The purpose of design began to shift in the late 20th century from utility toward a more holistic combination of purpose and meaning. Thus far, 21st-century culture is centered on interaction: “I communicate, therefore I am” is the defining affirmation of contemporary existence, and objects and systems that were once charged only with formal elegance and functional soundness are now also expected to have personalities. Contemporary designers do not just provide function, form, and meaning, but also must draft the scripts that allow people and things to develop and improvise a dialogue.
New branches of design practice have emerged in the past decades that combine design’s old-fashioned preoccupations—with form, function, and meaning—with a focus on the exchange of information and even emotion. Communication design deals with the delivery of messages, encompassing graphic design, wayfinding, and communicative objects of all kinds, from printed materials to three-dimensional and digital projects. Interface and interaction design delineate the behavior of products and systems as well as the experiences that people will have with them. Information and visualization design deal with the maps, diagrams, and tools that filter and make sense of information. In critical design, conceptual scenarios are built around hypothetical objects to comment on the social, political, and cultural consequences of new technologies and behaviors.