This paper traces the changing notions of constraints in design and of systems since the mid-20th century in the intersection of design theory and systems theory. Taking a second-order cybernetic perspective, the paper develops constraints as observer dependent, and it analyzes conditions under which constraints tend to be beneficial or detrimental. Ethical implications of constraints in design processes are established with reference to system boundaries. Constraint-oriented design is discussed as an alternative to goal-oriented design, and a method called constraint reversal is introduced as a strategy of deliberate defiance of constraints to support design exploration.
This Thesis proposes a new epistemological ontology which bas two peculiar characteristics: Objects in its Universe are formulated as being self-observers (i.e. reflexive); and the nature of observation of Objects by others is shown to contain the logic for computing relationships between Objects in the Universe. This Universe is non-hierarchical, and permits of mutually contradictory beliefs about its Objects to be simultaneously held by different observers. The logic by which observers construct hierarchies in the Universe is shown to need only one variable in order to operate, and to operate from the oscillatory nature of the self-observing Objects producing a sense of local time in both observer, and observed Objects; the times of which must temporarily come together for observations to be made. Using these notions of Objects and observations, a means, based on the potential for observers to construct hierarchies, is found for analysing arguments, and (potentially) for the improvement of computer performance. A way is described for the representation of observations of Objects to be made, and a conversational idiom is established to account for communication between different observers. The views put forward in this Thesis are demonstrated by various experiments, stories, and references.
This paper discusses the close relationships between design, second order cybernetics and radical constructivism that Ranulph Glanville has identified in his writings over the past decade. In linking these three fields, Glanville has established an overarching picture that shows how action, ethics and epistemology are related in a mutually complementing manner. While Glanville does not explicitly link all three fields in one dedicated paper, he elucidates one of these relationships each in three of his writings. In ‘Radical Constructivism = Second-order Cybernetics’ (2012) Glanville asserts that second-order cybernetics and radical constructivism are ‘opposite sides of the same coin. ’ Glanville lists seven core concepts of radical constructivism as stated by Ernst von Glasersfeld, and relates them to second-order cybernetic concepts. ‘Construction and Design’ (2006) shows how design is a necessarily constructivist activity-both in terms of the design of concepts and the design of objects and processes. In ‘Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better: The Cybernetics in Design and the Design in Cybernetics’ (2007), Glanville presents second-order cybernetics as a theory for design, and characterizes design as cybernetics in practice. Drawing primarily upon these three papers, I construct a condensed version of Glanville’s big picture. The value of the connections made lies in showing the role of each field in relation to the others, which both informs and affects each of the three fields thus connected.
Open peer commentary on the article “Developing a Dialogical Platform for Disseminating Research through Design” by Abigail C. Durrant, John Vines, Jayne Wallace & Joyce Yee. Upshot: The question of more appropriate dissemination formats for research through design (RTD) is important, but secondary. Artefacts are just media in the knowledge-generating process. RTD is a much more powerful concept than presented here.
ERRATUM: In Table 1 on page 33, last row, the content of the right cell should read as follows: by/through ■ Conciliation of theory and practice (strong theory) ■ embedded, implicated, engaged, situated (Sartre, Situationist) theory. ■ “Such research helps build a genuine theory of design by adopting an epistemological posture more consonant with what is specific to design: the project.”
Context: The relationship between design and science has shifted over recent decades. One bridge between the two is cybernetics, which offers perspectives on both in terms of their practice. From around 1980 onwards, drawing on ideas from cybernetics, Glanville has suggested that rather than apply science to design, it makes more sense to understand science as a form of design activity, reversing the more usual hierarchy between the two. I return to review this argument here, in the context of recent discussions in this journal regarding second-order science (SOS). Problem: Despite numerous connections to practice, second-order cybernetics (SOC) has tended to be associated with theory. As a result, SOC is perceived as separate to the more tangible aspects of earlier cybernetics in a way that obscures both the continuity between the two and also current opportunities for developing the field. Method: I review Glanville’s understanding of design, and particularly his account of scientific research as a design-like activity, placing this within the context of the shifting relation between science and design during the development of SOC, with reference to the work of Rittel and Feyerabend. Through this, I summarise significant parallels and overlaps between SOC and the contemporary concerns of design research. Results: I suggest that we can see design research not just as a field influenced by cybernetics but as a form of SOC practice even where cybernetics is not explicitly referenced. Implications: Given this, design research offers much to cybernetics as an important example of SOC that is both outward looking and practice based. As such, it bridges the gap between SOC and the more tangible legacy of earlier cybernetics, while also suggesting connections to contemporary concerns in this journal with SOS in terms of researching research. Constructivist content: By suggesting that we see design research as an example of SOC, I develop connections between constructivism and practice.