Recently, Don Norman, Patrick Whitney, and other design academics posted a call for a new kind of design: DesignX. DesignX would extend design to the realm of systems, society, and change “using a new evidence based approach”.
The question I was left with after reading the DesignX manifesto was what DesignX adds. What does it offer that isn’t already here?
According to the authors, DesignX is "a new, evidence-based approach for addressing many of the complex and serious problems facing the world today."
- attacks the larger problems, those that involve complex systems
- aims to enhance the tools required to assist people, organizations, and societies in developing systems and procedures that address major human and societal needs
- requires skills, knowledge, and a vocabulary that enable it to engage effectively with stakeholders and professionals of many kinds
This is an admirable ambition. It just doesn’t seem to be a new one—in fact, systems thinking is almost always part of a definition of design thinking and practice. The DesignX authors seem to think they are filling a vacuum, since many designers are focused on non-systemic problems (see interaction design, product design, or graphic design). Just because much of today’s design practice isn’t systemic doesn’t mean that there isn’t already an established community of practitioners and scholars already operating at the intersection of systems and design.
I’m curious what the DesignX authors think of this established practice (and why they felt the need to craft a new term).
Here’s some great resources illustrating the long historical connections between systems and design:
The Relating Systems Thinking & Design conference is in its 4th year.
The Labs for Systems Change conference held in May 2014 tied together design and innovation methods practiced by social and public innovation labs, of which there are dozens of well-established ones, and hundreds worldwide.
Peter Jones’ book Design for Care explores systems and design in healthcare in terms of theory and practice.
Dan Hill’s book Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary tackles the practice of design in the ‘dark matter’ of organizations like policy and organizational structure.
Looking further back, Dick Buchanan’s four orders of design looks at designing environments and systems as the 4th order of design practice.
And systems thinking is tied to wicked problems in design thinking (more Buchanan! in 1991)
So the question remains: what does DesignX bring to the table, other than adding a new term around the current practices of strategic, systemic, or transformation design? I’d love to hear any thoughts you have.