A design typology continuum

This diagram wasn’t of much interest to ixda (who are more interested in password security settings or delete buttons, rather than critical design theory) but perhaps this is of interest to you, GhostPixel reader ;-) Here’s an attempt to make sense of the recent (and ongoing) Cambrian-like explosion of new design activities, fields, or domains of practice that has caused some angst and confusion among those who affiliate themselves with “interaction design”.

A Design Typology Continuum: http://bit.ly/vYbBl

This poster is a personal attempt at making sense of the craziness of the design world lately, heavily based upon Richard Buchanan’s “Four Orders of Design”, which succinctly maps out the development of design moving from “posters and toasters” into the new challenges of social interaction, information architecture, service design, and managing as designing, in the business arena and beyond, into general culture. I’m not sure of Buchanan’s latest thinking (his model is at over 10+ yrs old now) but I’ve updated the language to reflect much of thinking going on around “design thinking” and “transformation” and “digital product design”, for example.

Some things to observe in this diagram that warrant further pondering:

# The movement (Left to Right) from concrete, materially crafted results (“things” ) towards increasingly abstract, immaterial outcomes (“activities” ) that elude easy pointing and saying “this is the result”
# Relatedly, increasing degree of complexity and “wickedness” of problems, entering realms of business, society, and culture
# The materials of design evolve from tangible (inks, matter, pixels(?)) towards intangible (values, attitudes, lifestyles), further fuzzying conventional design boundaries and provoking “what is it designers do?” sorts of questions
# I deliberately made the visually richest area to be in that middle zone between 3rd and 4th Order, as the place we’re at now, with so much potential and excitement and lots of happenings going on now in Design at-large. I sense there’s some cycling going on, with methods and approaches across the Orders feeding and impacting each other.
# I think these need to be highlighted in some way: Digital Product Design (for lack of better phrase) and Social Change, so I created sub-clusters, positioning them near the 3rd / 4th Orders. These seem to be the “hot” areas now deserving attention, from Web 2.0/SaaS/multitouch to designing for eco/green, or Third World, etc.
# The final part at the far right, hypothesizes what may be next, “massive change” (borrowing Bruce Mau’s phrase) featuring truly wicked problems…perhaps the ultimate field of design is focused on ethics, involving transcendental & universal values of culture/humanity/society to tackle huge problems impacting govt, edu, poverty, human rights, etc. I don’t know, but I sense that may be on the distant horizon (or how the trajectory is aiming)

Of course this will be constantly evolved and iterated upon…

Further discussion on ixda where I originally posted and have some comments/replies, here.

Uday Gajendar

I am a UI designer in Silicon Valley, having worked within large corporate user experience teams and design consultancies, for over a decade.

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