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Sunday, March 21, 2004

Hugh Dubberly
Hugh Dubberly, former VP of Design at Netscape, was our guest for Seminar last week, discussing the design of systems and systems for design.

Design for Hugh is an integrated activity between three things: software (systems), design (feedback), and learning (models). Models are the things you learn about what you are involved in. They are the tools for thinking about the other things we're thinking about. (Very Rick Robinson.) Design fundamentally involves prototyping, making transient things like models, mockups, comps, and prototypes. Designers are doing more and more abstract prototypes.

Hugh talked about cybernetics (the study of systems that have goals) and its relationship to design. There are four orders of systems. First-order systems are mechanical, self-controlling systems that are about maintaining stability. A thermostat-maintained heating system is the classic example. Second-order systems are about people controlling systems. A steersman controlling a boat is the classic example. Third- and fourth-order systems are complex systems with rules (and outcomes) that are often not easy understood or predicted. A basketball game is an example of a third-order system. The stock market is an example of a fourth-order system.

There are five frameworks for systems design:

  • Feedback. This is the fundamental model that underlies all design processes and all interaction. Designing for interaction is designing for design (prototyping). Feedback is a cycle that works like this: A GOAL goes to a COMPARATOR which evaluates, then triggers an ACTUATOR which is in an ENVIRONMENT (and can be affected by DISTURBANCES) where a SENSOR sends information back to the COMPARATOR and the cycle starts all over again. You can evaluate designs based on this cycle, to make sure that you have all the necessary components of this feedback framework.
  • Requisite Variety. A framework developed by Ross Ashby. This framework basically means that you need to have multiple responses for different types of environmental disturbances. The designer needs to decide how much variety is needed, based on studying the environment. Teams and companies also need to have requisite variety, so that collectively they possess the knowledge to do things and respond to challenges.
  • Conversation. Based on Shannon and Weaver's communication model, this framework applies the language of cybernetics to conversation. What it basically says is that there needs to be a shared experience (ie language) for communication to happen.
  • Signs. This framework is about semiotics. Everything we design is a sign. Making models is making signs. So designers are constantly wrestling with the notions of the thing (object in the world), the interpretant (idea/model of the thing), and the representamen (representation of the thing). There's a lot of ambiguity and arbitrariness in how these things match up.
  • Design Types. Hugh only briefly mentioned this, but it was about putting objects and systems into a maxtrix of context, meaning/structure, and form.

Models are explained and understood through stories. Stories build models. When you are presenting a model, tell the story of it as you are drawing it. Use the model to tell the story and thus convey your idea.

posted at 09:22 AM in big ideas, special guest stars | comments (0) | trackback (0)


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