I thought it would be interesting to start a series to define some basics about design and user experience in fewer than 500 words. So, I’m trying to get the ball rolling with a definition of design. This is my personal definition. Anyone care to take a stab at “user experience”, “good design”, “usability” or something else? Or maybe you have issues with my definition? Let’s get the discussion going!

So, here it goes! What is design?

In its most essential terms, design (more specifically product design) is the transformation of an idea into a virtual or physical thing. All man-made things have been designed, whether the design is good or bad. But I do think that design is the result of an intention. Can there be unintentional design? There may be unintended consequences of a design decision, but design seems to me to be inherently connected to a conscious intention.

Often the word “design” is used to describe an object’s outer appearance. However, design is much more than how something looks. Design has to do with every aspect of a thing that we can perceive: the way it feels, moves, sounds, looks, works, and endures (and, for many products, even the way they smell and taste). How smoothly does the metal box open? How many steps are required to install an app? How secure does the potato peeler feel in a wet, perhaps arthritic, hand? How easy is it to mute the television? Does the cabinet door close with a firm click or a slight bounce? How long does the rechargeable battery in my smartphone last? Does the cap on my premium bottle of lemonade open with no sound at all or does it make a popping sound that subliminally indicates to me that the contents were sealed and fresh?

All of these things can be manipulated by the people responsible for bringing a thing into existence. Whether they are engineers, graphic designers, developers, stylists, sound designers, interaction designers or any of the many other fields responsible for the numerous aspects, large and small, that come together to bring a product to market.

Why has design become such an important topic lately? Because there is a growing realization that design has the potential to connect us emotionally to a product and, if done well, can command brand loyalty and a premium price.

There are many reasons and ways to achieve this positive emotional connection, but let’s leave a definition of “good design” for another day. In the meantime, perhaps you would like to join the discussion? If so, please do!

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