Thanks for your post. I agree with you on the importance of introducing the
skills of complex systems thinking in design education.
I'm not sure I agree with you though that designers are unusually good or
well suited to understanding or designing complex systems - particularly
designers trained in Art and design environments. We humans don't have
brains that can easily understand situations with more than one feedback
loop. This applies to designers as much as non-designers.
A simple test:
Ken has $1.10 and buys two items. The first item costs $1 more. How much is
the second item?
My guess is most readers of this list thought 10 cents.
This is a simple uncluttered single feedback loop problem.
The answer is $1.05 and 5 cents.
To test if one can easily understand a double feedback loop situation try
http://web.mit.edu/jsterman/www/Bathtub.pdf which also shows that MIT
students were poor at this task.
Intuition, visualizing and feeling ones way round a solutions doesn't help
when we don't understand the behaviour of the situation in the first place -
and most designers education is way behind MIT students on that one.
Now, take into account that most 'saving the planet' design problems have
dozens or hundreds of feedback loops. I'm not confident that most students
coming out of design schools are well trained to handle these design issues
(particularly if they struggle with the 10cents and the bath).
There are two (at least) confounding problems that make the situation worse
with respect to designers.
1. Individuals feel they understand complex situations and feel they know
exactly what to when they do not - evidence shows individuals typically
adjust designs in the opposite direction to the intended solution in
situations with 2 or more feedback loops.
2. Many designers design complex systems and do so badly but it is not
obvious at first. Then later when problems emerge, traditionally they are
blamed on something else.
A common alternative, as a partial remedy for incompetence in understanding
the behaviour of multifeedback systems, is to design things put them out in
the world and then see whether they worked. This is common in graphic
design, advertising, branding etc. It seems a hope is attached to a belief
that single feedback loop thinking will somehow magically work for multiple
feedback loop systems and that observation about failures and successes will
help in understanding system behaviour.
I'm not that convinced that current design education is doing much towards
good planet designing skills. I agree, introducing systems methods might
help - but many systems methods don't do the business either...
In fact i think designers and architects are especially well suited to
become great systems thinkers in practice because:
1: Designers have a synthesizing mindset and are used to deal with complex,
fuzzy and ill-defined tasks.
2: Designers have great visualization skills for
a) The visualization of complex information through diagramming and
b) The designer's visualization capacity is very central in developing
visions for new innovative solutions.