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Design theory is a subfield of design research concerned with various theoretical approaches towards understanding and delineating design principles, design knowledge, and design practice.
The essay "Ornament and Crime" by Adolf Loos from 1908 is one of the early 'principles' design-theoretical texts. Others include Le Corbusier's Vers une architecture, and Victor Papanek's Design for the real world (1972).
In a 'principles' approach to design theory, the De Stijl movement promoted a geometrical abstract, "ascetic" form of purism that was limited to functionality. This modernist attitude underpinned the Bauhaus movement. Principles were drawn up for design that were applicable to all areas of modern aesthetics.
For an introduction to the philosophy of design see the article by Per Galle at the Royal Danish Academy.
An example of early design science was Altshuller's Theory of inventive problem solving, known as TRIZ, from Russia in the 1940s. Herbert Simon's 1969 The sciences of the artificial began a more scientific basis to the study of design.  Since then the further development of fields such as design methods, design research, design science and design thinking has promoted a wider understanding of design theory.
- Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime, 1908
- Walter Gropius, The capacity of the Bauhaus idea, 1922
- Raymond Loewy, The Mayan threshold, 1951
- Barthes, Mythologies, 1957, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2003 (in 1964) ISBN 3-518-12425-0 [Excerpt from: Mythologies, 1957]
- Tomás Maldonado, New developments in the industry, 1958
- Marshall McLuhan, The medium is the message, 1964
- Abraham A. Moles, The crisis of functionalism, 1968
- Herbert A. Simon, The Science of Design, 1969
- Horst Rittel, Dilemmas in a general theory of planning, 1973
- Lucius Burckhardt, design is invisible, 1980
- Annika Frye, Design und Improvisation: Produkte, Prozesse und Methoden, transcript, Bielefeld, 2017 ISBN 978-3837634938
- Maurizio Vitta, The Meaning of Design, 1985
- Andrea Branzi, We are the primitives, 1985
- Dieter Rams, Ramsifikation, 1987
- Maurizio Morgantini, Man Confronted by the Third Technological Generation, 1989
- Otl Aicher, Bauhaus and Ulm, 1991
- Dan Braha, A Mathematical Theory of Design, 1998
- Gui Bonsiepe, On Some virtues of Design
- Claudia Mareis, design as a knowledge culture, 2011
- Bruce Sterling,today Tomorrow composts, 2005
- Tony Fry, Design Beyond the Limits, 2011
- Nigel Cross, design thinking, Berg, Oxford, 2011 ISBN 9781847886361
- Victor Margolin, The Politics of the Artificial: Essays on Design and Design Studies, 2002
- Yana Milev, D.A.: A Transdisciplinary Handbook of Design Anthropology, 2013
- Michael Schulze, concept and concept of the work. The sculptural design in architectural education, Zurich vdf, Hochschulverlag AG at the ETH Zurich, 2013, ISBN 978-3-7281-3481-3
- Dieter Pfister, Atmospheric style. On the importance of atmosphere and design for a socially sustainable interior design, Basel, 2013, ISBN 978-3-906129-84-6
- Tim Parsons, Thinking: Objects, Contemporary Approaches to Product Design (AVA Academia Advanced), Juli 2009, ISBN 978-2940373741