According to design dictates

We always design according to the dictates of the problem were solving. We can redefine the problem or solve a different problem, yet never escape the dictates of the problem we decide to resolve. The inevitability of dictates puts many designers into a state of resignation, denial and self-imposed limitations. It appears there is nothing to do about dictates since they are inevitable and seemingly inescapable.

Some examples of design dictates can be found in what I wrote about incubating a wise decision, freedom via messing around, what happened to you?, and believing in school work.

The effects of design dictates on designers give us "business as usual", "more of the same changes" and "sustaining innovations". Design innovations maintain factory models of organization, command & control methods of management and centralized delivery systems. The system appears to be too vast, complex and costly to fix. The repercussions of ill-conceived solutions are too extensive, damaging and enduring. As far as we can tell, it pays to play by the rules and do what's worked before.

We use metaphors and analogies to allude to the possibility of changing design dictates since the change seems foolhardy or impossible. Here's some I encounter in the blogosphere and my incessant reading of books:
  • Dictates as DNA that calls for genetic mutations to functionally adapt and survive in transformed environments
  • Dictates as deep structure that calls for delving below surface rationalizations, characterizations and justifications
  • Dictates as a dominant narrative that perpetuates it's power over its pawns until a preferred narrative gets authored by it's victim
  • Dictates as a consensual delusion that can be dispelled by making a more objective and realistic appraisal of the situation
  • Dictates as fallout from success with established mechanisms that will fade away naturally when disruptive innovations take hold
  • Dictates as underlying belief systems that get revised by experiences with new ways of succeeding, winning and conquering challenges
  • Dictates as blind spots in the focused awareness of possibilities where panoramic vision can be restored with a shift of attention
When we experience dictates being changed from under our feet, we say things like "what was I thinking?" or "now I get it". Our change of mind is unlike acquiring added knowledge, data or confirmations. We see everything differently according to the new dictates. Threats look like opportunities. Constraints offer new freedoms instead of familiar obstacles. Past history provides valuable lessons instead of regrettable losses, setbacks and embarrassments. The lofty goal looks achievable instead of unrealistic or overly idealistic. A change in dictates creates a life-changing incident.


  1. Kia ora Tom

    For a long time (and it continues) humankind has followed dictates. Oh yes, the form of the dictates has changed over the millennia, but never-the-less the dictates have called the shots.

    Some last for a few years, some last for decades, some live out centuries before the dictates are overturned by some sort of knee-jerk reaction by (human) society. I think that it's in our dna.

    You have recognised a feature of the effect of dictates. It's not particularly exciting. It simply dictates the status quo.

    How often has society waited for that wonderful moment when religion or science or political inertia is about to announce a revelation that brings hope into the arena, only to find that the wait was a waste of time, and energy in hoping?

    Somehow our dna prohibits humankind from behaving intelligently en masse. The collective intelligence we hear and read about never puts on its thinking cap when it's really needed.

    Yet it can move swiftly and as deftly as a shoal of fish in following fashion and things seemingly trivial compared to the perceived real need for shifts in society. We've only to look at political choice of a nation.

    Oh, I'm not talking about the present moves in elections. Politics has shifted under the influence of dictates for centuries like a pendulum.

    As agile as it moves, the pendulum has its own inertia, never finding the balance, never resting in equilibrium. Never learning from its own mistakes. Yet at its centre is a need to solve a problem of sorts.

    It is (in fact) like a collective non-intelligence. It's the case in point where the whole is NOT greater than the sum of its parts. Far from it.

    History gives a fine reflection of how it works. They say we never learn from history. That saying has been around long enough. Yet we still don't. We have never learnt to learn from what we see as a blatant lesson for society.

    No. Humankind doesn't think like brains do. How silly to think that the collective motion of millions of intelligences is not intelligent - as we perceive it. Not like bees. A bee seems to have a residual intelligence. But the swarm seems to have a mind of its own.

    Maybe it's just the way individuals think. Maybe, in fact, the real intelligent way to move is how humankind moves and has been moving for centuries - despite the intelligent opinion of individuals on how it SHOULD move. So dictates may form a major part of that. Who knows?

    Perhaps the dictates shold be revered more than they are.

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  2. Thanks for all these insights Ken. You've got me wondering if our collective intelligence can only oscillate between polarities like change /stability, greed /altruism, individuality /community?

    I'm hopeful that this new technology of connectivity may disrupt that pattern which has endured throughout our history of oral and written communication. Perhaps our group mind is beginning to embrace paradoxes, both/and propositions and the middle between polarities.If that's true, it's not because we learned from history, but because our awareness now includes so many other viewpoints, value systems, cultures and shared ambitions.

  3. Kia ora Tom

    I'm not so sure about them being insights. They are just observations and reflections on those.

    You caught me at an odd moment when I was still wondering about the post I'd written recently where I'd asked Are We There Yet?

    Technology and collective intelligence, to my way of thinking, seem to be bound together, if only disjointedly.

    For as useless as the Pyramids are today, they still make a huge statement of what collective intelligence can do. We think it's crazy (or some of us do) and relegate the Pyramids to the less than useful heap - what a heap!

    There is a theme to my thinking that just happened to be still there when I saw your post. I apologise for that. It's the way my mind works - like a dog that's got a hold of a juicy bone and doesn't want to let it go.
    My teeth hurt.

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  4. Ken
    Thanks for your follow-up comment. I share your instinct for making many tenacious explorations of concepts, possibilities and frames of reference. I appreciate the liabilities of our approach that you characterized. I find it's also has a upside that delivers greater breadth and depth to my comprehension. Our teeth are sharp enough to chew on tough questions, puzzles and trends.

    McLuhan also saw a connection between technology and collective intelligence, as you have observed. The advent of printed words put us under the impression that anything written down is apt to be more reliable than spoken words. We imagine credentials have to be put on paper, and we dismiss verbal proof of qualifications as mere hearsay. As we get accustomed to new ways to transmit oral communication, he would predict that we'll assume that spoken words are apt to be regarded as more reliable than written words. In both cases, the technology overrules any deeper questions about reliability and dictates some limitations to our collective intelligence.

  5. Kia ora Tom

    You are so right about the credibility imparted to the printed word - how 'the power of the pen' began, I guess. It is strange that even with all the techonolgy we have to verify the existence of documentation, through Faxing, scanning or other image transmission, seeing the original document is still accepted as the ultimate verification.

    I am Power of Attorney for my Mother who lives in Scotland, while I live in New Zealand. I write letters to the Scottish banks to make transactions on my Mother's behalf. I always send a digital photo of the letter by email - to let the banks know that the letter is on its way. Try as I may, I have never convinced the banks to act on the receipt of my digital copy, yet I communicate with them regularly, sometimes monthly, with the same pattern and practice. That ubiquitous inertia, again.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth