Design is Planning

Designing Solutions to Wicked problems with lightness 2

Design is planning the purpose of something before it is made. Build more rational and useful products and services by carefully planning their making.

We must build useful solutions

I started to design digital products when I got sick of developing software nobody would use or would feel painful to use. I cannot stand to have my time wasted with tools and services not well designed so I decided to contribute to usefulness and rationality by facilitating toolmakers in creating more rational tools.

What is Design?

From a theoretical and academic point of view if you look for the definition of design you could study forever. There are so many different definitions of design that you could make a conference to disagree upon it, together, with designers.

And that is what usually happens! But that is fine with me. As a fellow, Systems Thinker,  I like to have a multi-angled perspective and to integrate it in a more round and whole definition which is fuzzier and more fluid.

Design is a Plan!

When I took a Design Leadership masterclass in Rome, Italy,  with Duane Smith and Stefane Barbeau of Smith,Barbeau the first thing which struck me was their definition of design.

Design is a plan.


This has always been in my mind, forever, but never so explicit.

To design means to plan. Oh goodness, I love this.

Try to replace the term “design” with “plan” in any of the infinite list of combinations you can find now in the world.

  • User Experience Design → User Experience Planning
  • User Interface Design → User Interface Planning
  • Graphic Design → Graphic Planning
  • Instructional Design → Instructional Planning
  • Learning Experience Design → Learning Experience Planning
  • Workshop Design → Workshop Planning
  • Service Design → Service Planning

This is the most ingenious verbal and conceptual invention since the man planned the wheel! (fun intended)

Design Leadership at PI-Campus. I am designing an anti-fake news app.

Can you taste the word when you say it? Look at the reaction of listeners: that is on another level.

Here is a definition of Design under this point of view:

Design is planning the purpose of something before it is made.

So I’ve found myself attending a course on “Planning Leadership”. When I subscribed expecting to attend a “Design Leadership” workshop I had a certain set of expectations, now this is another game.

Is planning still Design?

Using “planning” makes immediately clear the need of talking about time, resources, goals, objectives, and management. The exotic images about expensive white boxes in luxurious Tuscan villas, immediately, fades out.

Yes, creativity, art, craft, skills are still part of the process but “deeesaaain” is not anymore that mouth-washing ritual where you take a deep breath and remain silent waiting to evoke impalpable feelings that nobody will experience in the same way.

(Re)Discovering what I always knew

I have always been a planning designer in my whole professional life. And that is my approach when I have to design a software application, a mobile app, a website, a videogame but also: a training session, a university lecture, a facilitation workshop, a service, a pitch-deck, an event, etc.

PI-Campus: Design Leadership: I was planning lunch.

Planning the design of a solution brings things down to earth and gives designers and stakeholders a fresh bath of realism and pragmatism. You can feel that you need to ask yourself, your client, your colleagues, practical questions geared towards knowing the context of the solution you are designing. I mean… planning!

Writing is an important part of the design process (that is: the planning), since it constitutes an envisioning activity to think about the purpose of the system you want to design and to communicate it to all the stakeholders.

Planning at the O.K. Corral

  • What is that you want to build? And why?
  • Who is going to use your solution? And how?
  • How will they accomplish what they want or need to do?
  • When will it be ready?
  • Who is our competition?
  • Is there any demand for a product like this?
  • Are we able to build it? Can it be built at all?

These straightforward questions are frequently considered superfluous or banal. It takes courage to avoid pretending to have all answers understood and staring right in the eye of the client, who is still supposed to pay you the agreed lump sum in advance, and ask them “What do you want to build? And Why?”. This is my version of the two cowboys meeting under a dusted sun while having slightly trembling hands reaching for their guns.

What are you planning (to design)?

What really makes me happy is the feedback of my creative partners, not designers by nature. At a quick reading of this concept about Design=Planning, they got it at the first shot. How do you know if they know? By asking the most straightforward and direct question:

– “So, what is design?”

– “Easy, Design is a plan!

I am so satisfied that I am thinking of planning the next articles on this topic.

And, tell me, what are you planning?


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