Bela Banathy: Salient attributes of the designer

Design, broadly understood, is about purposeful action, the process of creating change in the world around us.

If design is to be thus understood — as a fundamental domain of inquiry, alongside the sciences and humanities — then our conception of the designer must evolve as well.

Béla Bánáthy wrote on this topic in Designing Social Systems in a Changing World (1996):

A discussion on model making should include studying the model maker. The model maker is the designer who constructs a representation, a model of the systems to be created. Based on a contemplation and interpretation of the work of Lippitt (1973), a few of the salient attributes of the model maker are introduced.

Confidence and a certain amount of courage are required to transcend an existing system or state and attempt to create a conceptual model as the design solution. Making a model of a desired future system requires a degree of confidence in one’s assessment of the present and in one’s commitment to a vision of the future, and it calls for willingness to take risk with conviction.

Situational sensitivity implies seeing things that others might not perceive, seeing things that are not obvious, stretching one’s perceptual powers to capture and feel more about the situation than would ordinarily be the case, and becoming tuned in to the complexity of emerging design solutions.

Flexibility calls for adjusting quickly to emerging developments in the design situation, extending the boundaries of the design inquiry, experimenting with various design solutions, abandoning old assumptions and trying out new ones, and — most importantly — adding new dimensions to the solution rather than merely adjusting the old.

Tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty means tolerating a certain amount of disorder in bringing meaning to contradictions and dynamic complexity, living with the uncertainty of emerging design solutions, and withstanding the pressure for immediate or quick solutions.

Moving back and forth between analysis and synthesis interactively is an essential requirement of the model builder. In synthesizing, we identify, create, combine, and enfold different elements into a holistic framework of the emerging process and structure of the system. At the same time, we constantly analyze what we create. Moving between synthesis and analysis is a key requirement of effective model building.

Managing design takes place in an environment of dynamic complexity that is unpredictable, ambiguous, and unique. Designers in such contexts cannot rely on standard procedures. They have to manage design with the use of methods tailored to the design situation while they seek solutions in the flow of all the processes that are manifested in social systems.

(Bold emphases are mine; see also: Science, humanities, design: The three cultures.)

Leave a Comment