What is Design Literacy?

If literacy means being able to read, what is design literacy? One common answer is that it means you can recognize styles, fonts and understand graphic design basics, but that’s graphic design literacy. Another common answer is that it’s design thinking, which most often means the learning of a problem-solving method loosely based on how UX or product designers work, but that’s literacy in problem-solving.

I define design literacy as the general ability to understand and discuss how just about anything, from a house, to a highway, to a poster, to a website is designed and what makes it good or bad.

Literacy usually means being able to read and write, but I’m limiting design literacy to be mostly about understanding design more than the ability to do it. This is similiar to the line that visual literacy books like Berger’s Ways of Seeing or Nelson’s How To See: Reading Our Man Made Environment took.

The goal of the book is to be a first resource for general design literacy and to teach everyone how to see the world more like our best designers do. This means:

  • To have open-eyes about how the person made world is designed
  • The ability to ask good questions of designed things
  • Understand why designers are central to progress (and regress)
  • Know what designers do and the basics of how they work
  • Recognize that design is often about how something works (or doesn’t)
  • Understand why style and aesthetics matter
  • Learn the basics for critiquing any designed thing in it’s context
  • The basics of how our brains understand the world
  • Understand the causes of bad and good design

Others who have written about design literacy:

Have a thought about what design literacy should mean? Or a reference to share? Leave a comment.

3 thoughts on “What is Design Literacy?

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