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In the past few years, design has evolved and expanded its horizons. One of the reasons behind this evolution is the growing complexity of how people deal with design challenges.

At first glance, the term “design” evokes aesthetics of tangible objects. It may also remind you of design’s subcategories such as graphic design, product design, automobile design, fashion design, etc. 

However, in the scope of design is broader than this. Design is about a projected desired that becomes an action to find a human-centred solution. 

When dealing with complex problems, the way you do things and solve problems matters because it creates different results. The multiplication order that states “changing the order of factors does not change the product” doesn’t apply when we are dealing with systemic change and people – and this is why Design Thinking is so important nowadays.

The concept of design has been transformed in the past few decades and it now includes a range of challenges and objectives that weren’t part of the spectrum before.

If design were a person, I would say that this person had started learning the use of aesthetics and gradually progressed to learn how to tackle and translate outcomes for information and communication problems through graphic and visual design.

After making this progression, our friend “design” took another step forward and started dealing with physical things. Specifically, “design” started creating products, spaces and every possible tangible outcome. When “design” took this step, it became easier to understand what “design” was capable of doing. One of the examples of this order of design is BAUHAUS that believes that “form follows function”. These abilities are essential in societal development. The design of tangible things helped shape our society since the industrial age until now.

“Design” was already becoming famous, but ”it” was still shy and material-oriented.  “Design” eventually understood that “its” life couldn’t be lived through a material perception only. Hence, “it” started experimenting with the creation and manipulation of things that weren’t material or tangible; the things that exist in between other relations.

How has design evolved?

Richard Buchanan, in his ideas about Four Orders of Design theory, points out how design has changed over time in its overall scope; from a context of creating tangible things to accessing intangible change.

The Four Orders Of Design

1- Design of Symbols

In the first order, using the principles of Graphic and Information Design, there is an emphasis on developing the necessary symbols for the communication process. From a visual point of view, it is a matter of projecting the message to be transmitted, persuasive arguments, syntax and semantics, enabling understanding and facilitating the exchange of information. This one is the order of design that involves typography, illustration, photographs, prints and everything related to the universe of graphic design, visual design and communication design.

2- Industrial Design

The designer’s intention in this order is to design physical objects that are useful to people, such as in Industrial Design and Architecture. It is about selecting and applying different materials, design tools and incorporating available technology, which will give support in use and interaction in the real world. This order is related to physical, tangible artefacts, objects and space (architecture).

3- Design of Interactions

This order is related to people’s behaviour, as occurs in Interaction and Service Design. The third order is about designing the processes involved in how people act; designing transactions and activities over time, as well as defining the points of contact and choice options. In the interaction order, the field of design is in action. The focus here is on drawing experiences rather than objects. In this order, the focus is on interaction, services and experience design.

4- Design of Systems

The last order of design is the most complex of all. In it, we talk about designing dynamic environments and systems. It is about designing the transformation of systems and their structures. It also involves designing their functions and flows as well as using its dimensions and constraints. The last order focuses on human systems, the integration of information, objects, interactions and social, work and learning environments. In this order the focus is to design businesses, learning experiences, systems, culture, organisations, and cities.

At Echos, we focus on the third and fourth orders of design; an area that few people endeavour because of its ambiguity and complexity. We call this design area the “invisible design”.

We believe that the things that cannot be touched are the things that matter the most to people. Consequently, this is why we, as humans, cannot leave the design of the most important things, such as services, experiences, systems, organisations, and culture left to unconscious design.

If you’re keen on incorporating innovation through design into your business, Echos offers both on-campus and in-house training programs that cater to various industries. 

This article is an extract from Echos’ Design Thinking Toolkit. To download Echos’ Complete Design Thinking Toolkit, click here.

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