Designs are the output of some process and they are usually identified by functions, quantities or relationships among objects. A design is simply a detailed blueprint or description of the arrangement or structure of an object or a system, or even the intended result of such a blueprint or description in the form of a model, experiment or procedure. The word ‘design’ dates back to the 12th century and was used by the Medieval Latin word ‘diano’. The French also have an interesting word ‘modeling’ which means ‘acting as if’.


In order to illustrate the meaning of designs, consider a set of questions asked by NASA scientists toward the end of the 20th century. Among the questions asked were as to whether the designs provided by a designer would fly, land, operate and control a spacecraft. Answers to those questions depended on how the designers defined those functions. A simple definition would be “the effectiveness and performance of a certain design depends on how it is designed.” Designers needed to justify their choices regarding how to best define those designs.

So how do designers go about justifying their choices? One answer might be, “I use a simple drawing as my way of modeling the end result. Then I map out all the functions and dynamics of that object using software like AutoCAD or Solid Works. After that, I test that computer simulation against what I have in mind using testing instruments such as aerospace flight controls or control panels. If the results of those tests are successful, then the airplane, landing gear or whatever it is that I am trying to simulate flies, operates, and handles properly.”

The designers did not stop there. After they completed a successful flight, they would demonstrate their worth by actually demonstrating that they had done it. This would involve using complex machinery such as an auto-pilot or a hypodermic needle. They would demonstrate their worthiness by using complicated language, drawings and so on.

The purpose of this article is not to degrade the designer or to give a thumbs-up to any given creative endeavor. (It is, in fact, to introduce the designer to the basic skills involved in problem-solving.) My point is simply to illustrate how a careful analysis of the problem-solving process can help us evaluate creative output. Problem-solving is an essential skill and a necessary component of the applied arts. It can also be applied to architecture, painting, writing, multimedia production, and so on. There is no reason why creative output in those disciplines cannot meet the standard of what we expect in a good architect or creative writer.

Let’s face it, a good designer does not have to come from an industrial design background. It is possible to train yourself to be a great designer and if you apply yourself diligently to learning new design processes, you should be able to overcome any lack of formal training. As part of the applied arts, a designer needs to understand how and why an image is created. This understanding will become invaluable in problem-solving and future design process. A graphic designer can only be as good as the image that he or she creates and the more training and practice, a designer has the more valuable his or her skills will be in the long run.