Knowing and Designing

Ranulph Glanville

Design is, in many ways, an unfortunate word. Even its English origins are ambiguous, and it is used in many different ways from meaning “evil intent” to “transcendental novelty”. Other languages have no equivalent, and their words are often more helpful than design.

Thus, there is a difference in the activity that designers and design engineers refer to. I believe this difference originates in the nature of the educational institutions and the educations each were provided, beginning in the C19. I shall argue this point, relating engineering with recording the world as is and the use of scientific problem-solving formulations; while designing relates to a wish to change the world through an act I describe as cybernetically circular, a conversation, after Pask. The path followed is one of aimless wandering, which comes to make sense after arrival. This is equivalent to saying the solution specifies the problem.

Each of these activities generates and requires for its operation, a different sort of knowledge. Engineers use knowledge of what is, whereas designers use knowledge for change. One of the problems that face design today is that the vast majority of knowledge generated by research is of the form of knowledge of, whereas, design needs knowledge for (change). One assesses, the other assists.

The type of outcome, the ways in which they can be judges, the implicit criteria and the ethics involved are very different for engineering and design, and I will explore these a little.

The criteria appropriate to design are those appropriate to second-order cybernetics.

Ranulph Glanville

Posted: Oct-2014

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