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Design as Change – From Teleology to Guided Evolution?

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Design is connected to change. Whether we start from Herbert Simons often
cited ’the transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones’ (1996, p.
111) or design as linked to innovation, design is a future oriented, change
inducing activity. But how is design thinking (in a wide sense) different from
traditional managerial thinking in terms of change? This paper explores and
identifies change perspectives in design literature, very selectively
represented by ‘classic views’, design thinking, and C-K theory. By using Van
de Ven and Poole’s (1995) four ‘basic types of process theories that explain
how and why change unfolds’; Life Cycle, Dialectics, Teleology, and Evolution,
and Pettigrew’s (1987) distinction between process and content of change,
we find that design processes are commonly described as similar to an
evolutionary process with gradual development (divergence), combined with
some characteristics of teleology (convergence), that together constitute the
motor(s) of the process. By using Heskett’s (2002) distinction between ‘utility’
and ‘significance’ it is possible to further dissect design processes. Processes
aiming for ‘utility’ eventually must converge into a solution, but is it
necessarily the same for processes by which ‘significance’ is designed, created
and maintained? Further, the uncontrollability and emergence aspects of
evolutionary processes are interesting challenges from a managerial
viewpoint. A generative way to frame design processes may be to see them
as guided evolutionary processes (Lovas and Ghoshal, 2000). ‘Guided’
maintains manageability, while ‘evolutionary’ provides essential variety.


PUBLISHED: Proceedings from the The 19th DMI: Academic Design Management Conference, 2014


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