Tuesday, May 23, 2006


In the June issue of Wired Magazine there is (as usual) an interesting article about "crowdsourcing". The idea is, as one might think, a variation of outcourcing but is not focused on software development. The article mentions a number of companies and organizations that post their problems or tasks on the web, someone out there takes on the challenge or task, and if succesful gets a reward or payment. The model is used with tasks ranging from real research and scientific problems to tedious manual tasks. (Strangely enough there is nothing on Wikipedia on crowdsourcing yet)

The model is based on the same idea that we are now seeing happening in all fields touched by the web, to tap into the creativity and energy of the "crowd". This is the basic force behind Web 2.0, and all its successful manifestations. It leads to a huge, almost underground, ongoing creative activity that is soon to compete with many organized activities. We can already see this in music, media, news, entertainment, etc. Now we are seeing the same thing happening in "serious" fields like science, research, development, and business. Once again we are surprised by the dynamic forces that start to flow when communication between people is opened up, and when the creativity of the "masses" is made possible to express itself.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Big System, Design Complexity & Responsibility

Maybe one of the most interesting challenges we are facing today is the growing complexity in our artifacts and systems. When we move into the era of blended digital and physical materials, when digital systems becomes closely intertwined with biological and organizational systems, complexity increases.

It is not only the complexity of the systems themselves that increases, maybe more vital is the challenge this poses for designers. When every new design is supposed to be part of an already existing complex system, it will be almost impossible to understand the consequences and implications that even the smallest and most insignificant design will have on the whole. Emergent qualities of the Big System level will, at the same time, become more subtle and extreme.

In a way the Big System will become more like the biological environment, fractal like, and maybe only possible to understand on an abstract level, such as that of chaos theory, or as abstract dynamic structures and processes.

Imagine when you as a designer of a new "addition" to the Big System will be held responsible for any emergent consequence your addition will cause. I believe we are already at that point -- even though it is not fully understood yet. The incredible success of the internet and of digital technology is, at the same time as it is a success and proof of a robust and sustainable design, the foundation that creates the Big System that might soon be impossible to comprehend, and where causation will not be what we are used to see from other artificial systems. There will be mutations, systemic bifurcations, and other expressions of an ongoing evolution that will be impossible to trace to specific design intentions and design actions.

Well, even if this is so far only a theory, it is at least a theory that we should take seriously in our field and see if it is a plausible or not. And at the end, the question remains -- how do we as designers of such systems act in a responsible way?

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