OT: design theory: wicked problems
as I roamed the book stores
thinking about how much more information
I need to be able to write my book
I came across the below book on architectural design.
When I read rule #2
2. Wicked problems have no stopping rules.
I asked myself:
"What does this mean?Oh!I know -exactly- what this means!"
BTDT: no integration testing means every time you fix one problem
it creates another!
As a programmer who has been An Army of One:
-- thanx to DLR for that idea --
data dictionary author/writer,
programmer, tester, ad hoc reports extraordinaire,
'broke, I can fix that'
code doctor, data manager, LAN admin,
installer, configuration manager,
.... one who spins plates ... %-\
I think you will see ideas that have been or are -your-
A Design Issues Reader
edited by Victor Margolin and Richard Buchanan
The MIT Press
Wicked Problems in Design Thinking
Recent conferences on design are evidence of a coherent,
if not always systematic, effort to reach a clearer understanding
of design as an integrative discipline.
[Participants] are drawn together because they share a mutual interest
in a common theme:
the conception and planning of the artificial.
Members of the scientific community, however,
must be puzzled by the types of problems addressed by professional
and by the patterns of reasoning they employ.
[Scientists] are also masters of specialized subject matters and their
as found in ... the many subfields into which these sciences have been
this creates one of the central problems of communication between
scientists and designers,
because the problems addressed by designers seldom fall solely within
the boundaries of any one of these subject matters.
The problem of communication between scientists and designers
was evident in a special conference on design theory ... in 1974.
.... [T]he "wicked problems" approach to design
proved to be one of the central themes
to which the participants often returned
when seeking a connection between their remarkably diverse
and seemingly incommensurate applications of design.
Also significant was the difficulty that most of the participants had
in understanding each other.
Although an observation of an outsider on the dynamics of the meeting,
it is an excellent example of a "wicked problem" of design thinking.
The wicked problems approach was formulated by Horst Rittel in the
when design methodology was a subject of intense interest.
A mathematician, designer, and former teacher ...
Rittel sought an alternative to the linear, step-by-step model
of the design process being explored
by many designers and design theorists.
Although there are many variations of the linear model,
its proponents hold that the design process
is divided into two distinct phases:
and problem solution.
Problem definition is an analytic sequence in which the designer
determines all of the elements of the problem
and specifies all of the requirements that a successful design solution
Problem solution is a snythetic sequence
in which the various requirements are combined and balanced against each
yielding a final plan to be carried into production.
In the abstract, such a model may appear attractive because
it suggests a methodological precesion that is,
in it key features, independent from the perspective of the individual
In fact many scientists and business professionals,
as well as some designers,
continue to find the idea of a linear model attractive,
believing that it represents the only hope
for a "logical" understanding of the design process.
However, some critics were quick to point out
two obvious points of weakness:
one, the actual sequence of design thinking
and decision making is not a simple linear process;
and two, the problems addressed by designers
do not, in actual practice,
yield to any linear analysis and synthesis as yet proposed.
Rittel argued that most of the problems addressed by designers
are wicked problems.
As described in the first published report of rittel's idea,
wicked problems are a "class of social system
problems which are ill-formulated,
where the information is confusing,
where there are many clients and decision makers
with conflicting values,
and where the ramifications in the whole system
are thoroughly confusing."
This si an amusing description of what confronts designers
in every new situation.
But most important,
it points toward a fundamental issues that lies behind practice:
the relationship between determinacy and indeterminacy
in design thinking.
The linear model of design thinking is based on determinate problems
which have definite conditions.
The designer's task is to identify those conditions precisely
and then calculate a solutino.
In contrast, the wicked-problems approach suggests that
there is a fundamental indeterminacy in all
but the most trivial design problems ---
problems where, as Rittel suggests,
the "wickedness" has already been taken out
to yield determinate or analytic problems.
To understand what this means,
it is important to recognize that indeterminacy
is quite differenct from undetermined.
Indeterminancy implies that there are no definitive conditions or limits
to design problems. This is evident, for example,
in the ten properties of wicked problems
that Rittel initially identified in 1972.
1. Wicked problems hvae no definitive formulation,
but every formulation of a wicked problem
corresponds to the formulation of a solution.
2. Wicked problems have no stopping rules.
3. Solutions to wicked problems cannot be true or false,
only good or bad.
4. In solving wicked problems
there is no exhaustive list of admissible operations.
5. For every wicked problem
there is always more than one possible explanation,
with explanations depending on the Weltanschauung of the designer.
footnote39: Weltanschauung identifies the intellectual perspective
of the designer
as an integral part of the design process.
6. Every wicked problem is a symptom of another,
"higher level," problem.
7. No formulation and solution of a wicked problem
has a definitive test.
8. Solving a wicked problem is a "one shot" operation,
with no room for trial and error.
9. Every wicked problem is unique.
10. The wicked problem solver has no right to be wrong
--- they are fully responsible for their actions.
Ron Fehd the design for testing:
maven CDC Atlanta GA USA RJF2 at cdc dot gov
subject: Fatherly Advice to New Programmers
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