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Article: What is Design Theory, and How is It Used in The Real World?

What is Design Theory, and How is It Used in The Real World?

Joe Sparano once said, good design is obvious, great design is transparent.
Let's learn more about the basics of design theory to improve your skill!

When you hear the term “design theory” for the first time, what is exactly coming up in your mind? It may sound familiar for some people, but not for others. However, in this kind of technology lives that we are living, this term is something that is inevitable in our lives. Even many starters use this theory to start and develop their business on the basis of the internet. However, many people still don’t know what is exactly meant by design theory? And why is it important?


The Definition of Design Theory

Well, this term is formed by two words, design and theory. The first word can be simply explained as a creative activity to plan and create something functionally which does not exist before in order to finish a certain problem to make it more valuable and more advantageous for the users and consumers. In the meantime, some experts have their own opinion in explaining the word design itself. You can see as follow:

JB Reswick said that design is a creative activity that includes the creation of something new and useful that did not exist before. In contrast, Page stated that this process is an imaginative leap from reality what we have now on toward the possibilities that may occur in the future. And there is also Bruce Nussbaum which proposed that the term can be defined as the assistant wheel to do the innovation in many industries and business activities. 

However, the definition of design is not that simple. It has many contexts attached to itself, either the function, purpose, and even the extrinsic factors like how the society accepts it and so on. Therefore, we need to break down the term into those matters. 

The word design is actually from Latin language designare, which means to create, to form, to sign, or to point. While in the Oxford dictionary, the term means a plan or a figure which is made to show a display and function from a building, outfits, or any other objects before they are really made. Besides, Oxford also put some other definition options, which is: “pattern and decorative.”

Then, it can be concluded that the definition of design is the planning and the creation of something, which should be prepared from its display and function as well. It may also mean a thing or figure/graphic result from the activity of the design itself. 

In the meantime, design theory is a system that elaborates how and why the design works. If you are a designer, it is compulsory for you to know how to put everything on a page of communication, influences so that the process that you create excites audiences; here is what is explained by design theory. 

Moreover, design theory can be explained from the perspective of some experts as well. How an expert explains and describes the knowledge and practices may be different in some points or even thoroughly from another. For Andy Lester, a design theory is an explanation behind why a designer creates something in a certain way. If he cannot answer that kind of question, he might then need more to think, he said. Since according to Lester, he or she should make the decision based on personal choices and tastes.  


The Purpose and The Function of Design 

Generally, there are some things to be achieved by a good design. Basically, the purpose greatly depends on what kind of creation you want to make. For example, a product design should have a more specific purpose. Yet, there is general-purpose that could be included in all kinds of these works; they are:

  1. The effectiveness and efficiency of the function

  2. It could be used as a brand (trademark) or identity

  3. To keep the quality control

  4. To achieve aesthetic display

  5. Increase the value of the products

  6. To achieve physical comfort (ergonomic)

  7. To deliver the value and meaning to the customer

  8. To deliver the ideas of the creator

How to achieve all those purposes? Surely, we can start by practicing a good creation. However, we need to understand the intrinsic part of the design thoroughly first so that we can apply those things in making a good design. Applying the basic principles of work can be a standard of doing it correctly. Now, let’s see what those basic principles are.


The Basic Principles of Design 

Basically, there is no fundamental principle to adhere to. There’s no such right or wrong in defining a design. One plan or creation couldn’t be much better than the other. What makes it different is how the result can effectively give a contribution to solving the problems encountered by the designers, as is stated by some experts. The best creation is the one that is effectively able to answer the challenges that come up during the process itself, and it can give an effective contribution towards the audiences or consumers. Therefore, the basic principles in design that should be considered; what are they? Here are some of them:

1. Simplicity
Many designers emphasize this simplicity. It makes sense when the audiences are common people. The simple one will make them easily understand the message or the ideas that the designer delivered through the products.

2. Balance 
Balance is when there’s the same strength among all the elements to create harmony. There are two kinds of balance, formal (symmetric) and informal. The formal balance will create an image of perfect, sturdy, and harmonious.

3. Unity 
The unity from every element should happen in the process. The unity is cohesion, consistency, and wholeness as the main composition.

4. Emphasize
Emphasizing is meant to attract the audience. In newspapers, this thing is commonly called highlight. It is one of the important parts of a work which should not be left by the designer.

5. Repetition
This is important to keep the work interesting and attractive. The interval between two elements that are put in a row is important to avoid monotones.

6. Typography
Especially in graphic design, this is really important. The use of appropriate font of characters will have a huge effect on the effectiveness of a certain point.

7. Illustration or Photograph
A picture represents a thousand words. And it’s true. Putting illustration or photo will help the audiences understand better and faster the ideas on the work plan. 


The Element of Design

The element of design is the smallest part that builds the unity of a certain plan of work. These elements are lines, shape, color, texture, space, size, and many more. These elements are a must-know matter so that a designer is able to recognize which part is needed to be manipulated or to be constructed to develop the plan into something more effective or more beautiful. As a designer, it is a must to recognize very well every detail of these elements and how to process it in an effective and efficient way to create what is called a good creation. In detail, here are the explanation of each element;

1. Lines 
Lines help to combine dots, making it in good regulation, direct the view, and create the image of moving. When used correctly, lines are even able to increase legibility rate, shape, and a certain message on a design.

2. Shape
The easiest example is the heart shape; it can deliver a universal message that everyone can understand. Isn’t it?

3. Color
The use of color is really helpful to give a balance to a design. As a designer, you should also know what message delivers by each color. If you want to create a happy and cheerful situation, then you should choose pink or yellow for your work. To give a peaceful atmosphere, then blue should be your first choice.

4. Texture
The texture is mostly related to the surface. You can create the surface you want it to by using lines, shapes, or special pictures of surfaces. The correct choice of a surface will help to make your work “alive.”

5. Space
There are two elements of space which is commonly used; the object (figure) and the background. However, a lot of designers forget about white space. The use of white space effectively may become the key to success in design.

6. Size 
The size defines how big or small an object is. By knowing the size, we will be able to determine which object we want to emphasize. 

7. Contrast
The contrast is important to make a good combination of elements. The use of different sizes, colors, and other elements will make the design more alive and interesting. 


Kinds of Design that We May Find in Our Daily Lives 

As we know, design can generate many kinds of products that we need to live. It may create the clothes we are wearing every day, the tools for every household that everyone needs, or expensive things like jewelry, automobiles, or else. In addition, it has also touched something in the area of psychics, where it doesn’t create things or goods, rather it has produced visual comfort on the display of websites, phone applications, and many things which have something to do with social media platforms. When talking about architecture and interior, we can also say that they are the products of design as well. 

Since design has many aspects of being carried out, we can see that there are some branches of it that we can find easily in our daily lives. Below are some of them:

1. Visual Communication Design

This is commonly known as graphic design. This branch focuses on the visual communication that is produced. Graphic design must create comfort for the eye of the audience and be able to deliver the message in an interesting way to the audience. This kind of creation has been applied by many businessmen who run their business on the basis of the internet. And today, this design has been very popular among people all over the world. 

Created by Nick Barclay |


2. Industrial Design

This one focuses on the creation of products on the basis of the functionality of the products produced. The main points to be considered are the display of the product and its ergonomic sides. The products should be attractive for buyers and should be fit well for buyers as well.  

Created by Parima Ghavam |


3. Interior Design

As the world we are living in has too many populations, the need for residence increases as well. Not only a place to stay, a house now should have aesthetic value as well so that the occupants feel safe and soundly when they are at home. Therefore, the interior design business started to be popular in these centuries, and the demand is getting higher from time to time. The knowledge of arranging room, what furniture fits the room, or how to set the room efficiently has become an expensive skill. An interior designer should be able to efficiently use, beauty and function the room which has been built by an architect.

Created by Oleg Medvedev |


4. Architecture Design

This branch concentrates on designing the building to build. There are so many techniques to be applied here, and the design itself has automatically been part of it. 

Created by VISUALL |


How Design Theory Works in Real World

The application of design theory in our daily lives is important to generate the products into something more meaningful. And actually, they are bunches and spreading everywhere nowadays. Our world today has been connected by the internet, right? The real example of the application of design theory in the form of graphic designs is there, and the number is a lot. The social media platforms that many people use as the sale platforms today have obviously applied the design theory. The websites, Instagram, YouTube, and many other social media have followed and applied the rules of the design theory we have discussed above. If you still can catch that, let’s see the simpler examples that we may find easily in our daily routines:

1. Let’s say that we would like to have a special event in our home, and we invite some colleagues over. We want to prepare special meals and beverages for them, indeed. At the moment, of course, we cook a special meal and serve it in an extraordinary way, won’t we? We will think of how the dish would be perfect served on the plate. So, when we do the plating, we will consider many aspects: the balance, the symmetrical aspect, the color, the size, both of the plate and the dish, and how to make the plate not be overcrowded by the dish, yet, it still looks yummy and in the precise proportion. 

As for the beverages, we definitely would choose the right glass for the guests. Either from the size or the shape, since the glass must fit well with the drink, we serve. 

2. Another simple example of the application of design theory is when our teacher gave us a task to make a certain composition. To make a good composition, there are some elements that we should consider. We should use the right vocabulary in order to make a good sense of the composition. The repetition of the same word or phrases should be eliminated, and use the technique of paraphrasing or selecting other words with similar meaning. The rhyme should be another aspect to be considered as well to make the composition better, either in form or function. Another element, which is proportion or size, should be applied too. We should know how many words are perfect for a certain subject to be discussed so that the composition you made is not boring and doesn’t leave its essential meaning.

3. Last but least, the very basic application of design theory in our daily lives is the way we choose our outfits. Whether we realize it or not, we apply this theory when we are dressing. We will think about the color of our dress, then match it with the shoes, the bag, and any other attire we attached to ourselves. All the things that we plan well for our costumes for a certain event also have the real form application of the design theory. 



When we all are aware of how the design theory and its principles have taken charge of our daily routines, then we will automatically be aware of our surroundings. If there is something missing or it is misplaced in a certain spot, right in time, we will notice it.

We will see all those things everywhere we go, at work, at the shopping center, on the way, or even in the being of nature. We will notice every detail it has. We will see how much effort that a designer has put into something that we see, and that will make us respect them realizing what they had done. We will be able to see which one is a good design or when something is missing and should be filled with something else to make it whole and better.

On another level, this will build our consciousness that everything is created by someone, with some principles design applied. At the time we finally understand this principle, soon it will become the language that we can apply in anything, either physical or ideas. 

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