Design Cybernetics: Concluding Remarks From a Semi-external Perspective

  • Wolfgang JonasEmail author
Part of the Design Research Foundations book series (DERF)


The editors of this anthology have invited me to write a synthesis, which should relate the texts to each other and discuss them with respect to the general design research discourse. Most contributions are closely leaning on Pask and Glanville. Building on Pask, Glanville conceives the design process as a conversation that the designer holds with objects, with him/herself or with others. Two basic traits of the approach become apparent that limit the approach: First, the largely personal character of the conversation; the ideal constellation consists of two people present, talking to each other. Second, the harmonic tendency towards consensus in conversations, even if the constructivist character of generating individual meaning is emphasized. My concluding essay contextualises and situates design cybernetics within the harsh and unfriendly environment of present-day digitized global capitalism, which is excessively exploiting the unlimited potential of so-called social media. Based on this and taking into account the feedback of the contributing authors I formulate some concerns regarding the deficits of current second-order cybernetics and design cybernetics. The critique can be concentrated on the missing of an advanced systemic social theory and focuses on three topics: systems, communication and evolution. Furthermore, I suggest to work out the necessarily political character of design cybernetics. In a final section I reflect on the issue of rigour and/or relevance in design cybernetics.


Second-order cybernetics ⋅ Strengths and weaknesses ⋅ Critique ⋅ Contextualization 


  1. 1.
    Baecker, D. (2002). Wie steht es mit dem Willen Allahs? Zeitschrift für Rechtssoziologie, 21(1), 145–176.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Barsky, R. F. (1998). Noam Chomsky: A life of dissent. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bernstein, R. J. (1976). The restructuring of social and political theory. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Brown, V. A., Harris, J. A., & Russell, J. Y. (2010). Tackling wicked problems through the transdisciplinary imagination. London/Washington, DC: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: The Macmillan Company.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    DiSalvo, C. (2012). Adversarial design. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Dubberly, H., & Pangaro, P. (2015). How cybernetics connects computing, counterculture, and design. In: Hippie modernism: The struggle for utopia. Minneapolis: Exhibition catalog, Walker Art CenterGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Findeli, A. (2010). Searching for design research questions. In R. Chow, W. Jonas, & G. Joost (Eds.), Questions, hypotheses & conjectures. Discussions on projects by early stage and senior design researchers (pp. 286–303). Bloomington: iUniverse.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Fry, T. (2010). Design as politics. Oxford: Berg Publishers.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Glanville, R. (1980). Why design research? In R. Jacques, & J. A. Powell (Eds.), Design:science:method. Guildford: Westbury House. Republished in Ranulph Glanville. (2014). The black boox, volume II: Living in cybernetic circles (pp. 111–120). Vienna: edition echoraum.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Glanville, R. (2007). Try again. Fail again. Fail better: The cybernetics in design and the design in cybernetics. Kybernetes, 36(9/10), 1173–1206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Glanville, R. (2009). A (cybernetic) musing: Desirable ethics. In The black boox vol. III. 39 steps (pp. 293–303). Vienna: edition echoraum.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Habermas, J. (1981). Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Jonas, W. (2012). Exploring the swampy ground. An inquiry into the logic of design research. In S. Grand & W. Jonas, (Eds.) Mapping design research (pp. 11–41). Basel: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Jonas, W., et al. (Eds.) (2015). Transformation design. Perspectives on a new design attitude. Basel: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Jonas, W., et al. (Eds.) (2018). Un/certain Futures. Rollen des Designs in gesellschaftlichen Transformationsprozessen. Bielefeld: transcript.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Jones, J. C. (1999). The Internet and everyone. London: Ellipsis.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Levy, S. (1984). Hackers: Heroes of the computer revolution. Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Luhmann, N. (1995). Social systems. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Mikulecky, D. C. (2009). Definition of complexity. Available at: Accessed 20 May 2017.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Mouffe, C. (2005). On the political. New York: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Pask, A. Gordon S. (1980). The limits of togetherness. In S. H. Lavington (Ed.), Information processing (Vol. 80, pp. 999–1012). Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Shannon, C. E., & Weaver, W. (1963). The mathematical theory of communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Simon, H. (1969/1981/1996). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Tanz, J. (2017). How silicon valley utopianism brought you the dystopian Trump presidency. WIRED Magazine Available at: Accessed 19 Jan 2019.
  28. 28.
    WIRED. (2018). The Cambridge Analytica Story, Explained. Available at: Available at: Accessed 19 Jan 2019.
  29. 29.
    Zuckerberg, M. (2017). Building global community. Facebook. Available at: https: // Accessed 19 Jan 2019.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Braunschweig University of ArtBraunschweigGermany

Personalised recommendations