Design Cybernetics: Navigating the New

Publisher summary

Design cybernetics offers a way of looking at ourselves – curious, creative, and ethical humans – as self-organising systems that negotiate their own goals in open-ended explorations of the previously unknown. It is a theory of and for epistemic practices (learning, designing, researching) that is deeply committed to the autonomy of others and hence offers no prescriptive methodology. Design cybernetics describes design practice as inextricable from conversation – a way of enquiring, developing shared understanding and reaching the new that harnesses reliable control as well as error and serendipity.

Recognising circular causality, observer-dependency and non-determinability, design cybernetics extends beyond tenets of scientific research into the creative, ethical and aesthetic domain. From this perspective, design is not an ill-conceived subset of scientific research. Instead, scientific research emerges as a particularly restricted subset of the broader human activity of design.

This volume offers a cross-section of design cybernetic theory and practice with contributions ranging across architecture, interior lighting studies, product design, embedded systems, design pedagogy, design theory, social transformation design, research epistemology, art and poetics, as well as theatre and acting. Addressing designers, design educators and researchers interested in a rigorous, practice-based epistemology, it establishes design cybernetics as a foundational perspective of design research.

“This is a conceptually elegant, well structured, and comprehensive presentation of design cybernetics. It fills a gap in the literature of the field.” 

Ken Friedman, Chair Professor, Tongji University

“This book offers a valuable and timely introduction to second-order cybernetics as society grapples with complex issues like climate change and rising inequality.” 

Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab

Table of contents

  • An Introduction to Design Cybernetics
  • Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better: The Cybernetics in Design and the Design in Cybernetics
  • Gordon Pask and the Origins of Design Cybernetics
  • Cybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action
  • A Circular ‘Smart’ World
  • The Cybernetics of Design and the Design of Cybernetics
  • Design-Based Research in Relation to Science-Based Research
  • Constructing Cybernetic Thinking, Design, and Education
  • Design Cybernetics Enacted: The RSVP Cycles and Devised Theatre
  • Why Design Cybernetics?
  • The Polynesian Voyaging Society as a Cybernetic Paradigm for a Design Curriculum
  • Designing, Together and Apart
  • A Poetics of Designing
  • A Theory of (and for) Enquiry
  • Cybernetics and Society Redux: The Necessity of Design
  • Design Cybernetics: Concluding Remarks From a Semi-external Perspective


Thomas Fischer
Christiane M. Herr
Ranulph Glanville
Liss C. Werner
Hugh Dubberly
Paul Pangaro
Delfina Fantini van Ditmar
Klaus Krippendorff
Ted Krueger
Ute C. Besenecker
Tom Scholte
Ben Sweeting
Michael Hohl
Timothy Jachna
Claudia Westermann
Laurence D. Richards
Wolfgang Jonas