Design problems, satisficing solutions, and the designer as formalizing agent: Revisiting wicked problems

Griffith Institute for Educational Research
Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
7th Biennial International Conference on Technology and Education Research (TERC): Explorations of best practice in Technology, Design & Engineering Education, 2012, pp. 133 - 140
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In considering the terms 'design problems' and 'design solutions' at least five intertwined sets of issues are immediately invoked: (i) the 'over-accepted' assumption that design is problem solving; (ii) the proposition that, in significant ways, designing far exceeds problem-solving; (iii) the view that design problems are inevitably 'wicked' problems for which single or 'set' solutions are not to be expected; thus (iv) the realization that design outcomes are inescapably 'satisfying' solutions; and (v) the critical contention that, in important respects, it is the designer who sets the problem rather than simply 'receiving' it. drawing on a variety of sources on wicked problems and on the nature of design problems, as well as on the author's previous work on the centrality of designer-determined problems as well as specific solutions, the paper re-visits Rittel and Webber's assertions about wicked problems, and explores the issues of problem-finding and problem-setting; of the co-ectensive nature of problem and solution; of the notion of foreknowledge in the design process, and thus the inescapable 'unknown yet known' nature of future design solutions; of the absence of neutrality in the designer; and thus of how designer-driven solution criteria are central not only to problem-solving, but to the role of the designer as formalizing agent in terms of designer-driven problem establishment. The paper concludes by demonstrating that design skills, both learnt and taught, are inevitably augmented - or constrained - by notions of position, assumption, desire and expectation.
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