Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

The thinking behind GIGA-mapping, as a technique from designers, echoes some research into (computer-supported) collaborative work from a decade ago.  In “GIGA-Mapping: Visualisation for Complexity and Systems Thinking in Design“, Birger Sevaldson wrote in 2011:

GIGA-maps are the central device in the Rich Research Space which includes social spaces, media spaces and physical spaces.

This reminds me a lot about the design of mediating spaces coming from Ian Simmonds and myself in 2002:

We propose a framework for designers of business organizations and designers of information systems that portrays three forms of “space” that mediate social interactions: physical space, social space and informatic space. The framework aids organizational designers and information technology designers to understand some of the complexities of enabling knowledge work, by contrasting the properties of the spaces and their interactions:

  • Social interaction enabled by physical spaces is the focus of architects of buildings and urban planners, managers locating individuals and team who work together, and conference organizers who plan events to encourage networking.
  • Social interaction enabled by social spaces is the focus of organizational designers who develop supporting social structures such as centers of excellence or practitioner support networks.
  • Social interaction enabled by informatic spaces is the focus of knowledge architects and process analysts, who administer and moderate groupware and workflow applications.

In addition,

  • Informatic spaces hosted in physical spaces are the focus of Information Technology architects, who ensure appropriate geographical coverage, performance, availability and security through appropriate computer hardware and software (e.g. servers, access points and networks).

Since the ways in which knowledge work can be carried out vary from person to person across a community, and innovations are naturally introduced over time, an enabling infrastructure should be capable of adaptation to those changed needs. We draw on research in general systems theory, architectural theory, and social theory to inform our practices in advising on business design, and methods and tools for information modeling.

Across disciplines, our starting points were definitely different.  However, the trends driving this direction would appear to be complementary, as described by the Rich Design Research Space in Sevaldson (2008):

The Rich Research Space is a “tool” or a meta-tool for research-by-design.  [….]   The Rich Research Space is here regarded as a complex and manifold tool that will
enable an inclusive and complex research process.

The design process that is used to deal with very complex tasks needs to be holistic, detailed, intuitive, knowledge-driven, iterative, and tacit. It should deal with both quantitative and qualitative information. Regarding the nature of the complex design process, the most pressing question is how we can derive knowledge from, through, and by the design process without fragmenting it. Breaking a problem into smaller elements to enhance understanding can be most productive as long as the overview of the context and interplay between those fragments is maintained. The suggested concept is a means by which to move between holistic and fragmented approaches. This becomes ever more important as the design process increases in complexity due to the interrelated growth of:

  • Globalisation: Production environments are more interlinked across national borders and cultures, and the consequences of our actions have wider-reaching environmental, economic, and political impacts.
  • Information Technology: The new media make the design process more multi-faceted and complex. New techniques do not automatically replace older techniques but old and new techniques are used together (with the regretful exception of the loss of the drafting table).

The concept of the Design Space is intended to embrace these increasingly complex conditions.

I had the opportunity to meet Birger at the Relating Systems Thinking and Design 2013 meeting.  The call for abstracts for 2014 has just been released.  I guess we’ll have at least these parallel research ideas to discuss this year.  Circa 2002, I was actively immersed in research into social interaction and pattern languages.  A decade later, I could be revisiting that domain again.


Ing, David, and Ian Simmonds. 2002. “Enabling Collective Knowledge Work through the Design of Mediating Spaces: A Framework for Systemic Socio-Informatic Change.” In Proceedings of the 46th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences. Shanghai.

Sevaldson, Birger. 2008. “Rich Design Research Space.” FORMakademisk 1 (1).

Sevaldson, Birger. 2011. “GIGA-Mapping: Visualisation for Complexity and Systems Thinking in Design.” In Nordic Design Research Conference: Making Design Matter. Helsinki.

March 8th, 2014

Posted In: design, systems

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