I have been pondering the meaning of the term design since I am currently spending a lot of time reading and learning more about UX design. But what does it mean?

Design comes up in many contexts:

  • visual design,
  • UI design,
  • API design,
  • product design,
  • UX design,
  • audio design,
  • web design,
  • etc.

People usually think about visual design when they hear design, but to me the most common usage is in the design of software, design of programming languages, or the design of an API. None of that is about aesthetics or looks. In fact, the broad sense in which we are using the term makes it pretty clear to me that design is a methodology, not a field of work.

A design is a conscious choice

Design is

  • making conscious choices,1
  • being aware of the context in which your work is happening,
  • knowing what problem you are solving,
  • knowing what constraints you have, and
  • choosing the trade-offs you need to make.

A designer is someone who asks

  • why you are building something,
  • what problem you think you are solving,
  • what the thing you are building is for,
  • how it will be used,
  • by whom it will be used,
  • in what circumstances it will be used,
  • whether it will be used,
  • what its purpose is,
  • what choices there are in creating it, and
  • what trade-offs are involved with each choice.

Design is about making deliberate, conscious choices.


  1. The original Latin root for design, designare, means to choose or to appoint