Is defining design a worthwhile endeavor? Or should we just get on with it, do what we do and not analyze it so much?

My rather amorphous thesis paper revolves around the process of design research to design concepts, supposedly within the realm of interaction design, but so far not really staying within that boundary. In each reading, there invariably exists an attempt to define design, or sometimes an acknowledgment that a definition may not exist, or isn’t even the point.

“The answer is probably that we shall never really find a single satisfactory definition but that the searching is probably much more important than the finding.” —Bryan Lawson, How Designers Think

I found Lawsons idea similar to thoughts I had during the Emergence conference while witnessing for the second year in a row the struggle to define service design. The question that first came to mind was why everyone felt a need to define service design. From that, I jumped to the conclusion: What if we were able to define service design in a way that everyone agreed? What then?

Similarly I wonder about design in general. Lawson’s book was first published in 1980, but his insights are still relevant because we are still having the same conversation. What is design?

To answer my own question of what would happen if we were able to define and agree on a definition of design, design would become paralyzed and die.

Design. Die? What?

It sounds ridiculous that design could die. But perhaps it is also ridiculous to think we can define design, even though we must. For if we collectively became conscious of the futilely of our passion to define design, we might stop trying, and in doing so cease the momentum of design.

Thus I argue that the constant attempt or conversation of trying to define design is necessary for the advancement of design, even though the presumed end goal is futile. In this respect, Lawson is right when he says “the searching is probably much more important than the finding.”

So continue your search and forget what I said, for I don’t want to go down in the books as the man who killed design.