Gordon Pask and the Origins of Design Cybernetics

  • Liss C. WernerEmail author
Part of the Design Research Foundations book series (DERF)


This chapter introduces the subject of design cybernetics from the perspective of its origins in Conversation Theory – interweaving descriptions of cybernetic artefacts, cybernetic design concepts, their socio-cultural implications, and their possible consequences for a cybernetic theory for design. Conversation Theory was initially developed by the British cybernetician Gordon Pask, and later by his students Ranulph Glanville and Paul Pangaro. With a view to opening up strands and avenues for design education and design practice, this chapter positions the act of designing as an embodied conversation between designers, the subject matter and the object to be designed. An introduction to cybernetics and design is followed by a discussion of machines developed by Pask, including Musicolour and Colloquy of Mobiles. The chapter then offers an overview of Pask’s Conversation Theory as based on circular causal, interactive, feedback-based epistemological processes. It constructs and explicates a design reality of interaction, learning and design education. Pask explained Conversation Theory rhetorically, arithmetically and graphically. Pask’s entailment meshes, n-dimensional cyclical network graphs, describe conversation topics, paths, attributes and partners of interaction. They are examined and related to contemporary digitally driven systems and societies. The chapter concludes by discussing design cybernetics in view of socio-cybernetic ecologies and the shifting paradigm of design authorship.


Gordon Pask ⋅ Design cybernetics ⋅ Computation ⋅ Feedback ⋅ Conversation theory ⋅ Musicolour ⋅ Colloquy of Mobiles 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of ArchitectureTechnical University of BerlinBerlinGermany

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