Design Beyond Design

Kees Dorst

There is a fundamental shift in the types of problems that practitioners across all professions have to deal with. When we networked ourselves (through the internet, globalisation, etc) we have inadvertently networked our problems, too – we have made them more complex than ever before.

A complex system consists of many elements, with many relationships and interdependencies. These problems have, in their complex interconnected nature, become more like ‘infrastructure problems’ – but traditionally we have left those very complex systems problems to the Engineers, that tend to optimize the system by technical parameters. That is why we have cities that are optimized for traffic flows, rather than people.

This should surprise us more than it does: it stands to reason that Design should be involved in these big sociotechnical problems, for its crucial ability to combine a Human-Centered/Social perspective with the creation of Technical solutions. Yet Design is not involved at all.


Could there be something in the very nature of design practices that limits Design’s ability to deal with these very complex systems? Does ‘design reasoning’ not serve us anymore above a certain level of complexity? Or does ‘design reasoning’ then turn into Engineering, or into a wholly different type of practice that we do not recognize anymore as truly ‘designerly’?

In this paper we will interrogate this question deeply, going into logic and the reasoning patterns behind Design, as well as into new and emerging approaches that are currently being developed (in Design practice as well is in Academia) to address the issue of complexity.

Posted: Oct-2017

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