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Designing as Synthesis

What is the difference between designing and synthesis.

Synthesis is building of complexity from simplicity.

  • In the dictionary, this notion is described in terms of philosophy, chemistry, grammar, and linguistics.
  • Its thesaurus entry includes: “combination, union, amalgam, blend, mixture, compound, fusion, composite, alloy.”
  • It is commonly associated with designing.
  • Synthesis is more than just assembly or superposition, because the desired functions of the complex whole often only emerge from the combination of the whole's parts rather than from the parts themselves.

Synthesis is not quite the same as creativity.

  • There can be creativity in synthesis because the complexity itself is created “from nothing.”
  • The emergent characteristics of a synthesized thing are usually described in functional terms that capture how the whole is used in some setting.
  • So, synthesis may be regarded as a kind of creativity of function or affordance, but not a creativity of structure.

Synthesis is not necessarily an activity only of human designers.

  • Synthesis occurs frequently in nature as well, and examples abound, including most obviously the evolution of life.
    • However, there is no evidence of intent in synthesis as it occurs in nature.

Designing is inherently intentional, and synthesis is part of designing.

  • So intent, it would appear, is an optional aspect of synthesis.

Synthesis is, however, not necessary for design.

  • For instance, barring the availability of other tools, one might use a paper clip as a tool to press a recessed reset button on certain electronic devices.
    • This is done by straightening part of the paper clip, which lowers its geometric complexity – one has made something simple from something more complex.
  • While there is admittedly little designing in this case, it does satisfy Simon's general definition.
    • And there is no synthesis at all because complexity is decreased, not increased.

Therefore, designing may include synthesis, synthesis may be intentional, but designing is always intentional.

The key characteristic here appears to be intent.

  • Intent appears implicit in Simon's definition, as it is in every other definition of which we are aware.
  • Thus we propose that the boundary layer between designing and synthesis occurs where the degree of intent underlying the designerly or synthetic act changes.

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