Philosophy as design methodology

Nov 9, 2023

Nowadays, there are dozens of methodologies that are quasi-scientifically proven and, when executed correctly, bring us closer to our goals and create effective solutions in a sustainable and comfortable way by following a pattern of rational procedures. In product design, there are widely used methodologies, more generalists and research systems such as Design Thinking or User-Centered Design (UCD), just to name a few.

We also have other more practical systems that seek rapid execution in a balanced way and are more focused on solving more specific problems that do not require a great process of ideation, since it is assumed that it already exists. They delve into the how and not so much into the what. These can be Agile or Lean methodologies.

But, the title says something about Philosophy, why so much preamble?

I see you're not very patient, let's get on with it.

How philosophy can help designers

What do you know about philosophy? Perhaps just a couple of authors you studied in high school 20 years ago? Let me tell you that, as in everything, philosophy hides great treasure chests from which to extract good gems.

Philosophy is the art of thinking. I don't care if you have studied the classical philosophers or not, we all have a little Plato inside us. After thousands of years, techniques and systems have been developed that allow us to find solutions starting from an idea, on which to iterate and reach a conclusion.

Indeed, philosophy is the art of thinking, and it's this art that can bring a fresh perspective to the design process. Let's dive deeper into how philosophical concepts can be applied to design, particularly digital design, to enhance creativity, problem-solving, and innovation.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of Web3, the intersection of technology and philosophy offers unique insights into designing digital products. The following examples are derived from the application of various philosophical methodologies to a specific context: a Web3-based digital art marketplace.

  • The Dialectical Approach: This perspective is drawn from the challenge of balancing the ideals of decentralization (a core tenet of Web3) with practical concerns about authenticity and copyright protection. The dialectical method, rooted in Hegel's philosophy, is applied to navigate these conflicting demands and find a harmonious solution.

  • Socratic Questioning: This approach is inspired by the need to deeply understand the values and needs of artists and collectors in a decentralized environment. The Socratic method, with its emphasis on questioning and dialogue, is used to uncover underlying desires and inform the design of the platform's features.

  • Reduction to the Absurd: This perspective addresses the complexity of valuing art in a digital context. By applying the philosophical technique of reduction to the absurd, the design process explores the consequences of extreme reliance on algorithms for art valuation, leading to a more balanced and human-centric approach.

  • Existentialism: This approach is motivated by the desire to create a platform that empowers artists and collectors to express their individuality and make meaningful choices. The existentialist emphasis on personal freedom and authenticity informs the design of user experiences that resonate with the principles of Web3.

Each of these philosophical perspectives provides a unique lens through which the challenges of designing a Web3 digital art marketplace can be viewed and addressed, demonstrating the profound impact that philosophy can have on the development of innovative and human-centric digital products.

The Dialectical Approach

Hegel's dialectics, a cornerstone of his philosophy, is a method of understanding the nature of reality and change. It involves the interplay of opposing forces or ideas, known as thesis and antithesis, leading to a synthesis that transcends and incorporates elements of both. This dynamic process reflects Hegel's view that reality is not a static entity but a dynamic unfolding of contradictions, where each stage of development contains within it the seeds of its own negation and transcendence.

Application in Design: The platform initially focuses on complete decentralization and artist autonomy (thesis). However, users raise concerns about authenticity and copyright protection (antithesis). The synthesis could involve implementing verification mechanisms and smart contracts that ensure authenticity and copyright, while maintaining decentralization. This approach reflects Hegel's idea of synthesis, where the new solution transcends and includes elements of both the thesis and antithesis.

Socratic Questioning

The Socratic method, named after the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue that stimulates critical thinking and illuminates ideas. It's characterized by asking and answering questions to stimulate deeper thought and to illuminate ideas. This method is rooted in Socratic irony, where Socrates pretended ignorance to expose the ignorance or inconsistencies in others' thoughts.

Application in Design: When developing the platform, instead of assuming what features artists and collectors might need, Socratic questioning is employed. You might ask, "What do you value most in a decentralized digital art platform?" This could uncover desires for transparency, traceability, or community interaction, guiding you to design features that not only provide a platform for art trade but also foster trust and community.

Reduction to the Absurd

Reduction to the absurd, also known as reductio ad absurdum, is a method of argumentation used to demonstrate the falsity of a premise by showing that its logical conclusion is absurd or contradictory. It's a critical thinking tool that forces us to examine the consequences of our assumptions and to question the foundations of our beliefs.

Application in Design: Consider designing a pricing system on the platform. Applying reduction to the absurd, you imagine a scenario where prices are determined exclusively by complex algorithms, ignoring the subjective and emotional value of art. This extreme scenario highlights the importance of balancing algorithmic valuation with human appreciation, leading to a design that considers both objective and subjective factors in art valuation.


Existentialism, as espoused by philosophers like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre, emphasizes individual freedom, choice, and responsibility. It confronts the human condition, grappling with themes of anxiety, absurdity, and the search for meaning in a world that inherently lacks it. Existentialism encourages living authentically, making conscious choices, and creating one's own meaning in life.

Application in Design: Designing the user experience on the platform, you focus on the agency and choice of the artist and collector rather than just functionality. The platform could offer tools that allow artists to express their unique style and collectors to follow their own paths of artistic discovery. This design reflects existentialist themes of personal choice and creating one's own path, resonating with Web3 principles of decentralization and user empowerment.

By applying these philosophical perspectives to a single product within the context of Web3, we can see how philosophy offers a rich framework for understanding and shaping this emerging digital world, encouraging designers to think critically, empathize deeply, and create products that are not only technologically advanced but also meaningful and reflective of the human experience.

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