Second Order Cybernetics and Design

Design, originating with Latin designare from de- signare “to mark” is now separated from ‘designate’, but perhaps only artificially.  One word ‘designate’ emphasizes the context in which some design is ascribed purpose, and the other, the object being designed, ‘the design’.

Second-order cybernetics is the essence of systems thinking and is inherent in all logic, mathematics and science; but it’s significance depends on its medium.  I prefer to think of cybernetics as the science of trust.

When we design, we trust that by exposing ourselves to some potential disorder, new order may emerge; that when we sensitive ourselves to our environment, new possibilities may arise.

Our ‘second-order’ question is, how do we design ourselves to effectively interact with our environment?

On the one hand we find an invitation, or rather a necessity to ‘step out’ of our current mode as if we are a distant observer. This is mediated with analysis using cybernetic models.

by Petri Lievonen with Heikki Hyötyniemi

See for instance, Paul Pangaro’s cybernetic approach: conversations about conversations.

On the other hand we find an invitation to relate, to enact, to become those objects of our consciousness. This is mediated in conversation through simulation, visualization and metaphor development.

But perhaps the deepest invitation we have is to recognize that our designs carry and manifest the experience in which they were born. We strive that our designs bear the signature of our ethics, humility, and gratitude for the unknowable environments which continue to make well-being and prosperity possible.


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