Design in the World Around Us: Seeing Design

Lesson 1: Seeing Design

What is design?

Design can include lots of things, from graphics and illustration to art that you would find in a famous museum.

fine art portrait

It's easy to forget it's also boring, everyday stuff, like your comb or toothbrush.

bathroom sink with comb and toothbrush

Buildings and other man-made spaces are the product of design, too.

office building

Even the things we use to get around—cars, bikes, buses, and everything in between—could be considered their own form of design.

sports car

Design isn't always pretty, ugly, or even interesting at all. Sometimes it's practical, or so commonplace that you don't really notice it.

hand gripping train car handle

Making an effort to be more aware of design can help you see it in unexpected places. It can also help you see past appearances—to what really makes a design successful, useful, or valuable.

Watch the video learn more about seeing design.

Knowing what to look for

Every part of the man-made world was designed with a specific purpose in mind. Learning to look at these things with curiosity can help you appreciate the jobs they do.

woman staring at fork

It can also help you see the beauty and value in things we normally take for granted. For example, when was the last time you looked—really looked—at a fork?

fork surrounded by rose petals

Here's another example. Picture a basic coffee cup. It's designed to stay sealed, hold liquid, and protect your hand from heat.

coffee cup

Next, imagine an entire coffee shop. Inside, it has its own unique style and decor.

coffee shop interior

Outside, there's a sign or logo that advertises the business.

coffee shop exterior

Beyond that, there's the building itself, the sidewalk, the parking lot, and even landscaping. None of this exists by accident; it's all intentional. In other words, every bit of it was designed to provide a certain service or experience, from the welcoming exterior to the eye-catching color scheme.

building surrounded by parking lot, sidewalk, landscaping

Developing your critical eye

Once you start noticing these things, you might notice something else: You have opinions about them. For instance, most of us know what it's like to get stuck in a poorly designed parking lot, or how annoying it is when your coffee cup leaks or spills.

dead end parking lot

These are basically failures of design—things that frustrate or disappoint us, or don't work the way that they're supposed to.

coffee cup with leak

The key to understanding this type of failure is to ask yourself, "Where did the design go wrong?" Look closer, and you can usually find the answer.

What makes a design work

Take a chair, for instance. It seems simple, but there's a lot that goes into making this design successful. The seat supports your body weight, while the backrest makes it possible to sit and lean back comfortably. It has four solid legs, and doesn't tip over (at least not easily).

simple chair

Start playing with these basic details, and you get mixed results. What looks cool, unique, or interesting doesn't always work well in real life.

3 different types of chairs, one very uncomfortable

Thinking hard about a design—and what it was meant to do—can help you measure how successful it really is. It can also give you a place to start talking about design, so you can feel more confident sharing your opinion.

online review: "Great chair! I tried a few, but this one was just right."

Why your opinion matters

Designed things aren't just for the people who make them; they’re ultimately for the people who use them. That's why your experiences with design are so important.

mother and daughter holding board game

Any time you use something that features some form of design, it should leave you feeling satisfied—with the way it works, the way it looks, or both.

inside of board game box

In short, you deserve good design, no matter who you are or what you do.

daughter marvelling at game piece

Truly seeing design

Thinking about design as something that actually affects you can change the way you look at the world.

hand turning on lamp

It’s part of almost everything we see and do, from the spaces around us to the little things that we can't live without.

man looks around dining room, smiling