In continuation of our project to design the next design firm, we were attempting to articulate our personal visions for the future of what design might be when we stumbled upon three perspectives for trying to understand why we design. We separated these into design to advance the discipline of design, design to benefit organizations, and design to benefit individuals. These are interrelated, but have distinctions, I believe. We realized that a debate about these perspectives might last a few days, so we cut it short and moved on. However, I’d like to note the beginning of the discussion and throw out some further thoughts.

Design to advance the discipline is interested in establishing design as a more widely recognized approach to solving certain (wicked) problems. While it was noted in our meeting that this view has the potential for getting up its own ass and is largely academic, given the characteristic humility of design, perhaps not. A byproduct of advancing a discipline that is concerned with moving from the current state to the preferred state by human-centered means is that individuals and organizations would inherently benefit.

We didn’t really talk about what the perspective of designing for organizations and individuals might be. But I’ll take a stab at it. Designing for organizations focuses on the success of the organization as a whole and is concerned with the survival of said organization. Design is an approach to accomplish this end, but again the focus is the organization. Individuals may benefit from this endeavor, though they are not the focus. The discipline of design may benefit, but it is not the focus. Designing for individuals concerns itself with the individual first. The goal is to help people and design is a means to do this. Organizations may benefit, but that is not the goal. Again, the discipline may benefit, but that is not the purpose.

The distinction I see between the three is in the end purpose. There are other ways to help organizations and individuals other than design. If the focus of ones designing is to benefit those two, I view that as different from endeavoring to promote the discipline of design because it will inherently benefit those two. Perhaps this is too subtle a distinction, or completely silly to debate. Or maybe there’s something interesting there.