Intentionality has a more commonsense meaning, relating to one’s intention or what means to do or to say, and a more philosophical sense, which concerns the directedness of consciousness towards its other(s), highlighting the dependence of thought upon the world, in contrast to an idealist view of the self-sufficiency of consciousness.

Both senses have value for the design of narrative environments, in relation to its purposefulness (what it intends to do), on the one hand, and its ‘aboutness’, on the other hand (what it is about).

Intentionality in design concerns the purpose or function of the design as meant by its creator or as interpreted by its audience or users.

In graphic design, intentionality is often discussed in philosophical terms, especially in relation to language. Some philosophers argue that intentionality is characteristic of a concept or an intention.

In philosophy, intentionality is related to mental states such as remembering, believing, knowing or experiencing as well as to the concept of free will.

In phenomenology, intentionality is taken to mean that ideas are directed toward an object, with the suggestion that all conscious states are characterised by such ‘directedness’ or ‘aboutness’. Thus,

“One of the core theses of phenomenology is the claim that all consciousness is consciousness of an other-than-consciousness. Consciousness simply is this aiming at or intending an object. This is Husserl’s famous thesis of intentionality as the defining characteristic of the mental.” (Flynn, 2006)


Flynn, T. R. (2006). Jean-Paul Sartre. In Borchert, D. M. (ed.) Encyclopedia of philosophy. Volume 8: Price - Sextus. 2nd edn. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, pp.603-612

‘Visual Research’ – by Ian Nobel and Russell Bestley