What Is Design: The Delft Design Approach

Maria Sääksjärvi
Associate Professor of Marketing
Department of Product Innovation Management
Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering
Delft University of Technology


Design is all around us. Our daily lives are filled with things that are designed. The houses we live in, the cars or bikes we use to go from A to B, and the computers that we use every day. All these products are designed.

Although people often equate design with appearance, design is much more than that. In Delft, we consider design to be a verb first, and a noun second. Design is a process, as well as a product. Designing is as important as the design. What does designing mean? Designing is about creating value and meaning to people. To us, a product is a means to an end and that end always relates to people. A product is not valuable if it does not offer people the ability to do or experience something that is desirable. And it is meaningless if it does not allow them to do so in a way that is appropriate to the context in which it is bought and used.

Designing is also about innovation and creating new products, and a process for coming up with innovative designs. Because designing is about creating new products, there is never a single right answer at the end of a design project. For a single design problem, there are many possibilities to come up with a design that solves that problem. And there are knowledge, methods and tools that you need to master that process. These methods can be taught, and learned. They expand your capabilities, shape your thinking, and allows you to have more control over complex and uncertain situations that are inherent to design.

Design is also an attitude. A wish to engage with the complexity of a real world problems, an attitude to tolerate uncertainty for extended periods of time, and a motivation to dare to try out new ideas. Design is also about showing as much as telling: visualizing and prototyping a future life that does not yet exist, but can be brought to life.

So when thinking about design, think of it a verb as well as a noun, and as a process that can be taught, learned, and developed.

For more info, see Delft Design Approach and the Delft Design Guide.