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Designing as Balancing

Starting with balance, how can one describe the process of designing?

STEP 1: Study the forces that exist in a given situation.

  • These forces may be economic, technological, or based on needs and desires of clients and users.

STEP 2: The needs and desires must be described in terms of what is wrong with the current situation.

  • This requires identifying the properties that are perceived (by the designer working together with clients, users, and other stakeholders) to change in some detrimental way.
  • Boundaries occur where property values change.
    • EG: sufficient productivity at one point in a production process may become insufficient at another point; the boundary lies between those two points and identifies a poorly balanced property of one of the systems.
    • EG: the layout of some architectural space may be sufficient for one population of users, but not for another; here the boundary lies between those two populations, and marks a lack of balance between the space and the user population.

STEP 3: Boundaries mark the interface between systems and, thus, the systems.

  • By first identifying the boundaries, one can use them to derive systems that emerge from the situation rather than from some preconceived, arbitrary organizational structure.

STEP 4: Each system thus identified may be further decomposable into subsystems.

  • Such decompositions should be again based on the study of the actual situation rather than what the designers thinks should be present.
    • This results in a hierarchy of systems. Each level of the hierarchy can be a network of systems, but because the details of each system are encapsulated within them, the interactions will tend to be far fewer than has been suggested by Alexander in NSF.

STEP 5: This hierarchy of systems must then be functionalized; i.e., changed into a network of functions, without reference to form, but still situated within the given context.

  • When functionalizing a system network, each form element (e.g., the kettle’s handle in NSF) must be treated separately.
    • This is because there may excellent reasons for some specific form element to remain in the network.
    • Examples of such reasons include:
      • the client may be unwilling to assume the risk associated with removing a particular form element;
      • there may be safety regulations that require a particular element to be present (e.g., electrical cut-off switches, bulkheads, or warning signs).
  • There is no way to know a priori if a complete functionalization of a network is possible
    • However, the more functionalized the network is, the less likely it is that the design situation will be over-constrained with arbitrarily assigned forms, and therefore the more likely that a good design solution will be found.

STEP 6: Study each level of the functionalized system hierarchy in turn.

  • At each level, some interactions between systems may be quite beneficial, while others are in some kind of conflict.
    • Those in conflict are equivalent to Alexander’s misfits.
  • The goal is to re-balance the systems to eliminate – or at least minimize – the conflicts, while causing the least detrimental change to the beneficial interactions.
  • This requires, as Alexander has proposed in NSF, to build a network of relationships.
  • Instead of just a network of relationships between misfits, though, we need a network of relationships between all properties (i.e., including relationships that show good fit and not just bad fit).
    • We do this one level at a time in the system hierarchy, so that we can use encapsulation to temporarily ignore the details that would cause the overall problem to become intractably complex.

See Also

research/designing_as_balancing.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)