A Framework for Complex Design: Lessons from Synthetic Biology

  • Chih-Chun ChenEmail author
  • Nathan Crilly
Part of the Translational Systems Sciences book series (TSS, volume 8)


This chapter reports on the development of a general framework for describing complex design which can be applied in different design contexts to identify commonalities and discrepancies in the perspectives that people adopt. The framework was built from interviews with practitioners from the complex design field of Synthetic Biology. However, we demonstrate its broad relevance by applying it to describe the sociotechnical example of “designing out crime.” The framework consists of three dimensions, each reflecting a different aspect of complex design, as described by the study’s participants. The first of these dimensions is the characterization of system complexity, the second is the design objective identified with respect to this complexity, and the third is the design approach applied to realize this objective. Because of its domain-neutrality, the framework could assist designers working in different complex design contexts (e.g. swarm robotics, policy formation, and healthcare), to identify when they are addressing design problems that share fundamental similarities. The framework could also assist different designers working on the same complex design challenge to identify discrepancies in their complex design practices or problem framings. In the same way that complex design challenges are never truly “solved,” the framework is not presented here as “finished,” but as an empirically grounded work-in-progress. Studies of other complex design fields would further develop the framework, better supporting cross-domain knowledge-sharing in complex design activities.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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