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Most people understand what design is but they find it difficult to elaborate. It is a struggle to explain what design is because of its elusive nature and scope as broad as the horizon. However, any designer worth their salt is aware that design is more than making things look pretty or facilitating life with brute functionality. It is a meaningful process culminating in a product that is aesthetic as well as functional.
Etymologically, the definition of design is a plan or purpose behind an action. It has roots in the Latin word ‘designare,’ which means contriving, plotting, or creating. Design pervades every aspect of life, and dictates its presence upon the human body, flora, fauna, weather, climate, etc. In fact, one can also claim that the universe is conceived out of a design, a plan that bestowed it with form and function. To understand the essence of design, one can refer to the American poet Robert Frost’s famous poem ‘Design’ which conveys that things are as they are not because of sheer luck but because of a grand design in the universe that diligently decides the colour of every flower, the weakness of every moth that will be attracted to that flower, and the strength of every spider that will end up devouring that moth. The design logic that dictates the colour of a flower is also the logic that dictates the design of graphics or interiors. The application of this principle is the act of designing.
Over time, the term design has also come to be understood as the practical application of artistic principles. Moreover, the broad scope of design as a discipline resists any attempt at definition. While designing involves a significant portion of imagination, it is not a fanciful activity but a result of keen observation and thorough study. Design is a deliberate arrangement of elements in space and time in pursuit of the desired outcome.
The earliest conception of a design was executed by an Early East African hominid who struck two stones together to design a tool. Gradually, the early humans evolved and so did the process of designing. From a hominid designing the first tool to Michaelangelo designing David out of a monolith, humans have come a long way. The skill to see the tool in the rock and David in the monolith is the mark of geometrically increasing design intelligence in humans.
Victor Margolin, the author of World History of Design traces the global evolution of design and relates it to the fundamental human requirement to organise the surroundings for optimum survival. From prehistoric to modern times, humans have resorted to designing to enhance the vision of their material reality and overcome the obstacles preventing them from thriving. Design is not simply the creation of aesthetic and functional objects, it has been a key component in the creation of culture. While tracing the evolution of design, one finds its umbilical connection to the economic, political, and cultural conditions of the times. The elements of design were prevalent in the creation of the first stone tool, the invention of the wheel as a medium of transportation, and several centuries later design was the very factor that helped Ford cars replace horse-led wagons.
To understand a concept as expansive as design, one needs to begin by understanding the individual characteristics of the process.
Is design an Art?
While the process of designing is very similar to the creation of art, the two are very different in their approach, ends, and means. Art is more subjective and holds space for a plethora of interpretations and often takes into account the feelings, emotions, and intent of the author. Art is open to interpretation and does not have a defined purpose. The audience imparts purpose to an artwork they engage with. On the other hand, design has certain predetermined ends in place. It aims at securing a solution to a problem and marries form and function instead of prioritising one over the other. It is directed towards utility and ease of access for the consumer. Designing is an art as well as a science as it takes inspiration from the imaginative potential of art and the problem-solving, skeptic temperament of science.
User-oriented nature of design
Designing by its nature aspires to alleviate the grievances of the user and offer functionality and utility. Addressing the needs of people and improving their lives is central to the concept of designing. The user is the centre of the project and designing occurs in unison with their identified or unidentified needs. Ideally, the design aims to provide a solution to a problem. The importance of design lies in its indispensable contribution to society’s requirements.
A good design hides in plain sight
The best art is one created with simplicity. The best poem is not a verse gauded with literary ornamentation, but a heartfelt and simple expression that makes the reader feel. Similarly, good design does not have an obvious presence, instead, it is almost invisible. An imperceivable design reflects that the user experience has been meticulously upgraded to an extent that the user is barely aware of the design. A good design draws connections with people and is not empty of emotion or aesthetics.
A balance of Form and Function
The battle between form and function is perennial and it is imperative to build an understanding in design where both are regarded equally. Designing that favours form and beauty over practicality loses function. Mere aesthetics cannot make a good design if the user has a difficult time navigating it or if it does not have a function. Similarly, overdependence on functionality over form detaches the user from the experience and makes the design impersonal. A fine balance between form and function is key to a skillful design.
The trajectory of the evolution of design reflects how design has been in sync with the evolution of humans and their perception of form. The awareness of design was a crucial factor that separated humans from other species. As a way of intentional arrangement of elements to provide aesthetic pleasure and functionality, design imparts order to this chaotic world, legibly translating its secrets for public benefit. It is the optimised way of reaching a target. Since the awareness of design, life has become more convenient for humans and civilisations have evolved by leaps and bounds, ensuring the survival of humankind. Design is all-pervasive and impacts the personal as well as professional spheres. Design is what helps a business achieve its maximum potential by employing the art and science of design. In fashion it is responsible for the uninhibited expression of one’s self and the fashion industry is seen as one of the most innovative and experimental industries. Design is what infuses form and function into cloth to elevate it from a bare fabric to an outfit infused with an idea, creativity, and utility.
A prominent example of the balance of Form and Function in design is the Hawa Mahal, situated in Jaipur. Lal Chand Ustad designed the palace in a manner that allowed royal women to view the public processions through small windows called 'jharokha' without compromising the purdah rule prevalent at the time. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, the intricate lattice work employed the Venturi Effect principle to keep the palace cool even in the debilitating heat of Rajasthan. The monument is internationally famous today for its intricate and intelligent design that excelled in balancing the formal and functional aspects.
In the discipline of design, various undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral courses are offered. Creatively inclined individuals are most likely to opt for designing roles in the field of fashion designing, UX designing, graphic designing, web designing, interior designing, etc. The field of designing is open to candidates from all educational backgrounds, the only requisites are skills, aptitude, and motivation. In India, design courses are offered by eminent institutions across the country. Candidates may be required to qualify for certain entrance examinations to secure admission to the courses. People of all backgrounds are eligible for design programs, however, eligibility may vary among institutions and candidates should thoroughly go through the course details of their target institute. Unlike other subjects, the institution you choose to pursue your course from makes a significant difference if you are looking to venture into the realm of design and chart a career in it. If the course is globally recognised, it will attract recruiters from anywhere and thus would help you land into the job of your choice.
Aspiring candidates can pursue diploma, certificate courses, or degree courses in design through regular or distance mode. Bachelor of Design courses are offered in various domains like fashion design, leather design, accessory design, textile design, fashion communication, apparel production, etc. Many of the above courses are offered under the Bachelor of Arts degree as well. Master of Design courses are offered in the above domains and may also include niches like fashion merchandising, fashion retail, fashion management, etc.
Design is an up-and-coming discipline that offers multifarious opportunities for career growth. Opportunities are available for candidates at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, however, they may vary on the basis of the specialisation. A career in designing is highly coveted in today’s world as the demand for skilled designers across domains is on the rise. With the onset of digital revolution and the world moving to an online space, the upsurge has opened innumerable avenues for design aspirants. Some of the most sought-after careers in design are Fashion and Accessory, Communication Design, Textile, Interior Design, UI/UX and more.
Within one domain of design, several subdomains or specialisations exist. For example, under fashion designing, positions like fashion designer, fashion marketer, fashion manager, quality controller, fashion coordinator, etc can be explored in accordance with one’s aptitude. Entrepreneurial opportunities are also abundant in the design landscape. Candidates who have a managerial aptitude can also focus on managerial services related to their specialisation. Most colleges have a placement cell for graduating students. However, even in the absence of a college placement cell, design graduates can find their services required at notable companies like Raymond’s, Gucci, Ogilvy, etc. A career in designing can be a lucrative experience. The remuneration of designers differs on the basis of their specialisation and their position. The importance of designing and its salient relationship with human lifestyle has evolved through millennia and is expected to keep evolving, maintaining a decent requirement for designing roles in the market.
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