Abstract

This paper argues that an essential task for managing complexity in design is clarification of key terms within the field, and most importantly the term that defines the field itself: Design. This position rests on the argument that theory—a key tool for managing complexity in design—is weakened by ambiguous terminology, and crucially, ambiguity of the word design. Although it has been well documented that design is a highly ambiguous term and that this is problematic for the field as a whole, many designers are resigned to this fact since it is unclear how one can resolve differences of opinion about what such a central and sensitive term means. This paper argues, though, that once designers have a better understanding of the process of definition—a process that has its own complexities— they might see the benefit of trying to define design and other key terms. To this end, this paper provides an overview of definition, borrowing largely from philosophy, which includes a survey of the types and methods of definition and issues related to each. It will also explore methods and criteria by which one can evaluate various competing definitions. From this survey, I propose that designers use a stipulative and pragmatic approach to definition outlined by Edward Schiappa (2003). Schiappa’s approach is useful because of these two key underlying assumptions: first, defining design (and related terms) is not a search for the record of past usage but an act to persuade others of how to use the word in the future, therefore the person defining must provide a compelling argument for why others’ usage should be modified; second, defining design is not a search for the ‘true’ or ‘real’ meaning of a word but instead a goal-oriented process and, therefore, dependent on the context and purpose of those defining the word.

Keywords:

Design, Complexity, Definition, Terminology, Concept Analysis, Philosophy, Language, Ambiguity

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Jul 7th, 12:00 AM

A Survey of Definition and its Role in Strengthening Design Theory

This paper argues that an essential task for managing complexity in design is clarification of key terms within the field, and most importantly the term that defines the field itself: Design. This position rests on the argument that theory—a key tool for managing complexity in design—is weakened by ambiguous terminology, and crucially, ambiguity of the word design. Although it has been well documented that design is a highly ambiguous term and that this is problematic for the field as a whole, many designers are resigned to this fact since it is unclear how one can resolve differences of opinion about what such a central and sensitive term means. This paper argues, though, that once designers have a better understanding of the process of definition—a process that has its own complexities— they might see the benefit of trying to define design and other key terms. To this end, this paper provides an overview of definition, borrowing largely from philosophy, which includes a survey of the types and methods of definition and issues related to each. It will also explore methods and criteria by which one can evaluate various competing definitions. From this survey, I propose that designers use a stipulative and pragmatic approach to definition outlined by Edward Schiappa (2003). Schiappa’s approach is useful because of these two key underlying assumptions: first, defining design (and related terms) is not a search for the record of past usage but an act to persuade others of how to use the word in the future, therefore the person defining must provide a compelling argument for why others’ usage should be modified; second, defining design is not a search for the ‘true’ or ‘real’ meaning of a word but instead a goal-oriented process and, therefore, dependent on the context and purpose of those defining the word.

 

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