Principles, Processes, and the Purview of the Architect

With a Foreword by Paul Stevenson Oles, FAIA

The Nature of Design

Design is a widely-misunderstood discipline. In fact, the design profession itself often accepts and promotes a vague and misleading definition of design. The Nature of Design asks professionals, their clients and students of design to examine the fundamental nature and practice of their discipline, and to understand the true criteria behind design and the design process. 

While artists express their own interpretations of the world, the designer's charge is to translate their client's vision into reality, orchestrating a complex, often-conflicting array of criteria into a single solution. The ability to design well?to orchestrate effectively, and even efficiently?requires a broad and adaptable capability, derived from specific knowledge and skills, applied in a pragmatic and effective design process. Questions of a designer's personal style and expression must follow the process, not lead it.  

Annotated Table of Contents 


Design is a discipline and a process that must serve the client, and opportunities are unlimited for those who understand and develop fundamentals-based capabilities. Crucial to this understanding is the proper definition of design itself. 

Chapter I: The Nature of Design

In its simplest terms, Art is the expression of what just one person, the artists, wants. In contrast, Design must respond to the desires of another. The designer is responsible for assisting in the thorough and honest establishment of these desires, these criteria, but it is the client who must make the final decisions. The central acts of Design are the proposal of solutions and the rigorous evaluation of these proposals against the criteria. 

Chapter II: The Nature of Designers

Rather than the normal superficial distinctions based on style, designers are more revealingly categorized in terms of their personal agendas and aspirations- their quest to express their 'genius.'  While to some this may be the very definition of a designer, the only valid application of a designer's genius is in the service of their client. 

Chapter III: Artlessness

The essential and desirable characteristics of a designer might be summarized as a form of 'artlessness.' Beyond freedom from any predetermined design agenda, artlessness also requires designers to remain sincere, i.e. to always prioritize the criteria, to avoid contrivance and to perpetually improve their capabilities. 

Chapter IV: The Process of Design

The act of design is comprised of one essential technique—the development of analogies—and a two-part process, previously defined as propose/evaluate/propose/evaluate. It is crucial to develop a neutral, transparent design process that allows both rapid generation of appropriate proposals as well as their rapid and accurate evaluation. 

Chapter V: Style is Part of the Program

Designers' disproportionate attention to style misrepresents its purpose and appropriate usage. Style is not the exclusive realm of the designer, and though he or she may and should be an expert, style's particular expression in a particular project is part of the criteria. 

Chapter VI: The Profession of Design

Designers must practice and communicate their design in three settings: with themselves, with the client, and within a firm or team. The agendas of firms, and of other team members, are often in conflict with the criteria, yet many clients are only vaguely aware of these enormous inefficiencies that rob effort and compromise the quality of the service they receive. 

Chapter VII: The End of Design

What is the future of design? Design is a 'specialization in generalization' that runs counter to many current trends. Today's designers face challenges from a combination of societal, institutional and industry forces. Are we participants in a 'conspiracy against the laity,' or with the spread of knowledge, technology and pre-packaged solutions, will designers become obsolete? As academia and accreditation continue to increase both in cost and demand for 'credentials,' is their true value diminished? Coupled with expansive co-opting of the design process by technology and construction industry forces, these very real difficulties encourage brain drain from design into related fields. Is this a problem? We must recognize that temporary phenomena and artificial institutions will forever threaten to distract us from the unchanging nature of design.

Gordon Linden, author of The Expo Book,
  former Project Manager, Bechtel
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