Design is just a word…

Phillip J. Clayton
3 min readJun 4, 2021

I recently saw the popular question "What is design?" posted somewhere. I have never been able to simply say design is X but not Y. The truth is, there will be many answers, and those answers will be subjective, the definitions are all based on individual experiences and perspectives.

What I often think about and arrive at is this...What is not design?

Photo by Wei Ding on Unsplash, editing by Phillip J. Clayton

The concept of multitasking goes against the design process in every way, unfortunately, design is just a word for many to say. Multitasking by definition is only present in the result of the design process, which means a solution to a function was identified and therefore several things are allowed to take place at once.

The only thing that does definitive multitasking is a living/organic body or a machine, designed to have several things happening at the same time in order for one action or several actions to take place.

A company would be multitasking because it has several employees doing specific tasks at the same time. A single individual or employee cannot multitask, it is impossible in any job, what is often considered multitasking is an individual doing more than one thing fast and it is very rare that those things are done in sequence, a designer or creative person cannot multitask, the results are often a chaotic muddy mess.

“Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions, there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.” — Paul Rand

In the context of business, a lot of businesses that fail to function effectively are short-staffed or the majority are not around at the same time while business is still operational. An effective business has people for every function and teams are designated to take on huge tasks where everyone plays a specific role in order for the entire thing to work.

If you see an ad for a job opening and you see the words “Must be able to multitask.”, I advise you to dodge that bullet, those things lead to mental strain, stress, and extreme unhappiness from overwork and zero fulfillment.

Design is a problem-solving process aimed at identifying solutions in order to simplify a function, not a button that you press and it solves everything. Multitasking if it were possible, would be void of strategy, research, and development, testing, and review. The results would be inconclusive every time.

When design is simply a word used to describe jobs and multitasking roles, it has lost its meaning. It has no purpose, it’s merely a title for an uncategorized position that does not fall into an administrative function.

Design is everything, as expressed by Paul Rand and many others, design as I often say is what physics is to how life works, it’s not always visible but it’s experienced.

Design is always happening. To answer "What is Design?" Would require context, purpose, the individual perspective, and that answer can both be wrong and correct. The individual discipline naturally, produces subjective answers.

Where we may meet and possibly agree on is, design is an endless process of constant criticism, and/or improvement, it's always in play.

Some things are not necessarily in need of a solution, but as long as we are in existence, we are in progression. That natural progression will always induce a new way of looking at the same things, things will always be improved upon because someone will always believe it can be better.

What design isn't is a plugin, you don’t take it and plug it into things and they work. Design is a response to an intrinsic sentient system of questions and answers, involving observation, critical thinking, creative processing, and function, a purpose.

“Ask more questions, show less.” — David Brier



Phillip J. Clayton

Brand consultant | Strategic advisor | International brand & marketing design judge: | Writer | Creative director