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Design theory

Design theory refers to understanding the methods, strategies, research and analysis of the practice of design.

Design theory has been approached and interpreted in many ways, from personal statements of design principles, through constructs of the philosophy of design to a search for a design science.

The essay "Ornament and Crime" by Adolf Loos from 1908 is one of the early 'principles' design-theoretical texts. Others include Le Corbusier's Vers une architecture, and Victor Papanek's Design for the real world (1972).

In a 'principles' approach to design theory, the De Stijl movement promoted a geometrical abstract, "ascetic" form of purism that was limited to functionality. This modernist attitude underpinned the Bauhaus movement. Principles were drawn up for design that were applicable to all areas of modern aesthetics.

While the theories of the Bauhaus were closely associated with a specific design attitude, the field of design theory later turned to questions of industrial planning and organization. Amongst others, the designer George Nelson, who was deeply influenced by the Bauhaus, established a modern theory of design in the United States. His book, with Erik Stolterman, The design way, offers more of a 'philosophy of design' approach. For an introduction to the philosophy of design see the article by Per Galle at the Royal Danish Academy.

An example of early design science was Altshuller's Theory of inventive problem solving, known as TRIZ, from Russia in the 1940s. Herrbert Simon's 1969 The sciences of the artifical began the more general study of design science.

With the Conference on Design Methods (1962) in the UK the Design methods Movement began. John Christopher Jones published his book on Design methods in 1969. Since then the further development of fields such as design research, design science and design thinking has promoted a wider understanding of design theory.

  • Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime, 1908
  • Walter Gropius, The capacity of the Bauhaus idea, 1922
  • Raymond Loewy, The Mayan threshold, 1951
  • Barthes, Mythologies, 1957, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2003 (in 1964) [Excerpt from: Mythologies, 1957]
  • Tomás Maldonado, New developments in the industry, 1958
  • Marshall McLuhan, The medium is the message, 1964
  • Abraham A. Moles, The crisis of functionalism, 1968
  • Herbert A. Simon, The Science of Design, 1969
  • Horst Rittel, Dilemmas in a general theory of planning, 1973
  • Lucius Burckhardt, design is invisible, 1980
  • Maurizio Vitta, The Meaning of Design, 1985
  • Andrea Branzi, We are the primitives, 1985
  • Dieter Rams, Ramsifikation, 1987
  • Maurizio Morgantini, Man Confronted by the Third Technological Generation, 1989
  • Otl Aicher, Bauhaus and Ulm, 1991
  • Gui Bonsiepe, On Some virtues of Design
  • Claudia Mareis, design as a knowledge culture, 2011
  • Bruce Sterling,today Tomorrow composts, 2005
  • Tony Fry,Design Beyond the Limits, 2011
  • Nigel Cross,design thinking, Berg, Oxford, 2011
  • Victor Margolin, The Politics of the Artificial: Essays on Design and Design Studies, 2002
  • Yana Milev, D.A.: A Transdisciplinary Handbook of Design Anthropology, 2013
  • Michael Schulze, concept and concept of the work. The sculptural design in architectural education, Zurich vdf, Hochschulverlag AG at the ETH Zurich, 2013,
  • Dieter Pfister, Atmospheric style. On the importance of atmosphere and design for a socially sustainable interior design, Basel, 2013,
  • Tim Parsons, Thinking: Objects, Contemporary Approaches to Product Design (AVA Academia Advanced), Juli 2009,


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