Design is Science, Art and Engineering


After reading Sherry Wu's article how Design is not Science, Art or Engineering, I felt compelled to respond. While Design cannot be equated with these, it does not have an adversarial relationship to them. They are ingredients.

I do not agree that we need to define any of these disciplines in stark, rigid terms, especially when trying to explain what we do to others not in our field. When we explain to these people, they are our audience, our customers. We must apply our own discipline to the conversation and find a relatable way to explain.

Design is like preparing a meal

If you were working to prepare dinner and dessert for your family, what would you consider?

  1. You wouldn't want to prepare things you know your family doesn't like
  2. You wouldn't want to prepare too much or too little
  3. You would make it pleasing to look at, since presentation is very important
  4. You would have it ready when people are hungry

The Science

Let's do some user research and determine what foods the family likes. You've built a lot of this information up over the years, through experimentation and data collection. And then you might ask, "Would you like pot roast tonight?", since your data may be out of date, or someone may have had meat for lunch and wants a change. This data will drive you to a conclusion.

The Art

Presentation will change the acceptance of your meal. You could take the meat, vegetables, starch, etc., and mix it all up and glop it onto a paper plate. On the other hand, you could choose green broccoli, orange peppers, and purple potatoes, arrange them around the medium rare meat on a lovely china dish, with a back-and-forth drizzle of sauce over the meat.

Same components. Pretty much same taste. Very different response.

The Engineering

Then you find out that your child's baseball practice was canceled and she WILL be home for dinner...and she hates broccoli. And she'll actually be home a half hour later than you were planning. You just got a change in requirements but only a slight change to schedule.

Now you have to see what you've got and solve the problem. Do you have something else to serve? Do you have enough to serve? Do you have time to run out and get something else before everyone wants to eat? You will put something together: synthesis.

Design is not just the sum of the parts

There is certainly a lot to Design, and I wouldn't advocate trying to explain it pedantically. Rather than saying Design is NOT X, Y, or Z, Design is actually what your audience expects and more.

Your audience could be people you just met on an airplane. Or your Engineering colleagues. Or a C-level executive. Or a prospective client. As with the experiences we design, Design itself can be explained on a level that resonates with our audience.eDesign IS Science, Art AND Engineering