The manifold currents and tendencies of design are reflected in the very use of the concept of “design,” up to and including sometimes rather diffuse definitions of the word. A number of these interpretations will be introduced at the outset of this essay. From a historical perspective, it is popular to regard Leonardo da Vinci as the first designer. In addition to his scientific studies on anatomy, optics, and mechanics, he performed pioneering work in the elementary science of mechanical engineering, producing a “Book of Patterns of Machine Elements.” The concept of design da Vinci applied to practical objects, machines, and apparatus was thus more technically than creatively oriented. Nevertheless, it decisively influenced the idea of design: the designer as an inventor. The sixteenth-century painter, master builder, and literary author Giorgio Vasari was one of the first to plead in his writings for the autonomous character of works of art. He designated the principle to which art owes its existence as disegno, which translates directly into ”drawing” or ”sketch.” At that time, disegno referred to the artistic idea. Accordingly, even back then, people differentiated between the disegno interno, the concept for an emerging work of art (the sketch, the draft, or the plan), and the disegno esterno, the completed work of art (such as a drawing, painting, or sculpture). Vasari himself pronounced drawing, or disegno, to be the father of the three arts: painting, sculpture, and architecture (for more information, see Bürdek 1996). According to the Oxford Dictionary the concept of “design” was used in 1588 for the first time. Its definition reads: - a plan or scheme devised by a person for something that is to be realized,
The word “design” has Latin roots. The verb “designare” is translated as “determine,” but its literal meaning is more like “showing from on high”. That which has been determined is definite. Design transforms vagueness into definiteness by continual differentiation. Thus design (designatio), in its general and abstract conception, is above all determination through representation, the science of design as it corresponds to the science of determination. HOLGER VAN DEN BOOM, 1994


its application. sketched.. a streamlined shape like the train and the automobile. . For Stam. It must express the individuality of the product in question through appropriate fashioning. economic. in short. and thus to pure fashioning. In his opinion designers should be employed in every area of industry.a first graphic draft of a work of art. this clear separation of technical work from artistic work on the product led to the discipline’s increasing orientation toward styling. who supposedly used the term for the first time in 1948 (Hirdina. energy conservation. see also 1987) significantly described how the industrial designer appeared in the twentieth century: “He fashioned the housing. . durability. On the contrary. and planned. The concept of “industrial design” can be traced back to Mart Stam. The definition of design has long been a matter of intense concern. . plainly visible so that it can be understood clearly by the user.Good design must allow the latest state of technical development to become transparent. Later. or . Horst Oehlke (1978). above all in the former German Democratic Republic. saw to it that the visible machinery (of the washing machines) disappeared.” In the U.S.It must make the function of the product. and cultural policy. A broad and therefore quite useful definition of design was worked out by the Internationales Design Zentrum Berlin in 1979 in the context of an exhibition: . especially in the production of new kinds of materials. pointed out that shaping affects more than the sensually perceptible side of objects. recyclability. an industrial designer was someone who drafted. Sigfried Giedion (first edition 1948. in particular.Good design may not be a mere envelopment technique.Good design must take the relationship between humans and objects as the point of departure for the shapes it uses. and ergonomics.DESIGN AS A CONCEPT 15 . the designer must be concerned with satisfying the needs of societal and individual life. especially . 1988). which is to be binding for the execution of a work.an object of the applied arts. . it must also take into consideration issues of ecology. and gave the whole. This regime always understood design to be a component of social.Design must not be restricted just to the product itself.

in the Lyotardian sense. . However.visualize technological progress. This complex definition clearly takes into consideration not only the functional aspects (practical functions).make transparent the connections between production.” He (Joschka Fischer) relates with great passion that everything in a “Grand Design” is connected with everything else: the global economy and the trade cycle.simplify or make possible the use and operation of products (hardware or software). The reflections of the postmodern age have promoted the dissolution of totality in a variety of disciplines. stuck in the “discussion condition” of a modern age which has since become history (Welsch 1987). In the transition from the twentieth to the twenty-first century I have therefore proposed. however. .16 DESIGN AS A CONCEPT taking into account aspects of occupational medicine and perception. and recycling. 6/2003 . DER SPIEGEL. In the same sense. He then calls the result of such considerations “Grand Design. the age in which a uniform – and thus ideologically cemented – concept of design could predominate now appears to be over once and for all. demographic developments and pensions. The diversity of concepts and descriptions is not a sign of postmodern arbitrariness. instead of yet another definition or description. listing a number of the tasks design is supposed to fulfill (Bürdek 1999).promote and communicate services. Michael Erlhoff undertook a clear and current delimitation of design on the occasion of the docu- menta 8 in Kassel (1987): “Design. German unity and Europe. design should: . finds this chiefly in four assertions: being societal and functional and meaningful and concrete. but in a quite compressed form. but also the product language and the ever more important ecological aspects of design. . for instance.” There was no problem with such an open description of design well into the 1980s. Anyone who continues to regard this as a loss is thus. but rather a necessary and justifiable pluralism. but also – pursued energetically enough – help to prevent products that are senseless. Thus. consumption. which – unlike art – requires practical justification.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful