Design research as a variety of second-order cybernetic practice

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In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in cybernetics amongst designers. This has been prompted in part by the increased availability and affordability of technologies with which to augment the environments we design, and those we design in, which has fuelled interest in ideas regarding interactivity. While this technological focus is an important aspect of what cybernetics offers design, the relations between the two fields run much deeper. These connections have been explored explicitly in the work of Ranulph Glanville whose work I use as a point of departure in this paper. Drawing on Pask’s Conversation Theory and the common characterisation of design in terms of conversation, Glanville has suggested a close analogy between cybernetics and design, understanding both as “essentially constructivist” activities. The parallels Glanville draws are significant enough for him to claim that “cybernetics is the theory of design and design is the action of cybernetics”. While part of Glanville’s motivation in developing the connection between cybernetics and design has been the insight that the former might bring to the latter, it is an important aspect of his position that the converse is also the case: that design can set an example to cybernetics in terms of practice and so inform it, not just vice versa. Thus the relationship between cybernetics and design is to be understood as one of mutual overlap and support and, as such, one which avoids the difficulties that can follow from the application to design of theories external to it (a problem which seems to recur in architecture in particular) and the more general shortcomings that can follow from our tendency to see the relation of theory and practice as predominantly the application of the former to the latter.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew horizons for second-order cybernetics
EditorsA. Riegler, K.H. Müller, S.A. Umpleby
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherWorld Scientific
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9789813226258
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017

Publication series

NameSeries on knots and everything


  • Science
  • Design Research
  • Second-order cybernetics
  • Second-order science
  • Practice
  • Ranulph Glanville


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