Thursday, September 28, 2006

Design and complexity

Can designers learn from the emerging field of complexity science? I joined a workshop held at Saïd Business School which was one of the satellite events at the European Conference on Complex Systems (ECCS '06). The workshop was part of a wider series, organized as a cluster called Embracing Complexity in Art and Design funded through the first round of the cross-disciplinary Designing for the 21st Century initiative. Of particular value I found the presentation by Lauri Koskela of Salford University. He talked about the differences between ancient Greek terms such as analysis and synthesis and their current meanings, and the confusing attempts of competing contemporary design disciplines and "design science" to articulate theories about design. The ideas explored in Aristotle and Pappus, for example, constitute a proto-theory of design, he argued. Alec Robertson from De Montfort University described the More is More symposium held at the end of 2005 which brought together a range of perspectives. In design, he pointed out, it is considered a truism that 'less is more' but George Rzevski's workshop (at a previous event organised by the cluster) 'Complexity is Beautiful' was the starting point of an idea that challenges this: more is more. Jeff Johnson (Open University) and Eve Mitleton-Kelly (LSE) described interdisciplinary projects they are setting up that bring together social scientists and scientists working with complexity, with design and art practitioners. Like design, complexity is far from being a single discipline but it seems likely that cross-disciplinary discussions may lead to a valuable exchange. My questions would be: how do design practices respond to complex (or complicated) problems? To what extent do traditional or modern methods and skills cope with the challenges of designing complex products, services and environments?

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