Solving complex problems through design

The current issue of Interactions magazine contains an article of mine that looks at the qualities of design. In particular, those qualities that make it better suited to solving complex problems than other problem-solving approaches.

Design is a broad arena of activity with a rich history, developed theory, and passionate practitioners. It encompasses a myriad of techniques, tools, philosophies, and craft. At least in part, design can be seen as an approach to solving problems and in that guise has several fundamental qualities – as a practice and as a mind-set – that make it effective in the face of complicated issues. Better suited, in fact, than analytical approaches grounded in a scientific mode of observe, hypothesize, test, iterate. While analytical approaches are excellent at driving operational improvements in efficiency and effective-ness – reducing waste, optimizing processes, and the like – they are poorly suited to bridging the chasms that open up in the face of disruptive technological, social, and political change. 

The article focuses on five qualities that are particular strong points of the design process:

  • A deconstructionist perspective to the problem;
  • Abductive thinking and synthesis beyond the problem’s definition;
  • Handling ambiguity through multiplicity and the suspension of judgment;
  • Critique; and
  • Empathy.

You can read the full article online at

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