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December 2018
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Unless you are a professional designer who has remained current in your respective field, you may not be familiar with what many of today’s designers know as the “Four Orders of Design”, as developed by Professor Richard Buchanan and extensively written about in his book of the same name released in 1999. However, if you are wondering what these orders are and how technology has impacted them, you will see that much of what he says has become standard in almost any niche in the design industry. Let’s take a closer look at those four orders and then a brief look at how technology has impacted them.

First Order of Design – Graphic

When any kind of designer wants to create, the very first step is also the first order. They think in terms of symbols and signs. What does this concept signify (signs)? Perhaps it’s easiest to show you a really good representation of what we are talking about today in a well-designed infographic. This infographic From MDG Advertising shows all the areas of marketing in which digital technology has impacted marketing and you don’t need to read pages upon pages to get the point. All those symbols are laid out in such a way as to make it concise and easy to understand.

Second Order of Design – Industrial

Someone who is tasked with designing tangible products would be working in this realm. These designers now use CAD software to design such things as furniture, houses, and even toys or automobiles. Industrial design takes place in the second order. While some say that industrial design is separate from commercial design, you will see that commercial design is really nothing more than a subset of industrial design – the design of tangible goods.

Third Order of Design – Interaction

Once referred to as Human Computer Interaction, this order of design is all about interactions between individuals and groups. This is also an important element of web design because it must be fully understood in order to enhance the UX, user experience. Good web design relies on users being able to interact with and enjoy a website, and it is this area that marketers must focus on more clearly.

Fourth Order of Design – Systems

This order of design is a little more difficult to comprehend because it encompasses all the previous orders. It involves systems and how they work based on those signs and symbols and applications needing to be designed and developed. If you take a moment to go through the above orders in sequence, you’ll understand how each order is an integral part of the systems we now employ.

The Role of Technology Today in the Design Process

There was a time when a graphic designer would sit down at a table or at an easel physically going through each of the above steps by hand. These orders are not new in that throughout time, all designs followed this logical progression. Today, computer technology (the digital realm) has made the entire process of designing quicker and easier to collaborate on, and if you were asked how digital has impacted design, that’s probably how you’d sum it up.


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