A Designer’s Role

An Opportunity to Define.

Over the last decade, the role of Design has grown leaps and bound. The design has branched into many areas and taken on various names including service and system design, interaction design, human factors, human-computer interaction and more, where each one has a unique approach and focus.

Despite the variations and nuances between each field of design, at the core is a unique opportunity. As the methods or design and the value it can provide gains recognition and acceptance, designers have a unique opportunity to define their role in the world of building things.

With the guidance and prominent voices of various authors at the forefront of this designer’s role discussion, I have attempted to define the designer’s role relative to the topic the purpose of the design, and the quality of the result of it.

Designing With or Designing For.

To design with a group,  individuals, or with a purpose is to be empathetic to the user of the system. Successfully designing with requires that the designer attempts to understand the underlying the nature of the situation and try to create a thing that with the focus of addressing the multi-faceted issues, and not just one isolated factor of the system. Additionally, the designer must include the user response and feedback throughout the development lifecycle.

To design for is to collect data and utilize system users as an inspiration for a new idea. The user’s input and response to that design are not necessary.  The newly created thing does not need to solve a problem, but when it does the issue addressed does not capture a complex nature or element of the entire system.


Making something Holistic or Sterile.

Holistic designs are things that are made with the focus of addressing a more complex issue or for a more complex purpose. Some examples are addressing culture, identity, or environmental and sustainability goals. These are all topics are complex in nature and difficult to analyze.  In designing with a holistic purview, the result will often feel more manmade, organic, and have a degree of emotional understanding.

Whereas sterile designs are things that are made with little or no focus on an issue. Designs in this category can be done beautifully for purpose of pleasure or to solve an issue inspired by users but ultimately is defined mostly by the researcher.  In designing with a sterile purview, the result will often feel more simple in nature, fact-based and lacking deep value.


Author’s Position On the Role of a Designer.

The position held and arguments made by each author has landed them a spot on the follow 2×2 Figure.

Designer's Role 2x2

The articles used for this evaluation are:

  • Designs on Dignity: Perceptions of Technology Among the Homeless – Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards
  • A Tale of Two Publics: Democratizing Design at the Margins – Christopher A. Le Dantec, et al
  • The Product Ecology: Understanding Social Product Use and Supporting Design Culture – Jodi Forlizzi
  • What we talk about when we talk about context – Paul Dourish
  • Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty – William Gaver, et al
  • A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design – Liz Sanders & George Simons
  • Going Deeper, Seeing Further: Enhancing Ethnographic Interpretations to Reveal More Meaningful Opportunities for Design – Jane Fulton Suri & Suzanne Gibbs Howard
  • Experience Prototyping – Marion Buchenau & Jane Fulton Suri
  • Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf – Don Norman
  • The Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation – Jon Kolko