The Cybernetics of Design and the Design of Cybernetics

  • Klaus KrippendorffEmail author
Part of the Design Research Foundations book series (DERF)


This book chapter reciprocally connects cybernetics and design, and contrasts both with what the sciences do. Whereas the sciences aim at understanding, explaining, and theorizing observations, design proposes courses of actions that lead into desirable but currently unobservable futures. Its first section teases out cybernetic epistemologies that constructively embrace the practices of design. Its second section applies cybernetics to the emergence of artifacts in interactions between living organisms and their environments. It grounds cybernetic epistemology in the evolution of sensory-motor coordinations, not of objects. Its third section develops the cybernetics of human-centered design. It suggests that designers cannot escape being part of the very social world into which they intervene. This reflexivity was already evident in the creative conversations in which cybernetics emerged. It is also practiced in design teams. Recognizing designs as proposals means that they have to energize and inform multidisciplinary networks of stakeholders which decide the fate of any design. This section generalizes the concept of user interfaces and acknowledges that designers can at best design affordances for interfaces to emerge, in effect calling for designers to delegate designs to their stakeholders. Its final section turns the cybernetics of design into the design of cybernetics. It draws on the historical shift from a cybernetics of self-organizing systems to a cybernetics of cybernetics, which regards cybernetics as a discourse that brings forth self-governing practices of communication. It concludes that cyberneticians actively shape their discourse, not let it determine what they do.


Cybernetic/scientific epistemology Self-organization Artifacts/observation Human-centeredness/objectivity Design ethics Problem solving/declaring Possibilities Delegation of design Discourse Stakeholders Interdisciplinarity 


  1. 1.
    Ashby, W. R. (1956). An introduction to cybernetics. London: Chapman and Hall.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bateson, G. (2000). Steps to an ecology of mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Beer, S. (1981). Brain of the firm: The managerial cybernetics of organizations (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Copi, I. M. (1971). The theory of logical types. London: Routledge & K. Paul.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Glanville, R. (2012). Second order cybernetics. The black boox – Vol. I. Cybernetic circles (pp. 175–207). Vienna: edition echoraum. Previously published In F. Parra-Luna (Ed.), Encyclopedia of life support systems, systems science and cybernetics – Vol. III. Oxford: EoLSS Publishers. Available at: Accessed 19 Jan 2019.
  7. 7.
    Krippendorff, K. (1989). On the ethics of constructing communication. In B. Dervin, L. Grossberg, B. J. O’Keefe, & E. Wartella (Eds.), Rethinking communication: Paradigm issues (Vol. I, pp. 66–96). Newbury Park: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Krippendorff, K. (2004). Intrinsic motivation and human-centered design. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomic Science, 5(1), 43–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Krippendorff, K. (2006). The semantic turn. A new foundation for design. Boca Raton/New York: Taylor & Francis/CRC Press.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Krippendorff, K. (2008). Cybernetics’s reflexive turns. Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 15(3–4), 173–184.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Krippendorff, K. (2008). Towards a radically social constructivism. Constructivist Foundation, 3(2), 91–94.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Krippendorff, K. (2009). Conversation: Possibilities of its repair and descent into discourse and computation. Constructivist Foundations, 4(3), 135–147.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Krippendorff, K. (2016). Design, an undisciplinable profession. In G. Joost, K. Bredies, M. Christensen, F. Conradi, & A. Unteidig (Eds.), Design as research. Positions, arguments, perspectives (Vol. 124, pp. 197–206). Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag/De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social. An introduction to actor-network-theory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1987). The tree of knowledge. The biological roots of human understanding. Boston: New Science Library.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Mead, M. (1968). The cybernetics of cybernetics. In H. von Foerster, et al. (Eds.), Purposive systems (pp. 1–11). New York: Spartan Books.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Pask, G. (1975). Conversation, cognition and learning. A cybernetic theory and methodology. New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Protzen, J.-P., & Harris, D. J. (2010). The universe of design: Horst Rittel’s theories of design and planning. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Rorty, R. (1970). The linguistic turn: Recent essays in philosophical method. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Rorty, R. (1989). Contingency, irony, and solidarity. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    School for Designing a Society, Urbana. Available at: Accessed 19 Jan 2019.
  22. 22.
    Sharp, G. (2010). From dictatorship to democracy. A conceptual framework for liberation (4th ed.). East Boston: The Albert Einstein Institute.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Simon, H. A. (1969). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Sloman, S., & Philip Fernbach, P. (2017). The knowledge illusion. Why we never think alone. New York: Riverhead Books.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Stolzenberg, G. (1984). Can an inquiry into the foundations of mathematics tell us anything interesting about mind? In P. Watzlawick (Ed.), The invented reality (pp. 257–308). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    The School for Designing a Society. (1999). Doing cybernetics. Urbana: SDaS.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Von Foerster, H. (1974). The cybernetics of cybernetics. Champaign-Urban: Biological Computer Laboratory, University of Illinois. Republished as Heinz von Foerster. 1995. Cybernetics of cybernetics or the control of control and the communication of communication (2nd ed.). Minneapolis: Future Systems.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    von Foerster, H. (1979). Cybernetics of cybernetics. In K. Krippendorff (Ed.), Communication and control in society (pp. 5–8). New York: Gordon & Breach Science Publishers Ltd.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    von Foerster, H. (1981). Observing systems. Seaside: Intersystems Publications.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). Radical constructivism. A way of knowing and learning. Bristol: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    von Uexküll, J. (1957). A stroll through the worlds of animals and men: A picture book of invisible worlds. In C. H. Schiller (Ed.), Instinctive behavior: The development of a modern concept (pp. 5–80). New York: International University Press.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Wiener, N. (1948). Cybernetics or control and communication in the animal and the machine. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Annenberg School for CommunicationUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations