN is actually all of these things,
but in an attempt to narrow it down it is proposed that :-


It is not the actual DESIGN BRIEF, or instructions given to the Designer, nor the finished article that is generally produced by individuals other than the Designer. The Designer essentially transforms the Design Brief into future possibilities. In general discussion there is a tendency for the specification or Design Brief to be talked about as if it were a DESIGN, the Design Proposal also as if it were the completed article and the latter to simply be criticised in terms of Ergonomic or Aesthetic qualities

These points may appear elementary, but all of them divert attention from the fact that the Designer projects his ideas forward, focussing on an imaginary moment when planning and ideas will be transferred into reality. The actual DESIGN is a concept, a model, a proposal of what could be , but not simply the actual solid multi-dimensional product at the end of the manufacturing process. The DESIGN in this sense does not yet exist and the Designer’s conventional drawing methods, codes, visual representation of his ideas serve only to transmit information and are under constant revision and modification as his proposals emerge and become a reality.

The DESIGN is a prescription for an artefact, system, environment or solution to a problem that has yet to be resolved.

The DESIGN is an exploration, a test to see the feasibility of certain ideas.


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