Stephen Anderson on The Future of Design: Computation & Complexity. Like everything else, its going to get more weird. But, the large-scale outcome remains the same - design is deciding which elements are essential and which elements to remove:
The real world isn’t so simple, and often has many competing goals and constraints. As a designer, what are you already doing, to help define the objectives and goals for a project? As critical as this is to teamwork, it’s the single, driving factor for machines. We can — and should — absolutely lean into defining these things. This has always been important, but will be vital as we hand over more decisions to Machine Learning.
This definitely sounds like the future…
Now, what if I told you nothing could be designed that can’t be pitched, coded up, and released in an afternoon. Sound insane? I know of at least one company — the largest in their industry — that works this way.
…and we have to invent a future where we solve this future we created without thinking through the ramifications:
Never before has technology allowed individuals to do more harm (or good) with such low effort. — Christian Beck
Any practice where we can drive the iteration time to zero will end up requiring a new way of working where the computer generates a bunch of possible designs/systems/artifacts and a human applies education and intuition to determine which one to keep:
Play this out, and the role of human shifts from that of hands-on creator using software to render an idea to that of a conductor (or curator or cultivator?) working with software to explore possible options. In a sense, we develop a sort of symbiotic relationship with the machine; the machine generates possibilities that we then direct or tweak until arriving at an optimal solution. We see this playing out in nearly every industry, from manufacturing to the design of web sites to healthcare.
A phase transition has already happened where the most successful systems occasionally touch the lives of city-sized populations. “Scale” means the most successful systems/platforms touch entire societies and a major fraction of the human population. I missed this forest amongst the trees of frameworks, languages, and databases. I suspect leaders like Zuckerberg and Dorsey missed it amongst the trees of growth and market acquisition.
Again, we have to invent a future where we fix the future we accidentally created:
What is new in all this is visibility into the scale and scope of problems we now work on — we have to ask questions about impact and outcomes. Facebook and Twitter are platforms that have changed the world. The addictive properties of Pinterest and SnapChat are changing human behavior and social interactions. We can’t treat these things like simple web apps. They aren’t.
Part of inventing the future to fix the future is thinking more about feedback loops and how small changes in forces and incentives create outsized results:
Much of the literature on formal systems thinking is dedicated to this topic of small changes. Reinforcing loops and balancing loops are the two foundational structures of systems thinking. The idea goes like this: Want to introduce a change? Don’t try to change the system (you can’t!). Instead, introduce a small change, or tweak an existing rule, then see what happens.
More optimiscally, this last bit leads me to (continue to) think that the skills designers need aren’t so far off the skills developers need:
I’ve identified about 11 ways of being that describe design. I won’t go into them all — there’s a post coming for that. But you’ve heard me mention some of these:
- Frame & Reframe Problems
- Work from Principles & Values
- Think in Systems and Contexts
- Focus on Human Needs & Motivations
- See Possible Futures (where Others See Present Realities)
- Thrive on Ambiguity