Is design a form of science?

  • Design without science is akin to drawing without a canvas - there needs to be a base point from which to start and the rest is creative licence.
  • If design was science in the purest sense of the word then all designs solutions would be the same.
  • Without creative thinking would we ever have moved on from the days of the caveman? Human nature is very inquisitive and forever trying to push back the envelope.

design is a form of science

Is it really such an important question?

It is important because it affects the way we define ourselves, the way we perform and criticise our work. It is important to the way we teach and it is important to the way we continue to develop our skills. History shows us that the human race has always been inquisitive, forward thinking and forever pushing back the envelope on convention. Without these traits the world we live in today would be very different!

I hereby claim that design is not a form of science!

If design were science and we were scientists there should be one design solution to any given set of data. That is how it is with science – to any scientific question there can be only one true solution. A scientific hypothesis is either true or false. However, give certain specifications to several designers and the result will be as many different designs as there are designers. Sometimes more, as you may get several optional designs from each.

If the process of design was purely scientific there should be only one, exactly the same design from all!

One question but many different answers

Why do designers come up with different ideas for the same problem? Is it because we fail to define our criteria in an exact manner? Are the specs never complete? Perhaps it is because human engineers make mistakes otherwise their designs would be the same?

You might say that the real world is not black and white, and as long as the designs are similar enough we can regard them as being the same. All these arguments are true of course, but how come they never show up in science? The ability to understand the problem, absorb all potential solutions and then come with a design that best fits the situation is a gift. Whether you are looking at engineering design, product design, architectural design or anything else in this particular field, there needs to be some creative license.

Creative license

This creative license should not be bound by scientific formulas and should allow the human brain to “think outside the box”. If designs were based upon one scientific formula then all designs would be the same? Notice that I did not yet say anything about the process of design. Just watching the results from afar was enough to prove that design is not science!

But is it an art?

I shall deal with this question in my next blog post.

About: Adam Rubinstein

Born in Israel, studied Mechanical engineering in the Technion, specialized in mechanical design and particularly mechano-optics. Over 50 years experience as a design engineer, and about 24 of them as an independent consultant. lately, partially retired and teaching mechano-optical design at BGU in Beer-Sheva, Israel. Interested in photography and classical choir singing

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