Transdisciplinary Design

On (Not) Knowing Enough

Posted on December 13, 2010 | posted by:

Recently in the program, our faculty made a simple statement has had a surprisingly profound effect on me:

You will never know enough about a design problem to feel fully comfortable tackling it.  And that’s okay.

While in many ways, this concept has a certain “duh” factor to it, I had embarrassingly never bothered to make the realization myself, and was quite grateful for the insight.  Allow me to explain:  I have for some time believed that a new style of discipline, familiar and yet unfamiliar to the forms it will arise from, must emerge soon in order to tackle the increasingly broad and complex interconnected issues we find ourselves struggling with.  Right now, my money is on Design Thinking, Transdisciplinary Design, Design Research, or whatever the hell it will be called when it crawls its way out of infancy in a few years.  I was struck by the notion that in trying to address the wicked problems we’re so frustrated with, we can never truly grasp the size, scale, scope, nuances, and ramifications of these problems, and there is not- nor every will be- a definitive answer to any of them.  And that’s okay.  It’s not a limited factor, it’s a freeing one.  There is a spectacular logic in this argument that refutes the classic mechanistic view of the universe as a place where the answers are simply out there somewhere, waiting on baited breath for you to discover them, and all you need is enough information about a situation, and they’re yours.  Find the right key, and the lock springs open to reveal your brighter future.

It comes as great embarrassment then, that while I embraced this concept of an unknowable complexity, I found myself in my day to day work and projects thinking (hesitating?) that if I just could get the right amount, or the right kind of information about a subject, I’d be able to tackle it efficiently.  And even worse, I would sometimes not even create work at all (ie- adding to this very blog), for fear of not knowing enough about a subject to begin the process of intervening in it.  A process that will ultimately yield the very insight I’m looking for.  I see now what a potentially dangerous habit this can be, and how it is counter to one of the very basic tenets of design, and that is action and implementation and not just “thinking”.

So *ahem*, hello world.  I’ll try my best not to be an idiot.  I hope we’re both pleasantly surprised.