Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Do we ever need 'outside designers'?

The 'Organizational Learning' chapter makes some really interesting points about how 'outside designers' tend to not really understand the 'culture' (am I even allowed to use that word anymore?) of the systems they purport to 'make better.' This is because true design tends to come ad hoc and never really attempts to speak about the system in its totality.

This makes a bunch of sense, especially if you've ever worked for a boss who comes busting in on the middle of a project to 'make it run more smoothly' and ends up making everyone's life a living hell.

This also reminded me of the idea we talked about last week - that modularity is necessary if we want the system to function efficiently. Maybe consultants/bosses live in a dream world and assume that they can understand the total system and all of its intricacies. Maybe the best bosses (designers) are smart enough to know what they don't know. Maybe the best TEACHERS are smart enough to know AND ACKNOWLEDGE what they don't know.

Down with designers.


Blogger asw said...

I really like the way you viewed the Org. Learning chapter in Hutchins. Particularly looking at it from outside the navigation model and into the workplace. I can completely relate to your example of a boss that comes in thinking of making a project better but ends up messing it up. I have had many of these experiences in my previous job experiences before coming to Austin.

Your post also made me wonder about the evolution of the organization and system and how much must be there to allow for the system and its participants to evolve to make a task "better" and overcome the outside designers?

7:48 PM  
Blogger gfp said...


Nice example. I was wondering though, is a boss really an outsider? Or is she part of the system and reacting as defined within the system? I was thinking that a consultant would be more of an "outsider"....

12:12 PM  
Blogger IB said...

Great comment about teachers! In another class I am taking right now we discussed the importance of communities of practice within schools. Teachers cannot know everything and they cannot solve every classroom problem on their own. Communities of practice open up possibilities for sharing knowledge and solving problems collaboratively, and thus professional development.

3:24 PM  
Blogger jmj said...


I think some bosses are definitely outsiders.

3:33 PM  
Blogger mdl said...

Hey Jim--Neat question. It raises the point that questions of design are often questions of technology. You point to a real issue in workspace "design" when it is mediated through technological artifacts that are created by managers and the "technological elite." BTW, this is not me speaking here. This is Lucy Suchman. SHe writes about the "inherent dichotomy" between "technological design and use," as certain groups are placed in the privileged position to evaluate a process and shape a process. Now that I'm familiar with your open source ethic, I'm thinking that you would argue that it should be those within the group affected that articulates what tools should be used and how. How often does this happen? What are the conditions necessary for this to happen?

9:02 AM  

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