Design is what it does, and what it does is solve problems.
Words and the way we use them cheapen our understanding of design. We screw it up in both directions; sometimes we add modifiers to break the granite of design down into so many pebbles, while other times it floats away from us after we over-inflate it as Design with a capital D.
It does more harm than good to talk about multiple flavors of design: interaction design, visual design, information design, experience design … We buy into an illusion that there are cleanly defined compartments within design. We act as if there are barriers between each like the plastic walls that keep the gravy out of the frozen peas of our frozen TV dinner. As with many illusions, we choose to believe in magic because it brings us comfort.
The problem with this idea of tidy compartments is that one serving of design doesn’t end as another begins. There is information in interactions; there are interactions in experiences. In design, all things really are one thing, regardless of whether or not that makes sense for our corporate org charts or our centers of learning.
The inflation of design is just as harmful as its compartmentalization. Only Design will save the faltering world and the Masters of Design with their mysterious way of Thinking will unleash the magic like the reading of obscure runes might unlock a spell. Common mortals have no hope of understanding what only the new sorcerers can truly appreciate. Design will end economic disparity, staunch the bleeding out of the planet’s natural resources, rescue the uneducated and feed starving children.
But the more fantastical the hubris of Design and its practitioners, the greater the disconnect from a day-to-day reality where everyone considers themselves a designer. In reality, competency has always been confused for expertise and yet somehow the unwashed, non-expert masses will suddenly revere Design, dropping to their knees, bumping their heads against the legs of the conference table as they pray to their new Holy Father? It’s unlikely. In the real world, every puff that inflates design weakens its credibility.
Without the fantasy of compartments and without bluster, design is simply what it does and what it does is solve problems. Our new century is going to need design solutions as challenges rise up like foothills formed from colliding tectonic plates. New elements will continue to emerge as technology and society and capitalism continue to grind against one another.