UNIT 2.2.


This unit aims to:

  • introduce you to language and discourse 
  • distinguish between discourse and Discourse
  • present ‘discourse moves’ as a way to work with language
  • connect ‘discourse’ moves’ to design futures language
  • open out thinking on futures design discourse moves and language


1 hour


Although we focus on definitions in this LEXICON that is only one of the ways that language may be understood as having functions. By this we mean the work that words do! Think about definitions for a moment. They are concerned with acts of defining. In other words what work is the act of making or using a definition actually doing?

In the study of language at the level above the sentence, that is called discourse (with a small ‘d’), these functions are seen as larger acts or ‘moves’. The moves have communicative or meaning (semantic) functions. They are called ‘discourse moves’. The LEXICON contains a number of ways of looking at ‘discourse moves’ as we explain below.

Discourse (with a capital ‘D’) also refers to the larger domains and disciplinary modes of communication. This includes what are called multimodal discourse or ones that include a diversity of ways of communicating, e.g. visually or by touch). 

Discourse may also importantly be understood as performative. Words are arranged above the level of the sentence in moves and these moves are connected to text types or genres that add up to a discipline or domains called Discourse. All levels of discourse, as these are known as, work performatively in generating language that is dynamic. For us, though, this language is also dynamically a matter of the interplay between words and moves and the many ways that concepts, interactions and services are embedded in products and systems.

In this FUEL4DESIGN project we look at relations between words, concepts, moves and discourse (small ‘d’) through the Module called PHILOSOPHICAL PILLS. Here the attention is on Discourse (capital ‘D’). Working with the learning activities there will help you to further understand ideas, approaches and world views or perspectives are articulated in discourse (or large forms of communication, that includes genres).


‘Discourse moves’ are important as they are arranged in connected moves or what we can see as ‘chains of moves’ across paragraphs and over a larger text, article or piece of communication, not only written ones. Being able to identify these moves and how words work within them is also part of making the LEXICON work for you in your communicating about and through design in a variety of forms and ways.

These discourse ’moves’ are also arranged differently in different cultures and ways of communicating about subject, topics and themes. They too are a form of communication material. Think of someone who is telling you a story or trying to persuade you to support their argument. They use these moves to also create arguments and views, structures and pathways to what they are communicating. We all implicitly understand these ‘moves’ as large units of meaning making that are realised in language. But they are also important for design in the manner in which we present, position, portray and project our design work and related research


Let’s look a little more closely at some of these ‘moves’.

1. Here are two moves to get you started: Naming, Describing.

2. What do you think these moves do or perform?

3. What do they need to be connected to? Do moves happen all on their own?

4. Here are two more moves: Explaining, Supporting.

5. What do you think these ‘moves’ do or perform?

6. Make a list of all the moves you can think of when working on a design project. Next to each move write a short statement of what work that move does.

7. Now see if you can arrange these moves in a) a sequenced list b) a list of relations and links that is not linear.

8. Make two drawings of these, including the moves in capital letters, the short statements and a visible indication of links or pathways between moves.

9. Upload your drawings.
10. Now compare what you have arrived at with the material in DISCOURSE MOVES FOR DESIGN COMMUNICATION.


‘Discourse moves’ or the actions that take place when we use words in larger units of meaning than in a sentence or clause as also important in design and futures.


1. Print out the FUTURES DESIGN DISCOURSE MOVES (List short) and study them.

2. Study 50 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS (Words only)

3. Place as many of the words from the 50 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS (Words only) onto the FUTURES DESIGN DISCOURSE MOVES (List short).

4. Write a summary of your current work/project using the moves and words to guide you.

Download this UNIT in printable format: 

Print Version



Margolin, Victor, ed. 1989. Design Discourse. History. Theory. Criticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McCarthy, Michael. 1991. Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge: CUP.

McCarthy, Michael. 1991. Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge: CUP.


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Future Education and Literacy for Designers (FUEL4Design) is an open project.
You are invited to contribute by presenting your own use of this UNIT as well as share feedback on this resource.


An addition or comment to a UNIT or the use of an ESSENTIAL you see as appropriate.


Making a contribution will help connect the LEXICON to other work, innovations, settings and persons.


Your contribution can be related to the content of the LEXICON, to the work you do or that of others.


Send your suggestions, cases, courses, projects and additions to: contactus@fuel4design.org