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What is meant by “wicked problems of design”? Expository Essay


In his article, Richard Buchanan quotes Rittel as having defined wicked problems as “a class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing” (“Wicked Problems In Design Thinking” 15).

In this definition we get to understand that a wicked problem is a situation that confronts designers in whatever new situation that presents itself before them in their daily works.

Therefore in any field such as science of the artifact, architecture, engineering or writing this becomes a technical problem where a designer has to be creative in coming up with a design that responds to unique situations.

Therefore owning this problem is being accountable for the responses to artifacts regardless of the fact that there are numerous conflicting views which would come out from the users and which the designer can never have a prior knowledge.

This is as a result of big differences between the liberal arts, especially the old, and the new; because liberal arts no longer treats science as primary and art as secondary but saw science itself as art. This gives us an understanding as to why in design thinking will continue to expand meanings and connections in today’s culture.

But there are emerging problems in the relationship between art and sciences, industry and manufacturing, marketing and distribution and the final consumer who utilizes the final product of this design thought. There is a disagreement of the notion that design is a science but what is clear is that everyone could benefit from appreciation of design principles and thought pattern.

The contemporary culture has been affected by design in a way that can be understood when this effect is classified into four areas of analysis. The first one is the symbolic and visual communication which encompasses the traditional definition of the graphic designer.

The second one is the design of material objects which concerns itself with form and appearance of everyday product like clothing, tools, Vehicles et cetera. Third, is the design of activities as well as organized services like the traditional management concern for logistics, aimed at enabling human beings attain objectives in life.

This is where the concept of strategic planning and design thinking can be used to improve aspects of intelligence, meaningfulness and human experience. The fourth area is the design in complex systems or environment for living, working among other uses as playing and learning.

In this forth area the designer is confronted with the problem of coming up with a sustainable and ecological designs that are able to integrate man into the environment.

This is why under the knowledge of the wicked problem a designer can not predict the kind of responses the critics or stakeholders such as the consumers will make to an artifact design.

This lack of prior knowledge is very essential to a fuller appreciation of the wickedness of design and has been fully expounded by a design theorist Richard Buchanan.

Buchanan tries to develop the concept of wicked problems by evaluating the responsibility of designing and the function of the art quality in such a design and by doing so Buchanan, closely classifies wicked problem with rhetoric.

In this respect, the most important thing is that, art skill that lies behind practice brings the relationship between determinacy and indeterminacy in design thinking.

This design thinking is highly based on determinate problems with conditions which are definite and it is from this point that the biggest task of a designer is to present those conditions in a precise manner and then provide a solution.

Contrary, the wicked problems approach reveals that there is what can be called a fundamental indeterminacy in all wicked problems apart from the most trivial design problem; the design issues.

As designers try to articulate their artifacts, they are confronted with many needs and expectations of the people and they may be confused on what theme to deal with (“Wicked Problems In Design Thinking” 3-20)

Have we seen any in the design literature thus far (Forty or Raizman)?

Raizman and Forty have highlighted many difficult situations which are confusing information in design for instance a situation where an artifact can be critiqued in terms of its relationship with technology. The technology phenomena may not have been in the mind of the designer but he must be ready to own such an omission.

Therefore the consumers, in their analysis play a role of influencing the use of design. Another wicked problem is where consumers attach meaning to displays in shop windows.

Therefore, Raizman also engages time with the definition of a designer where both are seen to be influenced by economical factors and economic situations to appeal to designers for a number of reasons (“Declaration by Design” 91-110).

Discuss (explain) the relationships between gender, ergonomics, management science and design in the evolution of office work and corporate identity.

Today the office work has evolved to suite the different needs of the technologically advanced way of doing things. Management of human resources and other resources requires advanced design of time management, equipment and the specific requirements at different levels in the workplace.

The issue of gender in design comes in when considering the needs of different gender in their daily life and not only limited to the work plane. This factor is dominant in the clothing, furniture and the design in management.

Ergonomics for instance is the simple science of articulating how to design user friendly equipment and work places which fits well with the user and at the same time having in mind special needs with regard to other factors such as gender and work type.

This designing must be done with a clear knowledge of interactions among different elements of a system and humans as well as the profession that applies theory and principle.

Gender issue is very important for any company when doing its ergonomics because the furniture and the equipment to be designed should be commensurate with the needs of different gender. This is done with an aim of optimizing human wellbeing and therefore overall system performance.

As a part of office work and corporate identity, ergonomics is engaged in order to achieve health and productivity and thus it realizes the need for the welfare of the worker, as a stakeholder in the workplace, in coming up with safe furniture and user friendly interfaces to office machines.

For example the proper ergonomic design is required so as to prevent strains and injuries which could be caused by poor design of equipment and which have a potential to cause long term disability. When the office workers are comfortable they are able to serve clients well.

Moreover, a best design boosts the morale and confidence of the workers so that they are proud of their work and thus serve clients well. This in turn adds a mark to the investor confidence and thus corporate identity. Many people and workers like identifying with firms which have smart designs ranging from the office furniture to the architectural design.

Ergonomics help to minimize the expenses incurred in form of compensation to workers. Any work place can deploy reactive or proactive approach where reactive ergonomics is applied in case something requires to be fixed while proactive involves a process of fixing the issue before they become a bigger problem.

Therefore in fixing these Ergonomics is deployed in designing the equipment, task and environment. When all these factors are well managed workers will be safe, motivated and proud to work at a reduced cost and increased corporate identity (Forty 6-245).

Of which elements does design ability consist? To which challenges and problems are these elements a response?

Design ability involves the skill of a designer in translating imaginations, ideas and values to materials for contemplation or even appreciation. Therefore it is a skill at imagining or stipulating a combination of materials into an effective coherent whole.

For a designer therefore he or she should embrace the wickedness that a design carries and be ready to face conflicting challenges during the artifact composition. This open mind will also involve articulating dissenting discussions in perspective and trying to retain them as one in presence of numerous responses to an artifact.

This way a design ability to embrace wicked problem is the ability to accept the problem of responsiveness. The element of skill is very important because it is born of the fact that consumers, are very critical in dealing with products and therefore where skill is employed it will portend professionalism and consumers will be appealed. A designer should also consider the element of time.

This is because people like the recent developments and especially the rhetoric. For instance in the time of baroque, as discussed in the next question, what was popular in the time was the influence of the catholic church and therefore to respond to the needs of the people.

Therefore designers of architecture had to produce artifacts which reflected what the church considered ideal for the society. In addition this will be in line with what pleases the top class of the time as well as the needs of the majority consumers of the design.

A designer has the ability, however, to shape the perception of the people and the consumers because they critique artifacts based on presupposed characteristics. The element of influence is therefore common in the design and can be used to influence a thought pattern of the people; for example during the time of romanticism, art could be used to express unrealistic themes and the element of romantics.

This was used to counter the challenge posed by the former artists and designs which emphasized on rational and rendered emotional non existent (Cross 105-120)

Define the following in three columns: One column the approximate dates, another for concrete or physical characteristics of design of the period, and a third column for the ideas being expressed in style in whose interest

Approximate dates Concrete or physical characteristics of design of the period The ideas being expressed in style in whose interest
Baroque Late 16th century to the early 18th century in Europe. The Baroque time got much of its influence from the roman catholic church especially when the church ruled that the themes of the art to be used should communicate direct emotional involvement. The aristocratic class of the time took the advantage of the dramatic artistic style to impress visitors and expressing power and dominance in the society. The physical characteristics of their design are seen in their architecture of the period where baroque palaces were used and applied around an entrance of courts, the beautiful stair cases with reception rooms in a way that depicted a sense of affluence and material wealth. The works of the period was characterized by excessive ornamentation or what is called complexity of lines. As seen, baroque had a lot of control from the Roman Catholic and the autocratic class of the time. The complexity of the work, the expression by massive ornamentation was to express triumphant power of autocrats and the church at the time. The religious terms baroque work would express emotional attachments and to Catholics in particular who responded to the then invading Protestant’s reformation movements. This is considered in the architecture adopted by the catholic church exemplified by the cathedral of Morelia Michoacan in Mexico.
Rococo 18th-century Rococo developed when baroque artists started giving up symmetry and added on their works ornamentations, became florid and playful especially in furniture, mirrors and tiny sculptures. There were also tapestry, relief and wall paintings. The period was also characterized by love of shell-like curves and a lot of focus on decorative arts. The design was highly merged with Germany baroque traditions. It was well established in churches and palaces in southern Germany. However rococo was a more secular form of design than baroque. The ideas expressed by the design were therefore not purely religious but secular with light hearted themes.
Neo-Classicism Mid-18th century In its details, it was a reaction against Rococo style of naturalistic ornaments. It denied its architectural formula’s from that art of classical Greece. The design is characterized by planar qualities rather than sculptural base relief’s and presents individual pictures as isolated. Neo-Classicism was highly characteristic of Greek and roman artistic styles.
Empire Style Early-19th-Century This was a design movement which revealed itself through furniture, architecture, visual arts and other decorative arts. The themes of ancient Greek and roman empire were dominant in the art of empire style. Buildings were craftily decorated with simple timber frames and box like constructions, which were mostly vanished using expensive mahogany. It was intended to bring out the idea of Napoleon’s kingship, leadership and the French political and religious state at the time.
Romanticism Western Europe during 17th century and went on till the second half of 18th century (1835 to 1925) It emerged as a reaction to neoclassism and was characterized by the ideas and ideologies especially the love of nature, the emotions against rationality. The forms and designs emphasized on the emotions and the positions of and the role of artists. The designs were also characteristic of unreal and supernatural features and portrayal of the world in a new light. The romanticism put the artist at the centre. At the beginning it was meant for high class educated people but later it became an interest for everyone in the period.
Gothic Revival Originated in mid eighteenth century This movement sought to revive medieval forms which were to be different from the classical styles. It was characterized by detailed English furniture which employed glazing patterns. They were found on the carpet design and laces. It was also characteristic of candlelight and wall paintings. It had church connotations especially the catholic church which deployed these designs in their buildings.

Respect for materials

In design materials are not just another idea but part of the art itself. Without materials there is no design and therefore respect for materials involves engaging them in the design discourse. We can not have a complete design from immaterial things or ideas and thus real things must be involved.

Suppressive design strategy

This is a design strategy that does not emphasize emotions but rationality. It involves a counter attack design theme, situation, occasion or an event put into a design. There are thousands of strategies used across all realms of life today like the fire fighting design for fire suppression and a drug design for suppressing a disease.

Archaic design strategy

In this strategy a design artifact is used which belongs to ancient or historical times in details. Thus appreciating the artistic design becomes both difficult and redolent of ancient art experience thus draws nostalgia. The design strategy however, unlike the theme brought about by the word archaic is very rich in artistic touch.

Utopian design strategy

This design strategy is used to produce artifacts whose themes emphasize perfection in society. When closely analyzed, an artifact design would bring out a flawless society in a way that is far from real experience. The design therefore will take one’s mind into another unreal world full of perfection. (Raizman 1-78)

Relative to discussions in lecture assesses Lidwell et al’s discussion of “form follows function.” How do their examples suggest a broader set of categories than alluded to by “form follows function?”

This phrase originated from an American sculptor Louis Sullivan whose thinking was ahead of the architectural approach. Sullivan actually talked of form ever following function and to him; this was a distilled wisdom in form of an aesthetic credo.

In the area of design, form follows function principle is used and seen as a sensible thing but when closely examined, the principle becomes a Pandora’s Box which is open to numerous interpretations.

Most critics reason that, a complete design solution can not be achieved by merely articulating the relationship that exists in form, purpose and the intended use. Therefore there is always a question of design integrity and this comes to be an important and lively debate in art and design.

The usual meaning of form follows design is very shallow however; and for that case, there have been developed applications of the principles in different fields. In architecture the modernist architects after the 1930s took the ornament decorative elements and incorporated them in the modern buildings.

Many architecturers of the time used decoration in buildings as their signature and the most famous of these is the “writhing green ironwork that covers the entrance canopies of the Carson Scott in a department store in the south state street in Chicago” (Lidwell et al. 5).

The principle can also be used in relation to product design and this can be seen in a remarkable episode of the 1935, when an American auto industry delayed the attempt to introduce what was referred to as optimal aerodynamics forms into mass production.

This principle therefore has been used by many industries in design to advance their client’s requirements. A good example is the streamlined Ferrari F430 meant for car race which is made to conform to its functions.

In software engineering this principle is applied in the structure and the quality internal to a working software artifact that tells a lot about the requirements of its construction and not the process.

Even if this fails to leave out the element of process, the requirements for any design are thought to lead to the similar end. In evolution theory, anatomy has modeled entities according to their requirements. A good example is the giraffe whose taller neck enables it to reach leaves of tall trees.

Most works that discuss the topic of form follows function analyses about how everyday objects communicate, how man uses them and how the design is affected by the form and the function.

The authors explore numerous occasions when for example products develop in line with technology and the amount of function that a design product has increases. As the amount of function increases, the way a product communicates on these functions tends to be forgotten and thus the form follows function.

This would means that it is harder to use a forgotten or misused design and a good example is the telephone. When a team of people invented the telephone they invented what seemed to be plausible ways of controlling the details of the phone.

In most cases these features may not have gained much thought and thus the technology had designed such questions as, how do I answer this? And so forth.

The design for everyday object dictates that when designing for people, two fundamental principles are core: provision of a good conceptual model and making things visible.

This means that, a product may not have a visible function but how the product communicates matters; and this refers to the form of the design. Therefore the law here is that form is very essential because it is a way for any design to communicate with the user and that any product must make a connection and be in a position to be appreciated.

Why would students of design be interested in communication and media studies? Why should students of media and communication studies be interested in the history of design?

Communication studies involve studying on how a system of interaction is realized between the sender and the receiver. Specifically communication involves sharing of meaning for mutual understanding and for the purpose of soliciting a response.

Therefore communication between the sender and the receiver of the message brings out the meaning between the two and this must be viewed as having one’s informative intention.

Design process involves communication and information as an end and is seen as a continuous process of change that has to be perfect because many stakeholders are to be involved. For this case, it should be remembered that consumers of design artifacts are key stakeholders in determining the meaning of the artworks.

The design process should have a high level of concurrency and design. Information should be well structured so as to acquire the right status, version and information. Creators of such designs should also get overview and transparency on the recent design in process and progress.

For this case the designer requires information, updates and feed back from other specialized designers who can give guidance and directions to prevent mistakes that many occur when working with outdated information. We saw one of the wicked problems of design is that consumers can determine the need for a design.

This for commercial purpose can turn out to be a tragedy to a designer if he is not in line with the rhetoric of the day. Communication and media studies will greatly be needed in enriching skills, information, function and form of a design which will appeal, to the needs and the interest of the consumers.

The history of design on the other hand is very essential to the students of communication studies. This is because for one, the history of design gives basis of the way meaning has been conveyed over time and how design as a media was used as a way of communicating information.

On the other hand media and communication studies are not separable from rhetoric. Therefore instead of these students learning rhetoric as a simple verbal discipline, they could also study the changing conceptions of the subject matter. This way interpretation of design forms can apply in the interpretations of communication and media studies (Raizman 6-245).

Which material realizations of ideas and agendas drove “Design Reform” through out the 19th century in Great Britain?

Design reform has occurred especially in the realization that design relates very closely to production technologies, innovation and new materials. The fact that Great Britain tried to use industrial design to showcase its industrial superiority is evident of how design can reform to suite a purpose.

The wave of industrial revolution was sweeping throughout the Great Britain in the 19th century and so this was the rhetoric of the century. The idea of political superiority therefore called for a need to express to the rest of the world, the ability and the breakthrough of the Great Britain. Since design is a media of such expression, much of it was used.

Apart from this political role, there was a real economic agenda in the reformation of design as expressed by William Morris whose ideas were influenced by the pre-Raphaelite Brothers.

He and his friends established a company which made decorative objects for homes including wall paper, textiles, furniture as well as stained glass. This design reform to commercial purposes was to spread during the 19th century and the late twentieth century and influenced the establishment of numerous associations and craft communities (Forty 6-245).

Works Cited

Buchanan, Richard. Declaration by Design. Design Discourse. By Margolin Victor. New York: University of Chicago Press, 1989. Print.

Buchanan, Richard. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. The Idea of Design, A Design Issue Reader. By Margolin Victor. New York: MIT press, 1995. Print.

Cross, Nigel. Exploration in Design Studies. Discovering Design: Explorations in Design Studies. By Richard Buchanan, et al. New York: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Forty, Adrian. Objects of Desire: Design and Society since 1750. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992. Print.

Lidwell, William, et al. Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design. 2nd ed. New York: Rockport Publishers, 2010. Print.

Raizman, David. History of Modern Design, Laurence King. 2nd ed. London: Garamond Press, 2010. Print.

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