Designing as Balance-Seeking Instead of Problem-Solving

By Filippo A. Salustri, Nathan L. Eng and Damian Rogers.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Designing is often related strongly to problem-solving (PS). We will argue that the practise of problem-solving as it is typically understood, has certain characteristics at odds with how designing works. We will suggest an alternative view of designing that could improve its effectiveness. A review of the PS literature reveals various interpretations. We will assume a typical lay-person's conception. In design, PS generally motivates the act of designing: the design will solve a problem. We will show how characteristics of PS in this sense conflict with our understanding of designing. Some of these characteristics are: problems are fixed, and their solutions are permanent; solution methods are insensitive to time delay between problem specification and solution implementation; and the separation of solution from solver.
To address the identified issues, we propose that designing be consider an act of balancing a situation; this relates both to situated cognition and Alexander's notion of harmony. We have found consistencies between designing as balancing (DaB) and control theory (which describes and predicts how natural and artificial systems respond to environmental changes), the reactive steady states of ecological systems, and Alexander's pattern languages. We believe the sympathy between all these areas indicate an important and beneficial underlying unity.
Finally we consider how DaB will be different from PS-based designing, including:
* context and requirements that include measures of imbalance;
* design parameters based on intervals rather than target values;
* prototyping, modelling, and testing move upstream;
* increased analysis of possible post-implementation futures during upstream activities; and
* changes in concept evaluation methods.

Since a balance-based design process does not exist as far as we know, it is not possible to assess its benefits. However, we will show that benefits are possible.

Keywords: Designing as Balancing, Problem Solving, Design Theory, Situated Cognition, Pattern Language, Control Theory, Natural Design

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp.343-356. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.468MB).

Dr. Filippo A. Salustri

Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Filippo A. Salustri, Ph.D., P.Eng. has been teaching, researching, and practising design engineering since 1989. He has been involved with research and design of cars, aircraft, spacecraft, robots, temporary structures, toys, home appliances, and medical equipment. His research interests include formal and informal methods of designing, information visualization, and web-based design tools. He is a member of the Design Society, the Design Research Society, ASME, CSME, IEEE, and INCOSE; he is a founding member of the Canadian Design Engineering Network, and a member of the Canadian Design Research Network.

Nathan L. Eng

PhD Research Student, Engineering Design Centre, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Nathan Eng is a PhD research student at the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre(EDC). He completed his undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering and Master’s of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada under the supervision of Prof. Filippo Salustri. His current research topics include methods for managing knowledge and information in long-lived engineering systems and, more broadly, the use of representations across engineering work. The goal is to study how the recreation of “experience” or “story” of a design process leads to a better transfer of understanding.

Damian Rogers

PhD Candidate, Mechanical Engineering Department, Ryerson University, Burlington, ON, Canada

Damian is a current PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, studying Design for Sustainability. He has been awarded his MASc degree in Space Sciences from the International Space University in France and also his BEng in Aerospace Engineering from Ryerson University. Damian has worked on a multitude of projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during his thesis research internship period. He has an interest in flight and space, which has led him to many interesting experiences such as taking part in the European Space Agency (ESA) Student Parabolic Flight Campaign, where he logged zero-gravity flight time.

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