2014/10/16 09:00 Ranulph Glanville, “How design and cybernetics reflect each other”, #RSD3

Ranulph Glanville, first day plenary at #RSD3 Relating Systems Thinking and Design 3, at AHO, Oslo, Norway

Presentation at Relating Systems Thinking and Design 3, at AHO, Oslo, Norway

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, posted by David Ing.

Program is at http://systemic-design.net/rsd3-2014/program/

Introduction by Birger Sevaldson

  • If you have a flu, please stay away from Ranulph

[Ranulph Glanville]

Won’t talk about the abstract says

How design and cybernetics reflect each other

  • This is what he’s been doing for the last 40 years

Enjoyed dropping into preconference workshops yesterday

  • Seeing who was here, rethought what would say today
  • May offend people, things should be said as simple as possible
  • In the old Design Museum in London, “design is simplifying, not complicating”
  • One of two approaches:  Pask, collect everything, and shove it in
  • Ranulph’s approach is the strip it down, until there’s nothing to say about nothing
  • Could be offensive

Seems to be more people here using systems than cybernetics

  • May try to say if there are any differences between cybernetics and systems

Will say some things about design, because people will have different views

Always an intention to do this without slides

  • CEO of Autodesk doesn’t use slides, because you look at eye candy, and don’t listen to what I’m saying
  • They stop improvising
  • Pre-program everything
  • Plodding continuity
  • Australian writer, weasel words, cliches from management jargon, including bullet points and Powerpoints
  • Powerpoint is a medium for presenting holiday snaps, and presenting assertions

Two words: cybernetics and systems

  • In world of meetings, the words seem antagonistic:  ISSS and ASC
  • Used to feel threatened, not necessary to be that way
  • Does it matter?

Cybernetics, in modern usage, came in 1948

  • Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics
  • 7 years later, The Human Use of Human Beings, which is the book that should have been published first
  • A lot of misunderstand, if he had published first
  • First book is mathematical, the second book is a way of thinking, and a way of being in the world

1949, von Bertalanffy published General Systems Thinking

Cybernetics goes back to Aristotle, using Greek word of helmsman or steersman

  • Goes together with system, as cybernetics systems

Cybernetics tends to be more abstract

  • Systems tends to be more pragmatic
  • Not a reason for squabbling

A lot of people in cybernetics say that it doesn’t matter which word is used

  • Mean more or less the same thing
  • If there’s a difference, it’s abstract versus pragmatics
  • Charles Francois, International Encyclopedia of Cybernetics and Systems: position is that cybernetics is the dynamic complement of systems
  • Typical diagram, systems people interested in boxes, cybernetics people interested in the arrows

Ride bicycle, steer boats

  • Have looked straight ahead, don’t have to adjust steering
  • If you don’t move anything in 100 metres, you’re off the road
  • Steering is difficult
  • Can’t just point
  • World is full of surprises and arrow, that don’t quite match the model
  • When we steer, we have ways of adjusting
  • Ways for little arrows
  • Models of the world are not the world
  • Imagination of how the world works is not how the world works

Cybernetics is based on two surprising things:

  • (1) Error:  we accepted that error is endemic, there’s always error
  • Challenge is not to eradicate error, but how to live with error
  • One way is to turn it into opportunity
  • (2) Cybernetics is responsive
  • Adjust, respond to changes in situation

Name of this process is usually “feedback”

  • Suggests isn’t something tiny that goes back to something chunky
  • Prefer the work “circularity”
  • It’s about information
  • Ross Ashby: cybernetics aren’t subject to the laws of physics, but instead the laws of information
  • Circularity: want to go somewhere, sense where going, then adjust

Another example, the thermostat

  • Set temperature
  • When room gets cold, it turns on central heating device
  • Space in room heats up, until exceeds temperature, turns off
  • Switch on the wall, heat supply system
  • Furnace controls switch
  • In circularity, it’s not as we think:  each is the controller of the other
  • Maybe the reasons we think this way is because we’re thinking of energy, which could lead to feedback thinking

Instead of saying switch controlling, say switch observing

  • Switch observes the environment
  • In a circular system, both observe each other
  • If have switch and furnace, shrink box down to include both:  as an observer wanting to observe a thermostatic system that is observing circularity
  • Traditionally, would look at it, and not touch it, be objective, be a non-observer:  silly as a position, science has managed to do this

In 1968, Margaret Mead, anthropologist, one of the first to put into practice that the observer shouldn’t stand outside, but engage

  • Should consult them, and be part of their life
  • Talked with ASC: how about applying cybernetics to yourselves
  • We never did, spent to last 6 years trying to get application to ASC
  • Didn’t quite fall on deaf ears
  • Asked cybernetics to behave with a self-consistency
  • Observe the thermostat, isn’t the observation circular?
  • Treat the outside cycle of the observer, the same was as the interior cycle:  the origin of second order cybernetics
  • Bringing a form of consistency
  • Observer isn’t optional
  • Heinz von Foerster:  cybernetics has illusion that can be done without himself or herself

Turn to design, multiple meaning

  • “He has designs on her”, meaning he wanted to get her into bed
  • Dutch and Germans don’t have these sense of design:  giving form to things, gestalten as making complete
  • English:  design came in around 1480, both from Italian
  • Was given talk:  who people observe patterns, homo designata?
  • Drawing, designating, both came in, somewhat confused

Design as a noun, and as a verb

  • People who design, see as verb
  • People who assess, design as a noun
  • A way of doing things, or an outcome of doing
  • Assessing, being told not good or not good enough, know that as a designer, leads for improvement
  • It’s not about perfection
  • How do I make it more perfect, as a designer?

Art school and the engineering university

  • In the UK, two different traditions, started about 1850
  • How you act in the world
  • Art school is interested in novelty, good enough
  • University gives a research tradition, interested in efficiency and best
  • Tend to have people battling about who’s right
  • Need to keep this in mind, don’t need to resolve the differences, just have to be nice about them

The earliest definition of design in the western world the best:  Vitruvius

  • More about design than about architecture
  • At the RSA, before joining engineering design architecture, divided into designers and non-designers
  • Non-designers from medicine, quantum gravity physics, and an architect
  • Vitruvius:  firmitas, being well constructed
  • Second, functional
  • Third, delight — which is better than beauty
  • We’re not designing, unless we have delight
  • It’s the difference between humans and machines

An extraneous thing about design that is important:  we are preserving every bug we can find

  • We might tread on something that might be useful in the future, e.g. a bug that could become a medicine in the future
  • We seem to only want to preserve only one way of thinking
  • Design gives us a different way of talking about a problem:  enormously important
  • Worth preserving
  • Should be valuing design in this way

Conversation:  the bridge between cybernetics and design

  • A minimal conversation is between two people
  • Going to cafe, end of evening, can’t remember how we got there
  • Conversation has a slippage
  • A way of being with someone else, in which we don’t have to play to understand the same thing
  • Meaning is in my head and your head, they’re different and unavailable to each other
  • If want to communicate unambiguously with verbal language, you join the army, and learn to become an automaton to respond to specific commands
  • Listen, respond
  • Can go in parallel, without know what the other thinks, but can go on, knowing that the other person understands
  • When have a conversation, there’s always a metaconversation
  • Better than substrata:  what’s this conversation really all about

In a conversation, assume two different sets of understanding, and can participate

  • What we get from someone else, hope it’s their version, which is always a little bit different
  • Can’t have a conversation when you parrot back:  kids will do this
  • Conversation is a circular activity, each saying things
  • Conversation has to participants

A conversation with yourself? How to do that?

  • Do you think you’re always the same one person?
  • When we’re at home, different from when we’re at work
  • Different ways of being
  • Can recognize how we are in the world:  many people, that fit together

Can also make a mark in a piece of paper, and come back later:  it looks different

  • The piece of paper is having a conversation with you

This activity is at the center of designing:  it’s what makes design design

  • Otherwise, you’re doing problem solving
  • Can make a mark, and see it differently than when you meant it

This is a major sort of novelty in design

  • Difference between marking and being
  • Not an error, it’s an opportunity
  • Designers having conversations with themselves:  find the new
  • This is how designers find
  • Doesn’t mean not dealing with the functional aspects
  • Just means that it leaves room for the delight, making something you hadn’t expected
  • This form of activity is entirely cybernetic

Thus, cybernetics and design are two sides of the same coin

Sketchnote by @playthink Patricia Kambitsch https://twitter.com/playthink/status/522869939255132160



Sketchnote by @DRODesigner Danielle Olson https://twitter.com/DROdesigner/status/522746491757412352

Sketchnote of Ranulph Glanville presentation, Danielle Olson


#design, #systems-thinking