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Overview

Product design – balancing functionality and visual appeal

A Google search for the term "Design" returns 15,110,000,000 results. But as well as the confusingly high number of hits, there is also no single definition for what design means. Where does it start and where does it end?Is it only about the physical properties of an object that facilitate its use, or do semantic components such as status also contribute to the overall impression? And what separates design from art? To only consider the purpose and practical functionality is to merely scratch the surface.

Even the linguistic use of the term shows how its multi-facetted meaning is transmitted across history and cultures. Stemming from the Latin "designare" (to describe, to designate), the German-language meaning of the term refers to how a creative idea is implemented in terms of technical or industrial production, while in the English-speaking world "design" even encompasses the process of coming up with ideas. The first "design" academy was founded by Leonardo da Vinci, who combined art and the formation of shapes and spaces into a career as what would later be known as a "designer". The common 19th century term "Dessinateur", drawing from the French term "dessin", also provided the German description of a "Mustermacher" with a catchy name for the career field

The industrial revolution, and with it the development of new objects – from everyday items to machines – shifted the term "design" towards the shaping of industry and products. This included the aesthetic effect of the object in addition to its purpose.Peter Behrens played a central role as an intermediary between form and function. His achievements span the full spectrum of design: from porcelain to furniture, from commercial art to buildings. His design for the AEG turbine hall is one of the most famous international examples of industrial architecture.Behrens also led the way in turning design into a recognised professional discipline.

"Simplicity is complex. Complexity is simple." This sentence from the Wörterbuch Design (Dictionary of Design, published by Michael Erlhoff and Tim Marshall) focuses on the challenges of design, especially product design. Alongside practical considerations such as ergonomics, compatibility, maintenance, security and user-friendliness, there are also economic requirements such as the choice of material, fabrication technology, scalability, storage and transport costs. Ecological aspects are also important. Future-ready developments take into account the efficiency of resources and energy, and the life cycle of a product, from as early on as material acquisition. This spans from production to disposal and re-use of units.

In recent years, the revolution of fabrication technologies, material innovations, 3D printing and the possibilities presented by rapid prototyping, by quickly producing samples and small product runs, are also changing the design process and opening up new avenues for creativity.

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