Complexity & Design

‘at the nascent moment of creativity boundaries between disciplines dissolve’ (Insights of Genius, Miller 2000)

HR business partner models are failing. So what next?

Complexity & Design is a collaboration between Connected & Responsible Futures but one that reaches right across the University research skillset.

‘In popular dialogues, describing a system as “complex” is often the point of resignation, inferring that the system cannot be sufficiently described, predicted nor managed. Transport networks, data infrastructure and supply chain logistics are all often described in this way’. (Cham & Johnson, 2007). In socio-cultural terms “complex” is used to describe those humanistic systems that are “intricate, involved, complicated, dynamic, multi-dimensional, interconnected systems [such as] transnational citizenship, communities, identities, multiple belongings, overlapping geographies and competing histories” (Cahir & James, 2006).

By bringing together our rich and diverse expertise across Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM), with design and innovation and the full spectrum of social sciences, our researchers are looking to play their part in building an inclusive future-facing world. Thinking holistically is imperative, for understanding and managing social, technical and economic interdependencies when addressing contemporary Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous scenarios (VUCA) such as those seen in migration, globalisation, digital transformation and competing economies of scale.

Complexity is a new way of thinking about nested socio-technical and biological systems that display a capacity for self organisation and emergent behaviours. Examples of complex systems include our ecosystem, societies, communities and economies and technical infrastructures such as power networks, transportation and communication systems. These all of course share interdependencies, and design is one way of accounting for the type of future we want. At the University of Brighton, we solve these complex global issues via interdisciplinary collaborations between academics, industry and community. Brighton Systems and Complex Systems Toolkit Framework

Regularly top ten in UK for design, the University of Brighton has design skills right across the university that includes but is not limited to, for example, design thinking, co-design, sustainable design, inclusive design, design management, privacy by design, user experience design, human centred design, architectural design, design engineering, product design, design history, radical design methods and creative arts and design. We aim to ensure as best we can, that our future is human-centred and inclusive; that we provide world-leading privacy, security and trust and migrate cultural legacies and identities to preserve a safe and meaningful sense of self and sense of place in our shared technical future as part of a sustainable ecosystem.

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Our successful bid to host one of only three regional Digital Catapult Centres was anchored on the notion of an ‘Internet of Place’, a human centred spin on ‘Internet of Things’ that integrates data into a core component of placemaking towards smart cities.

Similarly, our £1.3m ESIF/ACE project www.drivaartsdriva.com provides supported access to a live data feed out of Gatwick Airport for third party businesses to innovate data driven products and services via R&D grants, expert advice and access to specialist facilities. This project is also the official launch of the LGF funded ‘Satellite CatapultData Research and Innovation Lab based at the University’s Moulsecoomb campus that provides high performance data analytics computers.

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Our Centre for Secure, Intelligent and Usable Systems focuses on both theoretical and practical research in computer science challenges related to security, intelligence and usability of software systems such as the EU-funded VISION project that has developed a visual privacy platform to help public entities deliver transparent and privacy-enhanced e-government services that meet the highest privacy standards and offer citizens personalised control over their data.

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From specialist teams conducting crucial research into the use of local buses by adults with learning disabilities and seminal eBikes research integrating sustainable transport and mobile media, our experts explore a wide range of transport options and consider technological change, sustainable alternatives and wider implications for society.

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In April 2019, we were lucky enough to hold an international symposium on Complex Systems with distinguished guests from UK, Germany, Spain, Canada. South Africa. The aim of our event, ‘Transdisciplinary working and complex systems- solving global problems together’ was to share knowledge to begin to build a consortia, enabling us to respond to future funding opportunities such as GCRF(Global Challenges Research Fund) and AI for Good in the vein of the recent The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research E2m call on ‘Complexity and Creative Industry: Grip on Transitions and Resilience’ Chaired by Professor Karen Cham, Academic Lead Connected Futures, that brought this panel together :

  • Prof Jeffrey Johnson (UK) Professor of Complexity Science and Design, Open University, Deputy President of the UNESCO UniTwin Digital Campus for Complex Systems, past President of the Complex Systems Society
  • Dr Peter Jones (Canada), Associate Professor, Strategic Foresight and Innovation (MDes), Design for Health (MDes), Strategic Innovation Lab, OCAD University, Toronto
  • Prof Jurgen Pfeffer (Germany) Professor of Computational Social Science & Big Data, Bavarian School of Public Policy, Technical University of Munich & Adjunct Professor Institute for Software Research, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Dr Rika Preiser (South Africa) Senior Researcher, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University SA
  • Prof Dr. Maxi San Miguel (Spain) Professor of Physics, University of the Balearic Islands (UIB) (since 1986) and Director of IFISC (Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems, joint Institute of UIB and CSIC, the Spanish National Research Council), Palma de Mallorca

Transdisciplinary working and complex systems- solving global problems together’

“In common terminology, describing something as “complex” is often a point of resignation, a term that infers something cannot be sufficiently assessed or controlled; supply chain logistics, rail networks and organizational infrastructures are all commonly described in this way. The scientific study of complex systems already encompasses more than one theoretical framework, as it is has had to be highly interdisciplinary in seeking the answers to fundamental questions about living, adaptable, changeable systems (Cham & Johnson, 2007).

Thus, there is no single unified Theory of Complexity, but several different theories have arisen from the natural sciences, mathematics and computing and have been developed through artificial intelligence and robotics research, with other important contributions coming from, thermodynamics, biology, physics, sociology, economics and law. In socio-cultural dialogues the term “complex” is used to describe humanistic systems that are “intricate, involved, complicated, dynamic, multi- dimensional, interconnected systems [such as] transnational citizenship, communities, identities, multiple belongings, overlapping geographies and competing histories’ (Cahir & James, 2006).

For our purpose here, “complex systems” is used to describe those systems ‘that are diverse and made up of multiple interdependent elements, that are often ‘adaptive’, in that they have the capacity to change and learn from events, and that can be understood as emerging from the interaction of autonomous agents – especially people (Johnson, 2007)”.

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In July 2020, Radical Methodologies Research and Enterprise Group and Connected Futures delivered the Wicked Possibilities: Designing in and with Systemic Complexity. This event will explore ways of acting and designing in situations where consensus is not possible or even desirable. Guest speakers Dulmini Perera, Paul Pangaro, Mathilda Tham andThomas Fischer presented aspects of their work that responds to the ideas and questions as follows :

“Design is increasingly concerned with systemic complexity. This follows, in part, from the interconnected nature of contemporary design questions, which are characterised by conflicting values, unpredictable interdependencies, anduncertain boundaries. In response, many designers and researchers have positioned themselves to address questions of social transformation and sustainable development through ever more comprehensive approaches to designing, including frameworks such as metadesign, systemic design, socially responsive design, transition design, etc. At the same time, developments in machine learning and the contemporary entanglement of technologies with bodies, the social, political, and ecological mean that even design’s traditional domains now exhibit and participate in the complexity of social systems.

In the context of complexity, it is misleading to speak of solutions. In distinguishing “wicked problems” from those that are amenable to conventional problem solving, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber (1973) spoke instead of “resolutions”, emphasising the need to “re-solve” wicked problems again and again (p. 160). In many contexts, a resolution to a wickedproblem may last for some time before it needs to be re-addressed, and it is easy to slip into forgetting its temporary nature. In the most complex situations, however, moments of resolution can be partial and fleeting. A lasting resolution may even be undesirable as a design goal where it depends on establishing a consensus that reduces difference or obscures necessary debate. 

What, then, is a designer to do if there are sometimes not even temporary resolutions at which to aim? If designers are to “avoid othering messiness” (Perera, 2020, abstract), conventional approaches to ambiguity, conflict, and contradiction need to be radically rethought. Rather than seeing these qualities as errors to be corrected, how might they be seen, as indesign conversation, as potentially enriching? That is, how might designers see the wicked, not as something to be tidied away, tamed, or even resolved, but as something to work in and with? And how, given the present dominance of instrumental measures of success, might such an approach be possible?”

Reference list

Perera, D. (2020). Wicked problems, wicked play: Fun machines as strategy. FormAkademisk – Research Journal of Design and Design Education, 13(2). doi:10.7577/formakademisk.3378

Rittel, H., & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155-169.

Link to a recording of the full webinar https://unibrightonac-my.sharepoint.com/:v:/r/personal/s_c_sutherland_brighton_ac_uk/Documents/Wicked%20Possibilities%20Full%20Event.mp4?csf=1&web=1&e=vsM9tE

Links to the pre pre-recorded presentations by our guests. The Vimeo password if you need it is Wicked Possibilities.

In addition to the pre-recorded presentations, we have a series of readings that are also available:

  • Dubberly, H., & Pangaro, P. “Cybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action.” In Design Cybernetics: Navigating the New, edited by Thomas Fischer and Christiane M. Herr, pp 61-74. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2019.
  • Fischer, T. Narratives of exploration: From “Failure is not an option” to “Try again, Fail again. Fail better”, Kybernetes, in print, (2020).
  • Perera, Dulmini. “Wicked Problems, Wicked Play.” Formakademisk 13, no. 2 (2020).
  • Rittel, H., & Melvin Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.” Policy Sciences 4, no. 2 (1973): 155-169.
  • Tham, M. (2019). Dirty Design (or A Bloody Mess) : In Celebration of Life Affirming Design. In Design and Nature: A Partnership edited by Kate Fletcher, Louise St Pierre and Mathilda Tham. London: Routledge. 136-143.

The papers are all available to download by following this link https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ke4293921az3pdi/AAA5KhXiZo9_FntpTQOiZYuca?dl=0

Additional projects:

Privacy

VisiOn

DEFeND

Privacy Labs

Heritage

Placed based narratives

Digitisation Lab

Public sector community engagement

Community 21

EMPOWERCARE with the Living lab

Find out more about all Connected Futures initiatives.

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