There are a few way to approach design. What is it? Design is a word, an idea, a method, a result. I’m sure it’s a few other things, but I find these most significant.
Design is firstly a term, a lexical form that equates to a definition. The formation of the word is peculiar, but justifiable. Is “de-sign” to remove the sign (semiotics)? I think here the prefix intends a derivative (to derive from a sign). Think about other -sign words, like resign– to go back (re-) from that which stood for something else (sign) … translating into leaving the employment that stood for income, status, etc.
Design is a noun. It can be manifested in a physical object, or before that as an organizational mental concept.
It’s also a verb. The process of working on a design or to design is itself an activity. It may have rules or guidelines to succeed within the functions of the environment.
Design usually serves a purpose. It’s a means and it’s an end. The finality of a design is a product or an object.
What if things weren’t designed? Well, results would still exist, but with entropy destroying usefulness. There would be no method of doing anything. Ideas would have no direction. It’s hard to not design even if you aren’t trying to, at least on a primitive level. To live and survive, you work within systems to produce something of value. Life is a design, and design is a life.