Design is connected to change. Whether we start from Herbert Simon’s often cited “the transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones” (1996 p.111) or design as linked to innovation (Brown 2008, Verganti 2006) or even Heskett’s (2002) ‘betterment of the human condition’, design is a future oriented (Buchanan 2001), change inducing activity. But how is design thinking (in a wide sense) different from traditional managerial thinking in terms of the concept of change? What of the process(es) by which the existing conditions are transformed into the preferred ones, i.e. how may the change process be conceptualized in design? How does the general concern of change in the design community relate to the advances in strategic and organizational change theories? Our aim is to begin an exploration of how design may be conceptualized in relation to change.
We do this by using two out of Pettigrew’s (1987) three related aspects of change: ‘process’, how something changes, and ‘content’, i.e. what is changed, to frame design as change (the third is ‘context’, the why of change). We make an attempt to explore and identify change perspectives, explicit or implicit, in design by using Van de Ven and Poole’s (1995) synthetic model of four “basic types of process theories” (p. 511): teleology, evolution, life cycle, and dialectic, all driven by different generative mechanisms or ‘motors of change’. Van de Ven & Poole’s ideal process types do though not handle the content aspect. To capture design content, we therefore use Heskett’s (2002) division of the designed artifacts’ function into two concepts, ‘utility’ and ‘significance’.
Design processes are normally described as either of a teleological kind, i.e. driven by a goal set at the beginning of the process, or as similar to an evolutionary process. Some elements of the evolutionary model are frequent in descriptions of design processes, e.g. iterativity, prototyping and gradual development. However, the uncontrollability and slowness of evolution are less salient. A better way to frame design processes as evolutionary may therefore be to see them as guided (Lovas and Ghoshal 2000), i.e. driven not only by random mutation and competition but also by intent.
By using Heskett’s distinction between utility and significance it is possible to further dissect the design process/design processes. Processes aiming for ‘utility’ eventually must converge into a solution, but is it necessarily the same when it regards the process by which ‘significance’ is designed, created and maintained? By analytically separating (c.f. Archer 1995) the by definition integrative design process, we argue that discussing design as process and content expands previous views of design as change.
7th International Workshop on Design Theory, Paris, France, January 27-28, 2014