design methods design methods
Approach Design as optimization Design as argument
Problem solving Goal framing
Linear or waterfall Multi-level feedback
Domain Science Design
Design as Design as
part of science its own domain
Sciences of the artificial Designing for evolution
Neutral, objective Political, subjective
“What is…” “What could be…”
Time horizon Present Future
Knowledge Factual Instrumental
Adapted from Horst Rittel by Chanpory Rith [ 20]
What Do These Changes Mean
for Design Education?
As design moves into the age of biology and shifts
from a mechanical-object ethos to an organic-systems ethos, we should reflect on how best
to prepare for coming changes in practice. At a
recent conference on design education, Meredith
Davis described “the distance between where we
are going in the practice of graphic design and
longstanding assumptions about design education
[ 23].” (The cover story, which is based on her talk,
can be found on p. 28.)
Davis (building on Poggenpahl and Habermas)
distinguished between two models of practice,
“know how” and “know that,” “design as a craft
and design as a discipline.” This distinction parallels the distinction between hand-craft and service-craft that Pangaro and I propose above. Davis
asserted “college design curricula, and the pedagogies through which we deliver them, are based
almost exclusively on the first model of practice,
on know-how, and don’t acknowledge issues that
drive emerging practices.”
Davis’s argument and framing are closely related to changes described in this article. Changes
that Davis advocates are consistent with the spirit
of the new ethos and aimed at helping designers
grasp the nature of organic-systems work and
preparing them for practice in the age of biology.
Of course, not all designers welcome the coming
change. Form giving remains a large part of design
practice and design education. Will some designers
be able to continue to practice primarily as form
givers? That seems likely. But already a schism
is developing both in design practice and design
education, as individuals and institutions choose
to focus on either form giving or on planning. It
remains to be seen if one person, one firm, or one
school can bridge the divide and excel at both.
[ 17] Walker, Stuart.
Sustainable by Design:
Explorations in Theory
and Practice. London:
[ 18] Liedtka, Jeanne.
“Strategy as Design.”
Winter 2004, 12–15.
[ 19] Camillus, John C.
“Strategy as a Wicked
Business Review, May
[ 20] Rith, Chanpory.
with author, 2 July 2005.
Paul Pangaro and I have also noted that Rittel’s
framing of first- and second-generation design
methods parallels Heinz von Foerster’s framing of first- and second-order cybernetics. Von
Foerster described a shift of focus in cybernetics
from mechanism to language and from systems
observed (from the outside) to systems-that-observe (observing systems).
[ 21] Pangaro, Paul.
with author, 2000–2008.
Participating in conversation
Observer in frame
Participants co-create goals
Adapted from Paul Pangaro [ 21]
In 1958 von Foerster formed the Biological
Computer Laboratory at the University of Illinois
Urbana-Champaign. He brought in Ross Ashby as
a professor and later Gordon Pask and Humberto
Maturana as visiting research professors. The lab
focused on problems of self-organizing systems
and provided an alternative to the more mechanistic approach of AI followed at MIT by Marvin
Minsky and others [ 22]. In a way, von Foerster
anticipated the shift from mechanical-object
ethos to organic-systems ethos in computing,
design, and perhaps the larger culture.
Regulating in environment
Observer outside frame
Observer describes goal
[ 22] Müller, Albert. “A
Brief History of the BCL:
Heinz von Foerster
and the Biological
Originally published in
für eschichts wissen-
schaften 11, no. 1 (2000):
9-30. Translated by Jeb
Bishop and since repub-
lished in “An Unfinished
[ 23] Davis, Meredith.
“Toto, I’ve got a feeling
we’re not in Kansas
at the AIGA Design
Boston, April 2008.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Hugh Dubberly manages a consultancy focused on making services
and software easier to use through interaction
design and information design. As vice president
he was responsible for design and production of
Netscape’s Web services. He was at Apple for 10
years, where he managed graphic design and corporate identity
and co-created the Knowledge Navigator series of videos.
Dubberly also founded an interactive media department at Art
Center and has taught at San Jose State, IIT/ID, and Stanford.
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September + October 2008