The Design Dimension on XXI Century — Introduction

Reflection on the evolution of design thought

Design is the most pervasive form of human activity.

Mihai Nadin

Design is a human fabrication. We cannot comprehend the worlds of human existence without design. Almost everything in the environment around us is designed which make us in part a product of design (Fry et al 2015). Everything we design, is designing us in return (Silva 2017).

Design History is richer and full of amazing artists and stunning styles that have shaped the world over the last centuries. Raising the Design field to the greater status that we grant it today. Notwithstanding, this story is not just a story of visual or aesthetic styles and values. Although Design is still heavily understood by these dimensions, Design is much more than just that. To speak about Design is to discourse the history and evolution of Design Thought (do not confuse Design Thought with Design Thinking, they address different scopes). Design History is much more than a history of artists and their aesthetic considerations and objects. Based on this premise, this post is intended to shape and extend the ubiquitous meaning of design and go beyond its current historical reach.

The study of design has always been linked to other areas of knowledge such as psychology, art theory, communication, cognition science, among others. However, the design has knowledge and character of its own, that has developed through its history, marking its own imprint over time. Design problems require multiple domains of knowledge and a wide range of skills. For Grecu and Brown (1998), a design problem requires knowledge of several domains and uses a wide range of representations.

Design needs to be understood by its intrinsic value and not only by its aesthetic and functional values. Throughout its creative purposes, Design is undoubtedly an important tool for promoting technological, social or economic growth. On behalf of its ubiquity, today, the Design field is transversal to any industrial, area or sector. It is in this context that the paradigm of Design offers an exciting and challenging stimulus for companies and projects. Conversely, there are still great barriers to the proclamation of design as a fertile method for interdisciplinary synergy. It is therefore up to us, designers, to establish and share a structured understanding of the meaning of design thought and action. Therefore, the future well-being of mankind and the environments on which we depend may grow sustainably. As human beings today, we find ourselves demographically, geopolitically, biophysically, environmentally and psychosocially, at a point where the future with a tomorrow can only be achieved by exploring and shaping possible futures through design (resolving wicked problems). But for this dimension of design to be recognized and valued, the scope of historical research in design needs to become significantly broader, overcoming once and for all, the “academic” barriers that may be limiting the interdisciplinarity synergies. Today, Design is unaware of disciplinary obstacles. So, Design is engineering, it is science, it is art, it is philosophy, it is management, it is above all ubiquitous (Fallman, 2008). Design converges to an effective field of multidimensional creativity and innovation. The notion that the designer is a kind of genius/artist driven by his “divine” inspirations is more than outdated. Design, whether by its processes or methodologies, is undoubtedly rational, structured, objective and above all pragmatic. Such as other probed fields such as science, philosophy, management …

Over the last few decades, the design field has shifted from a field that focuses primarily on aesthetic and formal qualities to project actions, environments, experiences, and strategies. However, it is interesting to note how the literature did not follow this transformation. We easily find books about the History of Graphic Design, or on Fashion Design, or Industrial Design, etc. The offer is vast. However, it is very difficult to find authors who approach and analyze Design holistically as a whole, as a universal concept that is composed of several disciplines, methodologies, and processes. Recurring literature fails to mention the creative process behind its history.

For all these challenges, it is relevant to reflect on the full dimension of Design, and this becomes evident when someone, for example in Portugal, needs to explain what Design is and do.

Today, for example in my country context — Portugal — the impact that Design had, has or will have, in its magnitude, has not yet been adequately understood within or outside of its education, practice, history, and theorizing.

The aim of these series of texts is to, therefore, to stimulate a discussion about Design in its innovation, historical, social and economic context. This research will support and sustain the ubiquity of Design. Design is much more than discipline. It is a way of thinking, which through its abductive thinking is able to create hypotheses as valid as those of the current model of scientific thinking. In general, the goal is very straightforward: to expand the way the design is understood and seen.


Fry, Tony. 2015. “Whither Design / Whether History.” In Design and the Question of History, 1st ed., 320. Bloomsbury Academic.

Jason Silva. 2017. “What Is Technological Singularity? Origins: The Journey of Humankind.” National Geographic.

Grecu, DL, and DC Brown. 1998. “Dimensions of Machine Learning in Design.” Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing, no. April: 117–22.,%0A

Fallman, D. (2008). The Interaction Design Research Triangle of Design Practice, Design Studies, and Design Exploration. Design Issues, 24(3), 4–18.

Passionate about Human-centered AI and UX researcher. Experience Design Lead @Emergn

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