Design is a multifaceted discipline with many specializations. It is, by definition, a core discipline to every human activity.
People have been designing since they could use utensils, maybe even before: problem solving is at the center of the Design thought process, at its genesis and at its end.
Over the decades, Design has become more defined and compartmentalized; it has gained specialization.
Design has become a profession and Designers have acquired a set of abilities and knowledge, developed methodologies and processes that allow them to pick up the pieces, work with all involved and, keeping a bird’s eye view, help solve the puzzle.
Despite its many specializations, Design is essential. Graphic Designers, Industrial Designers, Interaction, Web and Motion Designers should always be, first and foremost, Designers.
The same way GPs, OB-GYNs and Plastic Surgeons are all, in essence, doctors, specialized Designers should never forget what Design, as a whole, is about.
This seems obvious, I know, but I’ve heard people say “I’m not a Designer, I’m a Web Designer”, which makes absolutely no sense. Specialization should never annul base knowledge, method and philosophy.
Historically, Design is the solving of a problem by giving form to a functioning concept which can be repeatable. Although I like to think of Design as something inherently human, it started to be defined as a professional activity by the drivers of the Industrial Revolution and was heralded as a way to create cheap, repeatable products that were, above all, highly functional, while looking as good as possible (“looking good” being a highly debatable subject).
It’s ironic how, in recent years, the term “design”, then, has been used as a substitute for expensive and exclusive. Designer clothes, designer furniture or designer jewelery are all meant to be exclusive products for wealthy people, often times made to be “good looking” more than useful or even usable. The antithesis of Design, one might say.
The two main components of Design are form and function, with none taking precedence; both are equally important and should be a consideration from early on. However, the mass production-oriented world that begat Design as a professional activity also had a great influence on its philosophy, which lingers to this day. The outcome of a Design project should be repeatable; if it’s an object, it should be possible to mass produce it, if it’s a communication piece it should be printable in quantity or broadcast, if it’s a website, it should be easy to develop for and expand on. A set of rules and guidelines should always come out of a Design project, helping others to repeat it or improve on it.
If you’re creating an unrepeatable object, you’re probably making Art, not Design. If you’re being exclusive, you’re defeating the purpose and are more akin to a Craftsman (yes, or woman), than a Designer.
Nothing of what I just said means the Design methodology cannot be applied to other fields (I started out defending Design is in everything we do), it just means Design is more than a methodology: it’s a mean to connect people by making certain objects available in the right time and social context, with the right function and wrapped in just the right form.