Intelligent Design

Well, it’s official. A federal judge declared Intelligent Design (ID) “religious”. The ID theory proposes that some forms of life are so complex that they must have an intelligent designer behind them. The judge stated that ID is not science, but a vaguely disguised form of religion, specifically Creationism. The judge concluded that “no serious alternative to God as the designer” has been provided by ID theorists, therefore it cannot be considered a scientific theory.

I don’t want to get into a discussion about religion or a debate evolution vs. Intelligent Design theory. What I really want to know is when is design not intelligent? Try to remove the question from religion or science and just answer it from the perspective of a designer. Isn’t all design inherently intelligent? Let’s look at a couple of definitions for the word design:

From Merriam-Webster:

Verb: To create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan. To conceive and plan out in the mind. To have as a purpose. To devise for a specific function or end. To indicate with a distinctive mark, sign, or name.

From Wikipedia:

Verb: The process of originating and developing a plan for a new object (machine, building, product, etc.) Designing normally requires considering aesthetic, functional, and many other aspects of an object, which usually requires considerable research, thought, modeling, iterative adjustment, and re-design.
Noun: The final plan or proposal (a drawing, model, or other description), or the result of implementing that plan or proposal (the object produced).

Certainly by definition, design is intelligent. Yet, in placing the word “intelligent” in front of design implys that design can be “unintelligent” or “random”. Is there anything “unintelligent” about Verdana, Garamond or Futura? Or how about describing Rand’s works as “random”? Even the first year design student would tell you this is absurd. Here’s a challenge: open your favorite software and try to design something random or unintelligent. Joshua Davis creates some fantastic artwork based on random mathematical algorithms. There’s only one problem. It’s not completely random. Davis inputs the creative parameters (colors, shapes, sketches, etc.), someone created the mathematical algorithm and an incredibly well designed machine called a computer generates the output.

You see, there is no such thing as a purely random or unintelligent design in the universe.

Now there is some “could be better” design and some really “poor” design, but all design by default must have someone intelligent behind it. I think that the recent Intelligent Design debate reflects the general naiveté and misunderstanding toward the design profession as a whole. Comments like “can’t you just design a website in a day” or “throw some pretty colors and symbols together and make me a logo” are common place with new clients. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most of the general populace sees design as the Big Bang: we throw a bunch of colors, shapes, type and textures into a software program, mix them around for a few weeks and out comes flawless design concepts. This “random” Big Bang creative soup is followed by a Survival of the Fittest concept selection process that produces a design species that will last. When was the last time someone asked you, “What do designers do?”

If we could educate people that design is intelligent, planned, researched, inspired, modeled, iterative and collaborative, then we might find them more receptive to the cost and time it takes to produce the design. And if we’re really fortunate, they might even understand and value the work we provide.

4 Responses to “Intelligent Design”

  1. Frank McClung

    Thanks Adrian. I tried to pose the question the other day on, “When is design not intelligent?” and 100+ replies later everyone fell into a finger-pointing, religion bashing brawl. I was discouraged. I keep thinking that the climate for open, objective (there’s another word that bears scrutiny like “random”) discussion is healthy. But I fear our society is becoming more polarized and even violent in our thoughts. What to do?

  2. Adrian

    Very nice job of not injecting your Christianity into your post about intelligent design. Why is it that a Christian designer like yourself can look at this subject objectively, but a pro-evolution designer can’t talk about it without spinning the issue? I rant about how Design Observer and SpeakUp have handled this issue poorly over here…

  3. nate

    My guess on why your discussion became so unintelligent is because of the Pareto Principal. (In this case) 80% of the valuable comments are spoken by 20% of the people. That’s why we get noise rather than signal when a community is so large like that.

    Unlike this community, where you’re recieving (if I can be so bold) 100% smart comments and 0% dumb ones.


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