What is design?

More than ever, digital and computational media open up many possibilities of design domains beyond the familiar ones such as visual [1], graphical [2], information display [3], or architectural design [4, 5]. Practically every domain of practice can be associated with design practice including software [6], engineering [7], and interaction design [8. 9] to mention a few. There is no binding theory about design encompassing all domains and it is neither possible nor desirable to have one. However, most designers will agree the design seeks for solutions to existing problems to optimize built-in conditions in an attempt to transform the old to new. The creativity in design solutions is inspired by observational, interpretive, and referential skills of the designers to bring about the new conditions of living. Designers often have to work with existing materials such as in industrial design or computer chip design, or adapt existing modules and functions written by others, like in software design, or work around the built environment, like in architectural design. The origins of such materials are associated with a purposeful use, and their original use specification predates the involvement of the designer.

The designer inherits constraints associated to 1) available materials and 2) existing intentions for using the materials, the intended purpose, or intended use case. Repurposing materials to other use case or vice versa can be done as it is exercised often, but it takes place only after a careful observation and abstraction by decoupling the two classes of constraints. The most important quality of a designer is being able to work with constraints and being capable of transforming undesirables to desirables by effectively using the constraints. Design is a practice of identifying and solving the problems with constraints in order to bring transformative quality to the existing conditions.

Designing and engineering new media requires a broad scope integrating many technologies in software and hardware, while directing diverse tangible and intangible processes. No one designer can provide all the necessary skills and directions. New media is an interdisciplinary field by nature, still demanding a good definition for the literacy required for both practitioners and audience-users. In the context of emerging practice, the inquiry will be twofold in an ongoing basis: 1) design thinking – what is the proper cognitive orientation for designers to develop design thinking while working with diverse media, data types, and hardware and software environments?; 2) new media literacy – how do we facilitate the agile literacy in instruction of new media? With pedagogical orientation for new media disciplines, this inquiry leads to revisiting use and use case abstraction methodology to facilitate design thinking and new media literacy with respect to technological constructs.

[1]   Arnheim, R. (1969). Visual Thinking. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[2]   Fiell, C. and Fiell, P. Eds. (2008). Contemporary Graphic Design. Cologne: TASCHEN Publishers.

[3]   Tufte, E. (1990). Envisioning Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

[4]   Sullivan, L. (1924). The Autobiography of an Idea, New York: Press of the American institute of Architects, Inc.

[5]   Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., and Silverstein, M. (1977). A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York, NY and Cary, NC: Oxford University Press USA.

[6]   Fuller, M (2008). Software Studies: a Lexicon. Cambridge: MIT Press.

[7]   Eggert, R. J. (2005). Engineering Design. Pearson/Prentice Hall.

[8]   Winograd, T. (1986). Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corp.

[9]   Sharp, H., Rogers, Y. and & Preece, J.  (2007). Interaction Design – beyond human-computer interaction, 2nd Edition. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

From my paper:  “Revitalizing Use and Use Case Abstraction: A pedagogical Methodology for Developing Innovative Design Thinking in New Media Literacy” In Proceedings CD of the International Conference on Technology, Education, and Development, ISBN: 978-84-613-5538-9, Spain, March, 2010.