Contributed Articles

Design as a Cultural System

by KEITH M. MURPHY, University of California Irvine I don’t think I’m supposed to admit this, at least not publicly, but it’s true: talking about design drives me to drink. Not literally of course (I’m a teetotaler!), but metaphorically. Why? Because design itself isn’t really a single term, but a collection of homonyms, each of which bears some semantic resemblance to the others, but all of which cover rather different terrain. When we talk about design, we tend to assume we’re all really talking about The Same Thing, even if we’re not, and this contributes to a fair amount of cross-talk when we collectively think hard about design and its possibilities. I care about this because I wandered to design from other places, and when I landed there, the situation was confusing to me. Design was about things to some people, and practices to others. Or forms and aesthetics. Or systems engineering. Or capitalism. Or collaboration and creativity. Or “what it means to be human.” And so on. All of these perspectives make...