Social Design and the Search For Self

Nov 16, 2012

In everything I design, I always find and start at the root of the problem. I imagine everything as leaves on a theoretical tree of infinite branches, each splitting into two extremes and, collectively, forming a massive fractal of spectrums. To really design effectively, one must find the root node so as to see exactly every possible path that may exist thereafter. Often, we try to solve problems quickly and shallowly, tending to stop traversing down the tree too soon, as it were. And this has resulted in the overly complex and superfluous existence we have now, a world in which any desire for simplicity is constantly challenged.

Whatever kind of design you do – product design, interaction design, industrial design, graphic design, architectural design, social design – to be effective, the first place to start is the root of it all: design.

A binary fractal tree, starting at a single root and continually branching into two extremes. The number of leaves (endpoints) is 2^h where h = height of the tree. Thus, each branch grows the number of outcomes exponentially.

Design is the fulfillment of a need the environment elicits. I define it this way not just because it’s the most clear, but because it’s also the most natural. No matter where you go or what you do, you are always in some kind of environment which not only gives rise to the problems that need solving but also dictate the constraints.

But before you go putting pen to paper or pointer to Photoshop canvas, we need to start at the beginning: before computers, before paper, even before people, before the earth. Let’s look at our macro-environment: the universe in which we exist – or at least try to continue to. Yes, that is our primary need as living beings: simply the continuation of our existence. The very fact that you are reading this right now is because literally billions of years of evolution has lead you to this moment and provided you the ability to not only identify the dots on the screen but to categorize and define them.

Until I can transcribe this in full, here’s a recent video from a talk I gave on Social Design at IDEO in NYC.

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