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Design [ dɪˈzaɪn ] ( eng. For ' design ') usually means draft or shaping . It is a loan word from English , which in turn is derived from the Latin designare '(be) to draw' and has found its way into many languages. Design includes a multitude of aspects and goes beyond the purely external shape and color design of an object, compare Disegno . In particular, it also includes the designer's examination of the function of an object and its interaction with a user. In the design process, among other things, the function, usability and service life of an object can be influenced, which is particularly relevant in software and product design .


In terms of linguistic history, the term comes from the Italian disegno ' drawing ' . In English and French, design means 'creation' or 'draft', while Italian more strongly emphasizes a testing process, similar to the Spanish diseño . In contrast to the German usage, which aims more at design-creative aspects and largely reifies the term design , the Anglo-Saxon term design also includes technical to conceptual parts of the design.

The term dessin, borrowed from French, went into German at the beginning of the 19th century. At that time, the German term 'Mustermacher' still existed for the so-called design designer .

Since the 1960s, the English form of design prevailed against the French. In German, where the terms “industrial design” or “product design” and the like were used until 1945. a. m. used, design as a term for the process of conscious design is initially familiar to the professional world. In the course of recent design history , it became part of common parlance. Here it often serves as a collective term for all consciously designed properties of a real or virtual object , a service or a brand. Contrary to the designers' self-image, design is still understood as an application, as an additional service that primarily has to follow aesthetic rules.

The expansion of the concept of design, its opening to different areas of life, which has been observed since the 1980s, led to an increased interest in the results of the design process around the world and at the same time resulted in a greater blurring of the concept. Some of those involved in the design process criticize the change in the concept of design as inflation.

In quality management, according to the ISO standard, the shaping of the production process (in the broadest sense) is understood as a design process. This use of the term obviously goes back to the English word meaning. The design process plays an essential role in quality assurance. The term design becomes particularly confusing when the process of product design is considered. It is important to speak of the design (the process) in the design (the product).

Pluralism and design

The perspective, the field of activity or the discipline of design cannot be reduced to a generally recognized denominator . Above all, there is (still) a strong distinction to be made between theory and practice , especially in design . After all, design theory has so far hardly provided any concrete clues that can be used in practice, so that the practically acting designers actually work very independently from a theory, but still orientate themselves on empirical findings, concepts and sometimes logical systems. In practice, there is also an authority for making decisions, which is often referred to as intuition .

Theory therefore deals with design on a different level and develops models to capture or explain design practice. Furthermore, she tries to gain knowledge that could be used in practice in the future. Simply put, one can say that there is only one practice, but many theoretical models for design. The practice simply works towards its efficiency and hardly takes into account which disciplinary boundaries it breaks. The theory, on the other hand, must necessarily create certain generalizations or bring phenomena to a conceptual level, which in fact leads to theoretical models. These are always connected with the limits of writability.

Design is based on people

Design is based on people and their diverse needs. These needs range from physical and psychological needs to the demands of the human mind on the physical environment. Design does not just follow rules and intentions that it has set itself, but above all has to deal with the interests of those groups or people whom the design is supposed to serve. This makes design and the drafts are primarily purpose-oriented. The term functionality was coined for this in design theory. Not least because of its purpose orientation, design differs from art .

Process-like design

In the traditional view, the beginning of a development process is the analysis of what has been found and the requirements for an innovative concept. The analysis is followed by the specification of a concept. The designer's concept already defines initial ideas about the nature of a system or object. In doing so, the designer selects the means that he considers suitable for the fulfillment of the purposes and combines them systematically.

The more recent design theory sees analysis and synthesis as a unit. Concepts such as Doing for the sake of knowing or Analysis through synthesis , introduced by Donald A. Schön and concretized by Henrik Gedenryd , explain design more as a hermeneutic circle than as a sequence of analysis and concretization.

Because humans are, among other things, a physical sense being, i.e. can only interact with the environment through physical means, above all through the senses , every design must ultimately become physical and spatial - an object that has an impact on the body or can be grasped by the senses. Design objects and also design systems ultimately require a shape that is defined in the specific design phase. Finally, the design is implemented in the environment: For example, it is manufactured, marketed and sold in industrial series production .

Design uses diverse knowledge

Concepts and objects that are made for humans have complex properties. In practice, a wide variety of knowledge or elements are used for the development of such concepts and objects that are not specific to design from a design-theoretical point of view. Most industrially manufactured objects, for example, require the participation of technicians, engineers and market strategists in order to move from conceptual reality into market reality .

Design theory, however, limits its focus only to design-specific aspects. Although the combination of engineering knowledge, sociological and psychological knowledge is interesting for theory, technical engines, knowledge about group behavior or depth psychological models are not in themselves objects that are specific to design. In practice, however, these and many other elements are used by designers and incorporated into more extensive concepts and systems for humans. This shows that design practice uses a wide range of knowledge from a wide variety of origins. The design develops a superordinate syntax , an order, in order to have an effect on people.

Features of design

If you start from a perspective that is more phenomenological , the functions of design can hardly be cataloged. After all, there are basically as many functions as there are human needs and individuals. There are also temporal aspects, as people are constantly changing as individuals or as groups - and with them their needs. However, there are many theoretical endeavors to create a catalog of functions that is specific to design. However, only a few can be briefly listed here. The individual models are sometimes controversial among theorists, depending on their view.

The “Offenbach approach”, developed by Jochen Gros in 1983 and described and popularized again by Dagmar Steffen in collaboration with Gros in 2000, relates primarily to products and their semantic levels. The following categories are mentioned:

  1. practical functions
  2. formal-aesthetic functions and
  3. Characteristic / semantic functions, the latter being divided into subcategories
    1. Sign functions and
    2. symbolic functions.

While the practical functions relate more to the physical properties of everyday objects - scissors should be able to cut well, a handle should fit comfortably in the hand - the formal-aesthetic functions relate to the formal properties of products and their purely aesthetic order. In this way, the degree of complexity of a product in terms of different shapes is recorded. The category of indicator functions denotes those elements of an object that indicate its function, certain properties and possible use in a symbolic manner. A distinctive, red switch-on lever has an indicator function in that, firstly, it has been learned that a large lever usually switches a machine on or off. Second, the red coloring attracts special attention and indicates that it is important.

The symbolic functions relate primarily to the social or psychological aspects of an object and are often associated with group dynamics - a noticeably expensive car, for example, is supposed to symbolize the status of the owner. The symbolic functions thus relate to the position and meaning of an object within an extensive social scenario. At the same time, an object can have a special symbolic function for a single person, for example as a souvenir or as an anchor for a memory.

In 2005, Beat Schneider presented the following categories in his book Design - An Introduction and thus went beyond product design :

  1. technical-practical functions
  2. aesthetic functions and
  3. symbolic functions.

The first category again refers to the physical functions of objects. The third category is also similar to the definition of the Offenbach approach. Under the category of aesthetic functions, however, all communicative, informative and formal functions that are aimed at sensory perception and the intellect or the psyche are largely included.

In 1964 , Gui Bonsiepe worked in connection with the HfG Ulm between the

  1. informative functions and the
  2. persuasive functions


The first category refers to such forms of communication, the purpose of which is to convey objective, rational information. No further goal should be achieved than to provide the recipient with new information or knowledge. However, a persuasive function is intended to persuade or urge a person to behave. In advertising, for example, persuasive functions are often active, because potential buyers are to be stimulated to buy using different means.

The author of this article has compiled a detailed catalog of functions, partly on the basis of the categories described above, which can, however, partly overlap in terms of content. Above all, the functions can be described in the categories functions for the human body and functions for the mind and psyche .

Functions for the body

Ergonomic functions

What is meant are those aspects that address the specific direct requirements of the human body on its environment or make things more usable for it. These include handles that are adapted to the shape of the human hand or light that does not dazzle.

Beneficial functions I

All levels of objects that support the body during use are recorded here, such as the handles on scissors, which would certainly work without them.

Functions for the mind and the psyche

Beneficial functions II

Such a function is intended to explain the conditions and properties of objects, such as the above-mentioned red coloration of a switch-on lever.

Informative functions

No further goal should be achieved than to provide the recipient of the design with information or knowledge through the appropriate design. See Gui Bonsiepe

Didactic functions

Such systems, which aim to convey new knowledge and knowledge in a targeted and systematic manner, have a didactic function, such as learning-oriented diagrams for school books .

Drawing functions

Objects which, as concrete or abstract symbols, indicate content or the like have a drawing function, for example a classic arrow or the figures on toilet cubicles. Signs always require a previous learning process in order to be understood, whereby certain (concrete) signs solely from cross-cultural use of the same (fingers pointing in one direction) or from global familiarity of what is designated and the sign's direct, for example, visual reference to this (figures on WC Cabins) can thus be generally understood.

Symbolic function

The symbolic function can only be classified as a function for the mind to a limited extent, as it also includes psychological aspects. However, if you start from the recipient who interprets a symbol , it becomes clear that such a symbol initially affects the mind. Nevertheless, the connection of symbols to extensive psychological needs makes it clear that an assignment below would also fit. After all, symbols serve needs such as respect, love, or belonging.

Mediation function

Design often mediates between immaterial content (scientific knowledge), digital environments or people who are not directly present and people - for example in the form of artificial images, interfaces (human-machine interfaces) or simply letters. Whenever information is not immediately physically present or cannot be captured by natural human means, mediation functions are required that mediate between the immaterial or distant and the human senses.

Structuring function

Since humans only perceive with the senses, many concepts require a shape , a structure in order to be usable at all. The units of measurement on a ruler have a structuring function, because it can only work if the concept of evenly subdivided (discrete) units is given a form that can be experienced by the senses.

General psychological functions

In principle, any shape can affect the human psyche : certain colors have certain psychological effects; Shapes are valued differently by people and influence our mood. On an empirical, scientific basis, certain connections between concrete forms and psychological consequences were shown. In spite of everything, the factor of subjectivity is very high, since naturally every individual reacts very peculiarly to forms and shapes. Nevertheless, designs should often fulfill specific psychological functions and, for example, influence the well-being in rooms.

Persuasive functions

See Gui Bonsiepe

The free application phase

Design is functional . The objects should fulfill their purpose and be able to carry out those functions that were specified by the developer of the object. For example, a poster should convey certain information or a chair should fulfill its ergonomic function.

In the development process, the functions were embedded in the object. In the application phase of the objects, the possible functions are now used - ideally for the developer according to his interests. In addition, however, the user also has certain interests and uses, interprets or even reuses the objects according to his subjective background. After all, the developer cannot always clearly foresee which determination the objects will carry out in the application phase. Posters can be misunderstood, the content of a message can be changed by adding more content, chairs are used to place other objects on them - to name just a few simple examples. Uta Brandes introduced the term 'non-intentional design', which indicates the spontaneous and targeted conversion of objects so that they are no longer used for their intended purpose.

Far reaching consequences of design

The functions described above relate more to an immediate effect on individual persons or groups. In the rarest of cases, the effects of drafts take place according to a simple stimulus-response scheme . Information from a poster, statements from a commercial and the like reinforce or neutralize each other. They contribute to a permanent ranking of brands and meanwhile also political groups or personalities. With its stringency, design can reinforce comprehensive processes that have been planned beforehand by developers or clients and correspond to their intentions and interests. Even in the pure development phase of objects, tasks and questions arise, the far-reaching consequences of which are rarely discussed in the design process. Designers like Otl Aicher therefore always started a design process with a kind of de-briefing, with which they tried to differentiate between actual and alleged goals.

Economic consequences

Design is used to develop, optimize and differentiate products and services : provider A wants to stand out from provider B; he wants to position himself prominently in the market and promote sales. For this reason, the design works out a comprehensive design strategy, which ranges from a corporate design and efficient advertising measures to an innovative product line. Not least because of an efficient design strategy , products and services are bought, so that design now has far-reaching economic consequences - not only for the individual company, but in some cases for the entire market. Clear cost calculations already play a role in the development phase of the products. A simple change in the choice of material or the construction of a product can save costs or explode, increase or minimize its attractiveness.

Social consequences

In the context of the description of the symbolic function, group dynamic effects have already been mentioned. For example, an expensive vehicle and the possession of certain clothes should convey the social status of the owner to a group or support group membership. Such effects are sometimes difficult to plan in the development process, but attempts are made, among other things, through advertising and other marketing measures to control such social consequences in order to be able to position the products more precisely.

Above all, however, urban planning and architecture , which can also be described as design in a comprehensive understanding, have far-reaching social and political consequences. If social groups with low incomes are settled outside of large cities ( banlieues ) and the higher income groups are located within the cities, as is the case in Paris, for example, this can lead to social hot spots that lead to political effects. Richard Buckminster Fuller's idealistic concept of using industrial production methods to make residential buildings so light and inexpensive that one can be provided for everyone is also aimed at social and political consequences in the development phase.

Ecological consequences

In the development phase, especially of industrially manufactured products, the ecological consequences must be considered. After all, material resources, raw materials and energy are always used in the manufacture, distribution and even the exemplary recycling of products. In the use phase of almost every commodity, resources are required that pollute the environment. Here, too, tiny design details - in the case of electrical devices, for example the lack of an off switch - have significant effects that can increase with the scaling of the product in the industrial production process. The life cycle assessment provides specific means of determining how environmentally friendly a design or product is in the entire product cycle .

Theoretical limits of design

After it has already been made clear how differently the functions of design are described by different theorists, the differentiation of design from other areas of human creativity is also viewed differently by different theories. In essence, everyone agrees that design is people-oriented and that innovative concepts, systems and objects are developed to have an impact on people. However, the theories differ when it comes to the question of the extent to which one can speak of design in practice and in everyday life.

Very traditional and generally regarded as outdated theories saw in design the pure shaping of objects for the purpose of embellishment and improvement of practical functionality. Almost teleologically , they strived for a final form of things that could no longer be improved as an end, as if these were not always limited and temporary by materials, technologies, uses, needs and functions. The exemplary character of certain designs was emphasized. The “ Good Form ” award was part of this tradition, but was abolished. In their place were sometimes just as questionable awards, which judge the design quality especially under aspects of practical design regularity and perfection. Often these products, which correspond to pure teaching, cannot convince the market.

For example, design should stimulate consumer behavior, generate purchase wishes or differentiate products and companies from one another. In some cases, design is actually only spoken of when two- or three-dimensional products go into mass production. Instead, unique pieces are referred to as handicrafts . This overlooks the fact that design is also of great importance in a completely private environment or in social and political contexts. Furthermore, it is questionable whether the quantity of the reproduction of an object can provide information about whether it is a design or not. After all, a definition should be looked for in general qualitative aspects: for example in motivation, perspective and the effects of design.

Some theorists take a particular level of formal and functional quality of objects as their starting point. They differentiate between different levels of design in terms of innovation, technical quality and formal height. Traditional objects such as oak chests of drawers are sometimes referred to as non-design or banal design - particularly sophisticated, novel objects with a high degree of innovative conception, on the other hand, as particularly good design.

Other theorists elude a concrete definition and emphasize a special gift of the practically acting designer, which enables them to think outside the box, to take unconventional paths and to solve diverse problems. The most general and probably the least elitist theory sees every person as a designer and design as a very fundamental competence of human activity and creation. After all, almost everyone develops objects and forms on a daily basis that are geared towards human needs - for example private websites, furniture that is arranged according to functional criteria or even built by oneself, or letters and diagrams in the office.

The problem of defining what good design is arises from the various requirements with regard to aesthetics, utility, practicability and other factors that can only be met equally by a theoretical ideal design.

Design disciplines

In professional design practice, there are various disciplines that are differentiated according to the media used or according to functions. Above all, the following disciplines apply in professional practice and also at universities to distinguish the competence of professional designers. Even if this separation does not appear in practice. Rather, the acceptance for interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary designers and their training is growing. Designers with non-specialist skills are happy to be employed in otherwise monocultural teams. There are influential designers for each of these areas who shaped the development.

Design - stamp pad
Application design
describes the definition of functions and functional scope, fields of application and the behavior and design of a software product taking into account the graphical user interface and corporate design specifications.
Although architects usually do not see themselves as designers, they fulfill the ideals of design in their work.
Automotive design, transportation design
Automobiles , but also other vehicles, are developed by transportation designers.
Axiomatic design
This term describes a method for the structured design of systems.
Corporate Design
There are (yet) no designated courses for corporate design , but many designers and companies have specialized in corporate design. Corporate identity describes the overarching, general self-conception and the external image of organizations. The term corporate design refers to all formal aspects of the corporate identity, logo , the typical company product design, the advertising appearances, the company architecture.
Database design
Database design refers to the planning and creation of a database. One also speaks of database design. This is an important step before creating a database application, especially with complex database systems such as relational databases.
Design management
In the Design Management is primarily about the control of the organizational processes and the strategic use of design applications.
Color design or color design
According to the term, color designers are used in design offices and larger companies in all industries.
Television design
The TV design is the audiovisual appearance of various television channels . It is known as television design or on air design ( motion design ).
Photo design
The focus in photo design is on visual communication with images.
Game design
The origin of game design lies in the video game industry. Game design deals with the visualization of a game, i.e. game idea, story, programming, level design.
Graphic design, communication design
The term communication design generally stands for a function that also applies to products, but in practice it is usually equated with graphic design. This discipline includes the application of and knowledge of layout , typography , photography ( image processing ), internet design (graphic web design ), information theory and media theory . The advertising industry and corporate communication in particular are served by communication design.
Haptic design
The term haptic design encompasses the design of all tangible properties of a product and its product environment, including the haptic properties of all manipulable parts (switches, covers, etc.).
Interaction design
When interaction design interactivity between people and the environment by electronic input devices, sensors and computer systems in the foreground. In the last few years in particular, more and more projects relating to dynamic and controllable architecture have emerged.
Interface design
The interface design deals with the design and development of human-machine interfaces to software - and hardware side and the reciprocal implications.
Invention design
sketches, generates and develops new tools and products at the interface between the physical and networked world.
Lighting design
Light design is an area of ​​light planning that deals with the design aspects as a key point. It can be an architectural, decorative or theater-oriented design.
Media design
Mediendesign already indicates in the name that it basically deals with all variants of analogue and digital media and not only concentrates on visualization and communication with media, but also includes the design and theoretical analysis of information and interaction.
Fashion design, clothing design
Fashion design refers to the planning and development (drafting) of fashion or fashion collections in the form of clothing and accessories with the optimal use of production and economic factors. The term fashion design is often equated alternatively with clothing design, even if fashion is actually a general term and is not necessarily linked to clothing .
Product design, industrial design
The product design and industrial design focuses on the functional development and the shaping of manufactured products (such as computers, cars, household appliances, tools, furniture, medical equipment, sports equipment). Engineering knowledge is also required for this.
Public Interest Design
Public Interest Design is design education and practice aimed at shaping the common good and public interests .
Jewelry design
The jewelry design includes the creation of individual pieces and serially produced pieces of jewelry.
Service design
Service design deals with the design of services and is a young but rapidly growing discipline.
Sound design
Sound design is the conceptual design of sound and sound services. There are many sub-areas here, such as film sound design and acoustic product design.

System design

System design deals with the dynamic development processes of complex systems and develops strategic solutions for complex problems (so-called wicked problems ).

Textile design
Textile design describes the planning and development (drafting) of sample offers, as surface or structure, for textiles with the optimal use of production and economic factors. This occupational field includes the classic areas of clothing, home and contract textiles as well as increasingly the technical area, such as in the vehicle and medical industries.
Universal design
Universal Design ( Universal Design ) is a design concept that products, equipment, environments and systems designed so that they can be used for as many people as possible without further adaptation or specialization.
Orientation design
The objective of a user-friendly tour through public spaces (areas, buildings, parks) requires the cooperation of various designers with the clients, designers or executors of these spaces.
Web design
Web design (also web design) includes the design, construction and user guidance of websites for the WWW and the interface design in this area.

See also

Portal: Design  - Overview of Wikipedia content on design



  • Gui Bonsiepe : Education for visual design. In: Journal of the University of Design. Issue 12/13. HfG, Ulm 1964, pp. 17-24.
  • Uta Brandes , Michael Erlhoff , Nadine Schemmann : Design theory and design research. Study design. UTB, Fink, Paderborn 2009, ISBN 978-3-8252-3152-1 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  • Petra Eisele, Bernhard E. Bürdek (ed.): Design, beginning of the 21st century. Discourses and perspectives. Av Edition, Ludwigsburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-89986-150-1 .
  • Daniel Martin Feige: Design. A philosophical analysis. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2018.
  • Thomas Friedrich , Ruth Dommaschk (Ed.): Bildklangwort. Basics of design. Aesthetics and Cultural Philosophy Series, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-8258-8111-3 .
  • Gerhard Heufler: Design Basics. From the idea to the product. Niggli Ag, Sulgen / Zurich 2004, ISBN 978-3-7212-0517-6 .
  • William Lidwell: Design. The 100 principles for successful design. Stiebner, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-8307-1295-2 .
  • Claudia Mareis: Theories of Design as an introduction. Junius Verlag, Hamburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-88506-086-4 .
  • Beat Schneider: Design - an introduction. Birkhäuser, Basel 2005, ISBN 3-7643-7241-9 .

Special topics


  • md - INTERIOR | DESIGN | ARCHITECTURE ( website )
  • design report. - Magazine for form and function, meaning and value ( website )
  • form ( website )
  • PAGE - DESIGN. CODE. BUSINESS. ( Website )
  • IDPURE - the swiss magazine of visual creation graphic design and typography ( website )

Teaching material

  • Martin Bruckner u. a .: Design workbook for art lessons from grade 7 . Klett, Stuttgart et al. 1993, ISBN 3-12-205950-9 .
  • Marion Godau : product design . An introduction with examples from practice. Birkhäuser, Basel 2004.
  • Robert Schwermer: Project components: Design. AOL Verlag, Lichtenau 2007.

Web links

Wikiquote: Design  - Quotes
Wiktionary: Design  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Thomas Hauffe: Crash course design . Dumont, Cologne 1995, p. 10 .
  2. ibid., P. 11
  3. Steffen, Dagmar: Design as a product language - The “Offenbach approach” in theory and practice . Publisher form, Frankfurt / Main 2000
  4. Beat Schneider: Design - an introduction . Birkhäuser, 2005
  5. Gui Bonsiepe: Education for visual design in: Journal of the Ulm School of Design . Ulm 12/13, HfG Ulm, Ulm 1964
  6. Uta Brandes, Miriam Steffen, Sonja Stich: The everyday transformation of what is designed in use . unpublished research report, non-intentional design (NID), Cologne 1999