Turn out there are a lot of different answers. I recently found my favorite in the superb text, Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge.
The interview is well known but I think it’s still bears repeating and reemphasizing. I have recently starting working on designs for mobile applications which have a high level of constraints. I hope that what’s below will be as helpful to you as it was to me.
A Conversation between Charles Eames and Madame Amic.
Excerpted from “Designing Interactions
Q. What is your definition of ‘Design”?
A. A plan for arranging elements in such a way as to accomplish a particular purpose.
A. Is design an expression of art ( an art form?)
Q. The design is an expression of the purpose. It may ( if it is good enough) later be judged as art.
Q. Is design a craft for industrial purpose?
A. No – but design may be a solution to some industrial problems.
Q. What are the boundaries of design?
A. What are the boundaries of problems?
Q. Does the creation of design admit constraints?
A. Design depends largely on constraints.
Q. What constraints?
A. The sum of all constraints. Here is one of the most effective keys to the design problem – the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible – his/her willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints – the constraints of price, of size, of strength, balance, of surface, of time etc; each problem has it’s own peculiar lists.
Q. Does design obey laws?
A. Aren’t constraints enough?
Moggride goes on to outline what he feels are five core skills of design.
1. To synthesize a solution from all of the relevant constraints, understanding everything that will make a different to the result.
2. To frame or reframe the problem and objective.
3. To create and envision alternatives.
4. To select from those alternatives, knowing intuitively how to choose the best approach.
5. To visualize and prototype the intended solution.
If you are a designer don’t yet have Designing Interactions, I recommend that you purchase it. It will be a text you will refer to throughout your career.
Designing Interactions, Bill Moggridge, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ISBN 978-0-262-1374-3, 2007.
Charles Eames Information