Design as Co-Evolution of Problem, Solution, and Audience

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Per Liljenberg Halstrøm
Per Galle


The meaning of ‘design’ can be captured in a general way by a good definition, but even the best definition cannot provide an understanding sufficiently deep to guide the professional designer or the student of design in the intricate deliberations of doing design in practice. Therefore we explore design beyond the level of definitions, reviewing canonical theories about design as a professional enterprise. We find that the well-established theoretical notion of ‘co-evolution’ of problem and solution in design has its merits in regard to understanding design deliberations; but also that existing theories leave the practitioner at a loss for guidance in some respects. To remedy this situation, we propose the notion of ‘triple co-evolution’ that also involves the ‘audience’ of a designed artefact. Furthermore, we conjecture that the study of so-called ‘constitutive rhetoric’ offers valuable conceptual resources for conceiving of design in terms of such triple co-evolution. For example, many design products may be thought of as offering an audience a ‘subject position’ that hint at whom they should become. In support of the case we make for thinking in terms of constitutive rhetoric in design, we present a small sample of design cases, arguably showing signs of triple co-evolution and understandable in terms of ‘audience constitution’.

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Design Concept Issue