Design Instability
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Design Instability

Understanding Design Actions in an Unpredictable World

About the Book

Designers deal with an overwhelmingly rich reality, undetermined requirements, highly intricate social situations, lack of information, as well as lack of resource and time restrictions. Every designer is faced and challenged by this complexity.

A central thesis explored in this book is that complexity characteristic for design activities emerges from an inherent *instability of design activities*. We will argue that this instability is a consequence of messy, dynamic, highly interdependent and unpredictable dynamics between design situations, design outcomes, and design resources. Design situations, design outcomes and design resources are complex structures that are not independent of each other. They are also continuously changing, in great part due to forces that are beyond designers' control.

In this book, we describe 11 patterns of design dynamics. The patterns of dynamics illustrate how designers deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity when they attempt to change the world. As such, these patterns are universal to all design disciplines. Design disciplines may differ in which situations they address, which outcomes they create and which resources they use. But the way how people deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity is cross-disciplinary. Consequently, we present examples of patterns of dynamics from a very diverse set of design disciplines.

About the Authors

Željko Obrenović
Željko Obrenović

Željko Obrenović ( is a Chief Architect at AVIV Group. Before joining AVIV Group, he worked as a Principal Architect at eBay Classifieds, a CTO of Incision, a principal consultant at the Software Improvement Group (SIG) in Amsterdam, a consultant at Backbase, an assistant professor at the Technical University in Eindhoven, and a researcher at CWI.

Erik Stolterman
Erik Stolterman

Erik Stolterman is Professor in Informatics and Department Chair of Informatics at the School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University, Bloomington. He is also professor at the Institute of Design at Umeå University, Sweden. Stolterman is co-Editor for the Design Thinking/Design Theory book series by MIT Press, and on several editorial boards for international journals (The HCI journal, International Journal of Design, Design Studies, Design, Economics and Innovation, International Journal of Designs for Learning, Studies in Material Thinking, Human Computation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Artifact). Stolterman’s main work is within the areas of interfaces, interactivity, interaction design, design practice, philosophy and theory of design. Stolterman has published a large number of articles and five books, including “Thoughtful Interaction Design” (MIT Press) and “The Design Way” (MIT Press) and “Things That Keep Us Busy--The Elements of Interaction” (MIT Press, 2017).

Table of Contents

  • Part I: Introduction
    • A. Analyzing Design Dynamics: A Simple Model
    • B. Why This Book?
    • C. Who Should Read This Book?
    • D. The Structure of the Book
    • E. Acknowledgments
    • F. About the Cover
  • Part II: Patterns of Dynamics
    • A. Patterns of Dynamics Between Design Situations and Design Outcomes
      • Co-Evolution of Problem-Solution
      • Puzzle Solving
      • A Solution Looking for a Problem
      • Pandora’s Box
      • The Force Awakens
    • B. Patterns of Dynamics Between Design Outcomes and Resources
      • Your Design Is Your Reflection
      • You Are Reflection of Your Design
      • Design-by-Buzzword
    • C. Patterns of Dynamics Between Design Situations and Design Resources
      • Conformity
      • Commitment
      • Cherry Picking
    • D. Emergence of Complex Patterns of Dynamics
  • Part III: Sources of Dynamics
    • A. The Moving Target Problem
    • B. Increasing Interconnectivity
    • C. Learning and Creativity
    • D. Tacit Knowledge and Skills
    • E. Social Dynamics
    • F. Lack of Strong Principles, Theories, and Laws
  • Discussion and Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Appendixes
    • A. Patterns of Dynamics: Summaries
    • B. Patterns of Dynamics: Mottos
    • C. Sources of Dynamics: Summaries
    • D. Questions to Consider
  • About the Authors
  • Notes

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