When thinking about design and all it comes to encompass, I cannot help but think of words written by Nelson and Stolterman, “man did not discover fire- he designed it”. This quote, like good design is simple yet precise and to the point; a great use of writing which is in and of itself a form of design.
As we grow and evolve we seek better explanations and rationale to what was, is and will be. We build on our knowledge, studying the past, trying to make sense of it in regards to our present. As much of a failed and feeble attempt as it is, we reason and plan for the future. It is in our very nature as humans to evolve, adapt and reflect. It is due to evolution and consequential reflection that we seek to reconfigure and rename that which is already in existence and practice. Time and time again we come to reflect on ‘design’ and doing so results in a subsequent restructuring, repurposing and redefining of its form, function and meaning.
Whether referred to as design thinking, design management, design leadership or any other derivative of the practice (industrial, architectural, experiential, etc.), design is at its core, the process of practical and intuitive reasoning. Since the day man started to reason he started to design, using it in order to adapt, evolve and transcend. This was true in our caves and it is true today in the disembodied compounds of our binary codes. One could argue design was birthed in the intangible, which manifested itself to the tangible, later being misunderstood to encompass exclusively the aesthetic. Only in recent years has it been brought back to its roots, now appreciated in its entirety, in its all-encompassing forms and functions.
Design does not limit itself to product, nor is its sole objective to create aesthetically pleasing object. In its current form, design extends towards process, systems and organizations as it enables the creation and implementation of functions that facilitate user needs and solves for both every day and unique problems. Design is mainly an innovation driven process, one that is at heart human-centered. It stresses observation, idea visualization, collaboration, quick prototyping and quick learning. It creates new solutions by helping identify unmet needs and opportunities. Its capabilities extend from the physical to the abstract, from the mundane to the extremely complex. Design, in the most theoretical of terms, describes the manifestation of our thinking process. “Vision without execution is just hallucination”; which is where I believe design evolves from the abstract into the material, through the execution of our imagination (Ford).
As I reflect on Nelson and Stolterman’s quote on man designing fire, I cannot help but think about prototyping and iteration. How many fast failings and quick learnings must the cave men have gone through before fire struck? Design thinking as it is understood today, is merely the new way to think about a practice that has always been prevalent in our lives. It’s a connection of dots, a realization of sorts that “what will be has always been” (Khan).
The way I see it, ‘design’ in every sense of the word is as abstract as it is real, as much mine as it is yours. Today, I understand design to be an infusion of rational, intuitive and creative thinking, one which comes naturally to most if not every thinking human being. Design is both tangible and intangible; it is as tangible as the mind can dream, reason and manifest it into being.