I Don't Know What That Means: Design Jargon

We're using a design-based approach for this project. Design philosophy, tools and methods are powerful resources for taking on complex problems, and are becoming more common around the world in places you may not expect like government, healthcare, and international development.

We know that this way of working may be completely new to you, and while some people are really familiar with it, most people have no idea what design, design thinking, prototyping, or ideation actually are. That's totally fine! Clear communication is a huge priority for us, and we want everyone to get a taste of what design can do. So we've created a design jargon dictionary below. 

This is just a start and we'll keep adding to it, so please let us know in the comments section if there's a term you think we should add, or something we've described below that isn't clear. We'll also be adding a jargon dictionary for mental health terms too, so keep an eye out for that! Thanks for your feedback!!


design (n.) – a sketch, model, or plan of something made or to be made.

design (v.) – do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind.

design thinking – a process of working through problems and/or situations beyond traditional design fields (e.g. graphic design, industrial design) with a similar mindset to professionals in those fields. This means considering the real needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success when we develop new solutions.

human-centred design – an approach to problem solving that aims to understand the people using a product or service. This understanding helps designers create new, or change existing, products and services that make more sense to the people using them.  

service design – a process involving activities of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between the service provider and the people being served.

prototype (n.) – a model of something, traditionally used as a tool for explaining how something works and for eliciting feedback.

prototype (v.) – the act of creating a model(s) of a proposed solution(s).

test – an activity in which people are asked to interact with prototypes and tell the researcher(s) what they think, which parts seemed easy to understand, which parts felt confusing, their ideas for how to make the next prototype even better, etc.

user – a person who actually interacts with the final product or service in some way. There may be multiple users in the mix. For products, these are the people who actually use the product to complete a task. For services, people trying to access services are considered users, and so are the service providers.

stakeholder – any person, group of people, or organization that could be affected by the expected change (e.g. end-users, staff, funders, government, etc.).

ideation – a process of generating lots of ideas for addressing a certain question or problem statement.

iteration – the act of repeating a process. Designers make multiple iterations when they’re designing new things with the goal of learning as much as possible each time, and adjusting the design to make it better.

engagement – an activity or series of activities involving interaction, listening and note-taking, with the goal learning from this sample of people to uncover insights about the larger community.