Friday, July 27, 2012

Wicked Problem (in Design)

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What are Wicked Problem of design thinking? Because each design project has its own intrinsic parameters such as time, space, and cost, it can be said that each project in unique. Because each project is unique there is no universal template in design thinking to solve all the problems which may or may no occur. In the past, linear logic of design problem solving was utilized as such a template. Wicked problems are problems within the design process which have no definitive solutions. Horst Rittel developed the term Wicked Problems to describe the design process and its inherent wicked problems. The traditional approach of solving designing problems as stated above are linear in approach. As a urban planner and designer, Rittel found the traditional structure of problem solving inadequate. A list of Rittel’s Wicked Problems can be found in Richard Buchanan’s article, Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. There is also a more comprehensive list of the same Wicked problem in an article by Dr Jeff Conklin entitled Wicked Problems and Fragmentation which is very similar to Buchanan’s article. Buchanan claims that “design problems are “indeterminate” and “wicked” because design has no special subject matter of its own apart from what a designers conceives it to be. The subject matter of design is potentially universal in scope, because design thinking may be applied to any area of human experience” (Buchanan, p15). Buchanan argues that design does not have its own unified house to stand under and because of the myriad of variables associated with creating or designing many outside disciplines claim that design is an extension of their own discipline. This, Buchanan claims, is part of the problem of wicked problems indeterminacy of design thinking. Buchanan puts it this way “We have been slow to recognize the peculiar indeterminacy of the subject matter in design and its impact on the nature of design thinking. As a consequence, each of the sciences which have come in contact with design has tended to regard design as an “applied” version of its own knowledge, methods, and principles” (Buchanan p.18). Buchanan is saying that the variables associated with creating or designing have no special subject matter of their own to follow. Therefore, no universal template equals indeterminate and wicked problems for the designer. The probable partial solution, since there are no definitive solutions, is to attempt to tame some of the wickedness out of each problem to make it more manageable. Dr. Jeff Conklin states taming in this way “Taming a wicked problem is a very natural and common way of coping with it. Instead of dealing with the full wickedness of the problem, one simplifies it in various ways to make it more manageable” (Conklin, p.8). Buchanan, like Conklin, agrees that the majority of the wickedness of wicked problems comes in the form of lack of communication or, as Conklin states, fragmentation among design professionals and various parties attached to a project. Buchanan states that there is consistencies in argument in design thinking, yet this cohesion falls apart in the modes of argument employed by different design professionals and may lead to confusion and more wicked problems. Buchanan says, “...there is persistent confusion about the different modes of argumentation employed by the various design professionals. For example, industrial design, engineering, and marketing each employ the discipline of design thinking, yet their arguments are often framed in sharply different logical modalities” (Buchanan, p1 ). Conklin states it this way “It’s not necessary to have dozens of conflicting stakeholders for social complexity to present challenges. In fact, all that is needed are representatives of the two fundamental polarities of design what is needed, and what can be built (Conklin, p1).

Who’s problems are wicked problems?, they are all of ours. On any given project we each have a voice and a sense of where we think the project is heading and how fast it should be heading, and the list goes on and on. For us not to be part of the problem yet part of the probable or tamable solution we need to communicate our needs and concerns properly and work within a group with one vision of a project in mind. Wicked problems are not just the designers or the consultants problems but they are also the problems of everyone on th projects. Within the design community there should be, as Buchanan suggested, a universal language or subject matter which would help to unify the various design fields and help foster a more solution based harmony in the pursuit of design thinking and the ever present wicked problems.



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References

Buchanan, Richard & Margolin Victor. The Idea of Design. A Design Issue Reader. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England. 15

Conklin, Jeff Dr. Wicked Problems and Fragmentation Http//www.cognexus.org/wpf/wpf/htm. (1/0/00)

References

Buchanan, Richard & Margolin Victor. The Idea of Design. A Design Issue Reader. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England. 15

Conklin, Jeff Dr. Wicked Problems and Fragmentation Http//www.cognexus.org/wpf/wpf/htm. (1/0/00)

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