Design Thinking and The Black Swan

17 Apr 2009 - 10:34am
5 years ago
2 replies
931 reads
Chris Rivard
2005

Design thinking is about creating a narrative of activity, or of
modeling a behavior and designing solutions that will ensure the
expected or anticipated behavior. We typically find ourselves telling
a story of how someone experiences or interacts with a physical device
or service. Much of what design encompasses is narrative.

I have recently been reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
and the implications this has on design thinking is striking.

The Black Swan theory tells us that we create narrative to try to
explain an unexplainable world; we reduce reality to a narrative of
comprehensible portions and tailor the narrative to fit our limited
model of the explainable. Our natural inclination is empirical.
Create a story from our experiences.

Are there examples of a design solution that were once thought to be
sound, catastrophically failing after performing as expected for
length of time? Are there examples of designs that failed and had
‘major negative impact’? If so, what role did the designer play in
those failures (and the narrative that was created in the process of
design) ?

Here are some that I came up with:

The Titanic – not really, user error.
The Space Shuttle disaster (1st) - maybe.
9/11 – Failure of the process of gathering intelligence.
A structural failure - translated: is this a failure in engineering,
not design (maybe)

A service would be more interesting, but I cannot think of an
example.

Happy Friday!
Chris

Comments

17 Apr 2009 - 3:14pm
Scott Berkun
2008

Hi Chris:

You mentioned the word failure so my ears perked up. I'm kind of the local
failure guy.

> Are there examples of a design solution that were once thought to be
> sound, catastrophically failing after performing as expected for
> length of time?

There are several assumptions lurking in your post that should be called
out.

First, all things fail eventually. That's what makes them good. You design
something for specific people and specific uses, and when your design meets
something you did not plan for, it will typically fail. For example, give
your e-commerce site to my Rottweiler. It will fail spectacularly. And had
you tried to design for both human beings and Rottweilers I suspect you'd
fail them both. The more specific you design something, the more failure
cases you create. But this is ok since there's no way around it. Design is,
in a way, choosing how to fail, or who to fail, or what use cases to fail.

Or put another way, there is no optimal design:
http://www.scottberkun.com/essays/17-the-myth-of-optimal-web-design/

Better designs, elegant designs, fail smarter or fail less, but they all
still fail. Consider that the folks who built the Twin Towers in NYC were
criticized for not building a building that could have handled a fully
fueled 767 crashing into the top floors. Reasonable criticism? You decide.

Case in point - for us in the electronic age, most of our designs entirely
fail when either:

A) The power goes out

Or

B) The entire internet goes down

Show me a website that doesn't fail in those two cases and I'll give the
designer a gold star.

> Design thinking is about creating a narrative of activity, or
> of modeling a behavior and designing solutions that will
> ensure the expected or anticipated behavior.

This is a very dramatic way to describe what designers do. Is there
something wrong with saying designers solve problems? I don't think anyone
who *uses* a parking meter would call their experience with it a narrative,
they really don't want a beginning, middle and end, they want not to think
about the parking meter at all. Do you think the guy who invented Velcro
talked about "modeling the narrative of footwear bindings?" I doubt it.

> If so, what role did the designer play in those failures
> (and the narrative > that was created in the process of design) ?

First, most disasters involve more than one kind of failure. The Titanic
likely had bad rivets, rivets below what the specs called for. Even with
human error, often there are causes for it or unexpected consequences of
that error that deserve investigation.

Events like 9/11 or the Challenger Shuttle disaster are, in part,
organizational failures - where the problem is about who has decision making
authority and how knowledge moves through an org - which is a design
problem, but organizational design.

For many designers the organizational issues are more difficult than the
interaction/aesthetic design issues. Which is why I believe designers should
study organizational behavior, or least brush up on their Machiavelli.

-Scott

Scott Berkun
www.scottberkun.com

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Christopher Rivard
Sent: Friday, April 17, 2009 8:35 AM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Design Thinking and The Black Swan

Design thinking is about creating a narrative of activity, or of modeling a
behavior and designing solutions that will ensure the expected or
anticipated behavior. We typically find ourselves telling a story of how
someone experiences or interacts with a physical device or service. Much of
what design encompasses is narrative.

I have recently been reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and the
implications this has on design thinking is striking.

The Black Swan theory tells us that we create narrative to try to explain an
unexplainable world; we reduce reality to a narrative of comprehensible
portions and tailor the narrative to fit our limited model of the
explainable. Our natural inclination is empirical.
Create a story from our experiences.

17 Apr 2009 - 3:08pm
Rami Khalil
2009

Hi Christopher, I think what Nassim Claim in his book not too much
applied in Design world ,because the following reasons.

1-Nassim claims the reason behind the narrative fallacy is that there
are too many variables in any event that you couldn't control or
expect before the event happen and it becomes very clear after it
happen, but that is not true in design the design have a obvious
objectives, audience, context and uses. That should be well defined
before you touch the pencil.

2-if you follow the full design process it will give you a huge
opportunity to discover areas of enhancements and it will enlighten
you through the process and that is why prototyping and researches
specially ethnography are very important.

3-the design process is a continuous process that never stops even
after production and users%u2019 feedbacks should always feed the
Design enhancement and updates.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=41341

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