October 2, 2012
Like most designers, I am quite comfortable with the notion of designing simple things. I can pick up just about any object and tell you how it was made, and I could probably have a reasonable crack at designing an equivalent of it, even though I’m not a particularly technical person. That’s because it's possible to definitively know everything important about a simple object: its form, the market for it, and the best method of manufacturing it. The traditional design process entails figuring all of this out beforehand and ‘making it so’ in the world. The essence of this Newtonian model of design, which personifies control and defining every outcome, is the blueprint.
As designers and leaders in increasingly complex systems, we need to go beyond designing blueprints. Like Darwin, we need to consider a future of constant evolution and emergent change. We need to design for human needs amid unpredictability on a global scale. But how? We can start by working with a design model beyond the blueprint: our own DNA.
At one level, genetic code represents a biological view of design, because it is an ‘instruction set’ for biological behavior. On another level, it represents the idea that code is only the beginning of something: it sets off a series of behaviors. While most of us don’t understand how to work with genetic code, many of us do understand how to work with software code. The digital design revolution—more open-ended than ever—points the way. How might we go beyond Newton's blueprint in other areas to design for emergence?
(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)