Discussing the relevance of design and graphic design

Design is blessing and curse. Blessing because it is comfortable to know that there is an activity concerned with attending to human interests, advocating for people needs. And it’s a curse when you use the term “design” as a one-size-fits-all definition that instead of clarifying, just confuses.

I will be clearer: there is a considerable gap between discussing the relevance of “design” and the relevance of “graphic design.” I believe that only an innocent soul would disregard the importance of design. Design is relevant. Graphic design maybe is not.

See, we have countless articles, theories, studies trying to describe the pertinence, scope, goals, methods used in “design”. In general, epistemologically speaking, it is more about conceptual, philosophical discussions that have their value and place.

However, I note that when the subject touches on more “specific” topics such as the relevance of graphic design, the discussion quickly flows toward broader, generic, and abstract definitions.

It is a commonplace to treat graphic design, interaction design, product design, architectural design, strategic design, fashion design, information design, interface design, design anything, using broad definitions and defending that they are the same type of activity, after all. They are not. Neither historically, nor pragmatically speaking.

The evolution of these “design” activities, their restrictions, the laws they must obey, their purpose, their modus operandi, are different. Okay, they have something in common: the way one uses inductive and deductive thinking to articulate ideas and come to conclusions. Nothing different from what countless other human activities do, such as doctors, engineers, veterinarians, car mechanics, hairdressers, glass cleaners. All of these need to articulate ideas and come to conclusions in a simple process that we can call “thinking.”

A scholar has already described thought as a series of steps such as:

  • A felt difficulty
  • Its location and definition
  • Suggestion of possible solution (a supposition, conjecture, guess, hypothesis or theory)
  • Development by reasoning of the bearings of the suggestion (the rational elaboration of an idea)
  • Further observation and experiment leading to its acceptance or rejection (Chapter 6, pages 72-78)

What scholar was that? John Dewey, in the book “How We Think”, 1910.

So, what the different types of design share is essentially the process of human thought. Period.

However, the different specialties of design are full of peculiarities and undergo an evolutionary process of their own, with some specialties evolving, others falling into decline or changing direction, as is happening with conventional “graphic design” in areas such as publishing (newspapers, magazines, books).

We must also make a distinction between design as “activity” (inherent in human beings) and as “profession.” As an activity, it will always be relevant insofar as it is a process upon which human survival depends. As a profession, its relevance depends on other social, economic, environmental, and technological factors that can change the way value that is created over the years.

I made the challenge about the decreasing relevance of graphic design, more as an exercise for graphic designers to see themselves in the timeline and wonder if the direction in which the profession evolves is adequate.

Therefore, it is very difficult to reflect and question about the evolution of a large package called “design” without moving to generic and abstract arguments. But in the case of graphic design, I find it easier to assess your past, present, and future, at least locally, in your country or region.

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