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That Word “Design”: Maybe Not So Tricky After All

A little over two years ago I wrote a post, “The Tricky Word, ‘Design.'” In it, I discussed how Adaptive Path was avoiding the word design on our website, because when used without qualifiers, it meant visual design, which we didn’t practice at the time. (We do now.)

I wrote that such an association was an unfortunate reduction of the potential meaning and power of the word. But we didn’t consider it our fight.

A few months ago, I realized something: “design,” when used unqualified, no longer means “visual design.” Design is increasingly being used to mean “big D”-design. Businessweek’s “Power of Design” and “Get Creative” issues, the iPod as an icon, even discussions of design thinking (for all their problems), are freeing “design” from the graphic ghetto.

Design is being respected for its complexity, its multidisciplinary nature, and its ability to address serious business problems.

This appreciation of Design makes me think that the idea of “user experience” as a term to describe a discipline really is dead. Because that discipline being discussed is simply design. I’m not the only one moving in this direction. Dan Brown wrote a bit back, “I’ve started replacing the words ‘user experience’ in my writing with ‘design’, a la Todd Warfel, and have been pleased with the result.” Perhaps “user experience” is an artifact of the pejoration of “design”?

  1. I imagine there were others like me two years ago who knew you were wrong when you rejected the term design.

    And I suppose there are others like me today who know you you are wrong again when you reject the term User Experience. Guess, we’ll just have to wait two years for you to realise again. 🙂

  2. The classic problem with the term “design” is the tendency for it to be “designerly” — to produce works that are more about the designer and the culture of designers than about the user.

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