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Design theory refers to understanding the methods, strategies, research and analysis of the practice of design.



Design theory has been approached and interpreted in many ways, from personal statements of design principles, through constructs of the philosophy of design to a search for a design science.

The essay "Ornament and Crime" by Adolf Loos from 1908 is one of the early 'principles' design-theoretical texts. Others include Le Corbusier's Vers une architecture,[1] and Victor Papanek's Design for the real world (1972).

In a 'principles' approach to design theory, the De Stijl movement promoted a geometrical abstract, "ascetic" form of purism that was limited to functionality. This modernist attitude underpinned the Bauhaus movement. Principles were drawn up for design that were applicable to all areas of modern aesthetics.

For an introduction to the philosophy of design see the article by Per Galle[2] at the Royal Danish Academy.

An example of early design science was Altshuller's Theory of inventive problem solving, known as TRIZ, from Russia in the 1940s. Herbert Simon's 1969 The sciences of the artificial began a more scientific basis to the study of design. [3] Since then the further development of fields such as design methods, design research, design science and design thinking has promoted a wider understanding of design theory.

Points of contact with other disciplinesEdit

Design theory is linked to many other disciplines, including the humanities, engineering, social sciences, history and philosophy.

In the art historical discourse, the question of the distinction between art and design has been discussed repeatedly. The design theory of Walter Gropius can be seen as a continuation of art theory, whereas this relationship is called into question in the environment of the HFG Ulm under Otl Aicher, Gui Bonsiepe and Tomás Maldonado.

In the field of engineering and medicine ergonomics and human computer interface are to key areas where design theory plays an important role. Within the field of economics, marketing affects the parameters of the design. In the 1930s, Henry Dreyfuss developed the field of ergonomic design through his application of anthropometrics.

In the field of philosophy the concept of "handiness" Heidegger should be mentioned. His studies on dealing with things and tools can be viewed as precursor of User Experience.

In the field of sociology, actor-network theory developed by, among others, Bruno Latour, has proven to be influential. Actor-network theory describes things and objects as active and examines how they direct human action.

In the field of anthropology, Yana Milev developed an approach where design anthropology provides an epistemology, phenomenology and survey of the varieties of the extended concept of design. Here the design concept is placed at the centre of the nexus of meaning of cultural production that rests on the three pillars Segno, Mythus and Techne. Anthropological design research is trans-disciplinary, developing in the connexion between Visual Culture (signal, in/visibility, image/void, imagination, representation), Doing Culture (act, cooperation, relation, fabrication, exchange), Material Culture (object, artefact, thing, facing, texture), Knowledge Culture (techniques, practices, norms, beliefs, values), Narrative Culture (mythology, significance, meaning, memory, identity), Critical Culture (watching, criterion, antagonism, crisis, theory) and Aesthetic Culture (emotion, sentiment, taste, feel, sense).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Le Corbusier, Vers une architecture" (1923)
  2. ^ Galle, Per. "Philosophy of Design". KADK. Retrieved 31 December 2016. 
  3. ^ Simon (1996). "'The Sciences of the Artificial". MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-69191-4. 


  • Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime, 1908
  • Walter Gropius, The capacity of the Bauhaus idea, 1922
  • Raymond Loewy, The Mayan threshold, 1951
  • Barthes, Mythologies, 1957, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2003 (in 1964) ISBN 3-518-12425-0 [Excerpt from: Mythologies, 1957]
  • Tomás Maldonado, New developments in the industry, 1958
  • Marshall McLuhan, The medium is the message, 1964
  • Abraham A. Moles, The crisis of functionalism, 1968
  • Herbert A. Simon, The Science of Design, 1969
  • Horst Rittel, Dilemmas in a general theory of planning, 1973
  • Lucius Burckhardt, design is invisible, 1980
  • Maurizio Vitta, The Meaning of Design, 1985
  • Andrea Branzi, We are the primitives, 1985
  • Dieter Rams, Ramsifikation, 1987
  • Maurizio Morgantini, Man Confronted by the Third Technological Generation, 1989
  • Otl Aicher, Bauhaus and Ulm, 1991
  • Gui Bonsiepe, On Some virtues of Design
  • Claudia Mareis, design as a knowledge culture, 2011
  • Bruce Sterling,today Tomorrow composts, 2005
  • Tony Fry,Design Beyond the Limits, 2011
  • Nigel Cross,design thinking, Berg, Oxford, 2011 ISBN 9781847886361
  • Victor Margolin, The Politics of the Artificial: Essays on Design and Design Studies, 2002
  • Yana Milev, D.A.: A Transdisciplinary Handbook of Design Anthropology, 2013
  • Michael Schulze, concept and concept of the work. The sculptural design in architectural education, Zurich vdf, Hochschulverlag AG at the ETH Zurich, 2013, ISBN 978-3-7281-3481-3
  • Dieter Pfister, Atmospheric style. On the importance of atmosphere and design for a socially sustainable interior design, Basel, 2013, ISBN 978-3-906129-84-6
  • Tim Parsons, Thinking: Objects, Contemporary Approaches to Product Design (AVA Academia Advanced), Juli 2009, ISBN 978-2940373741

External linksEdit