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[Herbert Simon, Horst Rittel, Moholy Nagy, Dieter Rams]

Design is an integrative liberal art that makes connections between arts and technology. Its recognition as a discipline traces back to the industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century due to the emergence of mass production. Design since then has been defined in different contexts. From a more general perspective, Herbert Simon defines design as courses of actions that aim at changing an existing situation into a preferred one. For Rittel, it is plan making in which the motivation is imagining a desirable state of world by iterating alternative ways to achieve, and tracing the consequences of contemplated actions. In a more elaborated view, we can also describe design as the conceiving, planning, and implementing of artifacts, which varies from symbols to products, environments, organizations, and systems.

Design from a rhetorical point of view is enlivened in a triad of designer, product, and the community of use. The space that emerged in this triad characterizes the field of design practice, history, and research. A design practitioner may be interested in the product and community of use, whereas a design historian or design researcher may have an interest in all of them.

Herbert Simon has an interest in the designer. He tries to understand how the designer solves a problem that is related to the design process. He points out the idiosyncrasy of the design process that results in a fragmentation of natural and artificial sciences as a problem space in the university education. Having defined the problem, he suggests a science of design that will integrate the natural and artificial. Integration will be achieved by applying a theory of design that has methods of evaluation, search for alternatives and representation of the problem. He suggests using optimization methods that use declarative logic, and computational methods to evaluate the designs that use utility and decision making theories.

Rittel perceives design as an argument, which differs from the Simon’s logical theory of design. Since design is intentional, purposive, and goal seeking, it depends on reasoning. However, reasoning of design is not a formal or declarative logic as Simon suggests, rather it is a kind of ‘philosophy’ that aims at a mode of behavior. The behavior emerges as a process of argumentation. Designer makes a debate with himself and others; he comes up with issues and positions that are selected according to the search. In the end, the designer makes up his mind, and suggests solutions after several iterations. He finishes his argument suggesting a to-do-list for science of design: a theory of design to learn more about reasoning of designers, empirical inquiries to understand how plans come about, and tools for supporting the designers in their work. This approach is much more in line with rhetorical thinking.

Moholy Nagy perceives design as a productive science and an integrative art. He begins his argument by giving a dialectical historical background. It is followed by an analysis of design as a discipline by using the four questions of poetics; formal, material, efficient, and final causes. He highlights the importance of new materials and production techniques that helps the formal and functional causes to evolve and extend into new domains. Extension is not only restricted to the technological advances but also social implications as well. The profile of community of use has been changing due to the economy and technology. Designer in this sense should not only be sensitive to the technology, but also social and economical concerns.

Dieter Rams, in ‘Omit the Unimportant’ suggests a more rigorous attitude for the designer. The designer should exclude the unimportant in order to stress the important. Selection of ‘omitting’ suggests a necessity, which implies a dialectical approach. He describes the strong, aggressive, and colorful expression in a product that triggers an instantaneous emotional stimulus as the problem space, since this expression is a trivial one that does not help the item to communicate its use. In order to help the item communicate, he suggests two theses: The designer should design items whose function and attributes are directly understood, and thus allow the products to ‘talk ’ by means of design; Secondly, the less the design informs the user, the more it serves to evoke emotional responses. Without these two actions, the design is overwhelming and abuses the community of use.

Design from the rhetorical point of view consists of designer, product, and community of use. The commonality of Simon, Rittel, Nagy, and Rams is their focus on designer and the design process. Simon assumes everyone is a designer, and generalizes design as changing an existing situation into a preferred one. He proposes a formal logic for the designer’s reasoning and for the design process. Rittel, similar to Simon, perceives that everyone has the potential to be a designer, but they do not always use this potential. Rittel thinks that designer’s reasoning has logic beyond the formal logic that helps designer to make choices. Moholy Nagy sees the designer as an artist who uses formal, material, functional, and technical elements in his logic; in the mean time he is also sensitive to social and technological implications. Similar to Rittel, Moholy Nagy has a place for the intuition of designer that is beyond logic. Dieter Rams approaches designers by analyzing how they express functionalism in their design. Rather than evoking emotions explicitly, the designer should let product express its use. Among these writers with different attitudes, the commonality in their goal is to formalize and elaborate on design process. In doing this, they either chose to base their argument on the phenomenal world or the material one. In the end, their efforts on design theory help to shape design practice.