2013/10/11 09:00 “The Systemic Design Mind” | Harold Nelson | Relating Systems Thinking & Design 2013

Digest from #RSD2 of Harold G. Nelson talk with @playthink sketchnote on The Systemic Design Mind at Relating Systems Thinking and Design 2 at AHO Oslo School of Design and Architecture


This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship by David Ing.

There will be an “ask” for this conference

Knowledge comes by taking things apart:  analysis.   But wisdom comes by putting things together.  [John A. Morrison]

System design is for wise action

  • Inquiry is always for action

We need habits of mind

  • What habits of mind are appropriate for systemic design?
  • Shouldn’t drop the habits of an analytic mind, which are important for design.

We should develop the habit of AND versus EITHER/OR

  • Scientific method gets to heart of what is true,  but what is AND
  • e.g. faculty of science AND humanity

AND as a conjunction, not an aggregation

  • Dissertation is new knowledge added to a pile of knowledge (an aggregation)
  • Not more, but different

AND means filling the in-between

  • Science AND art
  • Individual AND collective
  • Thinking AND acting
  • You AND me

Systemic design can contribute to understanding the AND

To become a systems thinker, don’t look at something, look in between

Some conjunction systems

  • Ordered / ordering systems
    • Relationships
    • Patterns
    • Compositions
  • Engangled / entangling systems
    • Links
    • Assemblies
    • Networks
  • Organized / organizing systems

Also interested in conjoining through time

Four central questions for designers, as design inquiry:

  • 1. What is true?
  • 2. What is real?
  • 3. What would be ideal?
  • 4. What out to be made real? (with ought having ethical considerations)

Will focus on the first two, today.

Some describe west versus east:

  • West as what’s true. (i.e. ideals)
  • East as what’s real.  (i.e. what’s here)

As an example, what is a horse?

  • From Montana, have raised horses

Western tradition:

  • Analysis and relationships development
  • Analysis as breaking things into the parts: Is that enough to tell you what a horse is?
  • Also use classifications, e.g. ungulates, hoofed animals
  • Can appreciate the traditions in universities, with arts, humanities
  • Tradition of ordering into categories
  • Evolution, provence, how does the horse develop order time
  • Breeds, pedegree, maybe not cross-breeding, no ribbons for mongrels

Synthesis in the western tradition

  • We have trouble:  what happens when you put things together
  • Synthesis as an assembly and
  • A horse as a functional assembly, parts
  • Graphs with squares and lines
  • Tells us a bit about a horse
  • Doesn’t get a full description about what a horse is

Eastern habit of mind (as told, have been there), talking about apposition and link

  • Apposition as how to fit in
  • A horse in an ecosystem and environment:  what predators
  • Context
  • Function

Exploration of what ANDs are

3. Synthesis as an aesthetic AND

  • Composition and relationships
  • We have reasons for putting things into composition and relationships
  • An emergence of qualities
  • Spirit, soul, essence, character, nature, actuality, quiddity
  • As designers and systems sciences, we don’t get to those qualities often
  • But where people live, they think about these qualities

4. Synthesis as the emergent quality AND

  • Good designers can create an emergent quality
  • Take two gases, hydrogen and oxygen, and create the property of wetness
  • Only see wetness when they are brought together
  • It’s not a composition, it’s a transformation

People talking about a community, e.g. have 50 people together, but that’s not the emergent quality is, which is what you see when people live together

In place of common dualities, use AND

  • C.P. Snow’s the two cultures of sciences and humanities
  • Argument still going on, decades later
  • Science arguing that the can do everything
  • Instead of science OR art, what does it look like when you say AND

What does individual AND the collective mean together?

Thought AND action?

  • Gets divided up a lot
  • Those who think, and those who do
  • Forethought and afterthought
  • Thought AND action has sophia, pre-Socratic mean the wise hand
  • In Plato’s Republic, those with hands went to the bottom, and those with the thought went to the top
  • Interested in reconstitution of sophia as the wise hand
  • Ancient Greeks were amazed that could make a ship appear that never existed; how to make a temple appear
  • Compare as those who see the technology as found, they’re not concerned with how the technology came about
  • Prometheus was the god of forethought, penalized for thinking then doing, fire
  • Brother was the god of action without thinking as afterthought, opened Pandora’s box

What is the wisdom of this symposium?

  • What is the AND?
  • What have you heard that is startlingly different, that you might have heard as either/or
  • The wisdom of a symposium like this is how we put together things like this organized event
  • This symposium could have value in showing emergent properties
  • It’s not just publishing papers
  • We have a marvelous ordering, what are these assembled into?
  • This could be a contribution of the gathering

Self-organizing:  if people don’t have the pressure of creating a paper, people can think:  what emerges from that

[Abstract of talk from http://www.systemic-design.net/]

Harold Nelson
Unblocking the design mind; looking for AND rather than EITHER-OR

Designing is a dynamic process that can be hindered or blocked by habits of mind developed from the EITHER-OR world of truth seeking and reductive thinking. Design inquiry is inquiry for action—i.e. forethought AND action. Design inquiry is also synthetic, answering the AND questions that come up when talking about relationships, connections and linkages—i.e. what is the relationship, connection or linkage between this idea AND that idea; this thing AND that thing? What are the emergent qualities that arise when AND replaces the argumentative EITHER-OR in design situations?The question I would like to ask you all to consider with one another in the context of this symposium is: what are the consequences of the ANDs between or among the many different intriguing ideas being presented? AND how could this conversation be taken into other contexts?

Harold G. Nelson

[The table of contents for The Design Way (second edition) is at http://designwaybook.blogspot.ca/p/table-of-content.html ]

Table of Content & Preface

Preface to the Second Edition ix
Acknowledgments xiiiPrelude 1


1 The Ultimate Particular 27
2 Service 41
3 Systemics 57
4 The Whole 93

5 Desiderata 105
6 Interpretation and Measurement 119
7 Imagination and Communication 127
8 Judgment 139
9 Composing and Connecting 159
10 Craft and Material 173

11 The Evil of Design 183
12 The Splendor of Design 191
13 The Guarantor-of-Design (g.o.d.) 201

14 Becoming a Designer 215
15 Being a Designer 239

The Way Forward 261

References 265
Index 271

[See a pointer from Harold Nelson’s blog, The Accidental Vagrant, on a book review of The Design Way.  The review is done by By Gerd Waloszek, Design & Frontline Apps, SAP AG – May 21, 2013 at http://www.sapdesignguild.org/community/book_people/review_design_way.asp ]

#design, #rsd2, #systemic