Design is Conversation

The paper “Cybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action” [PDF] has recently gone to print in a peer-reviewed journal. It offers a rationale for the position that design is conversation; perhaps a surprising idea, but the logic in the paper is rigorous. Cybernetics offers a foundation for 21st-century design practice, here is the core of it:

We construe design as a conversation for action—that is, as cybernetics. Action may either conserve or change a situation. In other words, design is a conversation about what to conserve and what to change, a conversation about what we value. Both design and cybernetic systems involve a process of observing a situation as having some limitations, reflecting on how and why to improve that situation, and acting to improve it. This follows the circular process of observe→reflect→make that is common to the recursive and accumulative process of learning in service of effective action, as is found in science, medicine, biological systems, manufacturing, and everyday living.

The interweaving of the history and influences of cybernetics across design and computing is complex and interesting.