triad of
Form inhabits two planes – metaphysical, i.e. in the mind as a thought or an idea or concept, and physical – as a ‘real’ or tangible form or object that one can touch and feel. The student needs to pay attention to the relationship between the two, especially the former, as concepts that are unresolved25 are not worth pursuing or representing. The concept and its representation are two sides of the same coin. They shape each other, and in the process, each undergoes refinement through an iterative process. Design thus is an iterative, integrative and recursive process of refinement of the concept and its representation, ad infinitum.

Intentions are embedded in actions26, though it is entirely possible to not act on an intention. An iterative process involves control and correction of the design. This happens through intentions that guide the designer’s actions. The transformation of intentions into willed action and finally into an artefact is crucial to the designer, as it offers a sense of agency or ownership over one’s actions and authorship over one’s design, i.e. it ‘bears one’s signature'27. If design is the social construction of meaning28, then embedded in this meaning-making is the purpose of the design and intentions of the designer.

An idea is an outline of a thought. But ideas need fleshing out: a body. Consider the case of flying. Human beings it seems have an irresistible urge to fly. Throughout history, one can find innumerable examples of how this desire has been accomplished – wings clipped to shoulders and wingsuits, gliders and aeroplanes, hot air balloons and airships, jetpacks and hover boards and, now, drones and flying cars. Each of these is an instantiation of the idea of flying that displays dissimilarity to a lesser or greater extent. Each achieves the goal or intent in a different way, and perhaps even for a different purpose. Each of these constructs is a concept. A concept exhibits coherence: it needs to make sense in concurrence with its representation.

One can think of representations as the vehicle that embodies the concept. Concepts manifest themselves through representations. If the concept has a metaphysical existence, then the representation is physical in nature. Its tangibility cannot be denied. The twain — concept and representation — have to meet. The examples of flying quoted above are all different forms (means) through which flying (end) is accomplished. It is evident that these examples are of different scales and configurations. The act of design involves the shaping of material. The appropriateness of form is crucial to the design.

Finally, it is worth noting that all of these ‘forms’ (intentions, concepts and representations) exhibit an aesthetic. An idea can have as much appeal as music to the ears; an intention may be as repulsive as the reaction that stench may evoke, and a concept may be as beautiful to admire as a sculpture in a landscape. An over-emphasis on physical form not only undermines the role of design and the designer, but also reduces the designer to a styling agent. Though the place of beauty in our everyday cannot be denied, it would be grossly unfair to view design as mere beautification.

Form is a “diagram of forces”29 — a process of constant negotiation between the push and pull of these forces. Form requires the designer to not only form(ulate) intentions and purposes of the design, but also translate them into a physicality that functions. This is the much sought after or coveted ability of the designer — as form givers — of intent, concepts and their physical representations — that is much valued, for in doing so, designers arrive at the essence of things, their place in our worlds and the relationships between us and them.

  1. Resolution refers to three aspects:
    i. A design needs to be resolved:
    (a) conceptually;
    (b) compositionally, especially its sensory appeal - look and feel - not just visual but tactility, gustatory, auditory and olfactory; and
    (c) technologically, i.e. aspects concerning its making, as well as its functioning.
    ii. By resolution, I also mean firmness or conviction the student displays in their proposition.
    iii. Resolution also refers to the attention to detail. As Mies Van Der Rohe said “God is in the details”.
  2. read M. P. Ranjan in Hand-Head-Heart: Ethics in Design (2009).
  3. read Suparna Choudhury and Sarah-Jayne Blakemore in Intentions, Actions and the Self (Chapter 3) in Does Consciousness Cause Behaviour? (2008).
  4. read Klaus Krippendorff in On the Essential Contexts of Artifacts or on the Proposition That Design Is Making Sense (Of Things) (1989).
  5. read D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson in On Growth and Form (1992).