The Philosophy of Design
The Philosophy of Design

<i>The Philosophy of Design</i> is an introduction to the fundamental philosophical issues raised by the contemporary practice of design. The first book to systematically examine design from the perspective of contemporary philosophy, it offers a broad perspective, ranging across key philosophical areas such as aesthetics, epistemology, metaphysics and ethics.

The first part of the book explores central issues about the nature of design and its products, and the rationality of design methods. A central theme is that Modernist ideas, such as those offered by Loos and Gropius, provide important responses to these philosophical issues. In the second part of the book, these Modernist ideas serve as touchstones in the exploration of key issues for design, including: the place of aesthetics in design; designs relation to personal expression; the meaning of function; and designs relation to consumerism. The social responsibility of designers, and the impact of design practice on ethical reasoning are also discussed.

Written in an accessible style, <i>The Philosophy of Design</i> presents a new perspective on design and a provocative reassessment of the Modernist legacy. It will engage students and designers with current philosophical debates, helping them to bring into clearer focus the meaning of contemporary design, and its unique challenges and possibilities.

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  • November 2015
  • 176 pages
  • 163 x 237 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $72.75
  • 9780745663883
  • Paperback $23.75
  • 9780745663890
  • Open eBook $19.99
  • 9781509502196
Table of Contents



1 What is Design?

1.1 Defining ‘Design’

1.2 Ontological Issues

1.3 Activity, Profession and Practice

1.4 The Rise of the Designer

2 The Design Process

2.1 The Challenges of Design

2.2 A Crisis of Confidence

2.3 The Epistemological Problem

2.4 Are Design Problems Ill-Defined?

2.5 Some Responses

2.6 Prestructures and Principles

3 Modernism

3.1 The Origins of Modernism

3.2 Reinterpretations and Linkages

3.3 The Failure of Modernism

4 Expression

4.1 The Meanings of Design

4.2 Expression and Eros

4.3 The Better Realization Argument

4.4 Illusion and Reality

4.5 An Objection

5 The Concept of Function

5.1 The Indeterminacy of Function

5.2 Intentionalist Theories of Artefact Function

5.3 Evolutionary Theories of Artefact Function

5.4 Objections to the Evolutionary Theory

5.5 Novelty, Design and the Epistemolocial Problem

6 Function, Form and Aesthetics

6.1 Can Form Follow Function?

6.2 Squaring Function and Aesthetic Value

6.3 Dependent Beauty

6.4 Functional Beauty

6.5 Good Taste in Design

6.6 Bad Taste

7 Ethics

7.1 Applied Ethics and Design

7.2 Consumerism, Needs and Wants

7.3 Is Need an Empty Concept?

7.4 Does Design Alter the Moral Landscape?

7.5 The Designer Stands Alone?

Epilogue: The Meaning of Modernism

Suggestions for Further Reading



About the Author

Glenn Parsons is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Ryerson University

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"With The Philosophy of Design, Glenn Parsons constructs an elegant bridge between two major islands in the archipelago of human thought: philosophy and design. Bringing existing work together into a systematic treatment, Parsons cogently presents the philosophy of design as a load-bearing structure. Through original philosophical explorations of design, including a bold rethinking of design history, he also demonstrates its capacity for carrying traffic."
Per Galle, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design

"This very readable and illuminating book is a must-have for designers and the students of design."
Oxford Journal
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