AI & Society

, Volume 9, Issue 2–3, pp 258–272 | Cite as

Innovative design and the language of struggle

  • J. Thorpe


This contribution to design methodology reflects upon the barriers to effectiveness imposed by our tendency to gravitate towards the over-formal in human affairs. We see a correspondingly cleaned-up description of the process of design, a failure to consider its jagged elements and to take proper account of the non-formal in knowledge (e.g. tacit knowledge) and communication. Discipline in methodology is accordingly wrongly equated with formality. The failure of design to be effective is more likely for innovative design rather than routine design.

It is suggested by way of explanation that design methodology especially in the field of information technology is infused with the ghost of positivism, manifest in an unconditional belief in the value of rationality and an implied naive realist conviction about the fixed, singular and transparent nature of the environment for which design is undertaken.

We need to be able to work with uncertainty rather than try for its entire elimination. A breadth of approach in carrying out the activity of design is threatened by lack of attention to the variety of forms which knowledge and corresponding forms of discourse can take.

We undertake the disciplined reduction from the messy real work to metaphors tidy enough to work with, or models as they are usually misnamed.

The notion of “language of struggle” is invoked as a suitable metaphor for the non-formal discourse particularly relevant to innovative design. A complementary exploration is offered of socio-linguistic space which is the common context for design.

In view of the concern with social space necessary to effective design, it may be enlightening to consider the designer as applied anthropologist.


Action Design Discourse Innovation Language Methodology Tacit knowledge 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Thorpe
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of EngineeringUniversity of the West of EnglandBristolUK

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