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Designing for thrownness, design attitude, decision attitude

“Designing for Thrownness” showed up for me via “Design, Wicked Problems and Throwness” by Harold G. Nelson.  The citation of Karl Weick as a source, with references to Flores & Winograd (1986), led me to find the Managing by Designing research led by Boland and Collopy, with the 2004 conference as Case Western Reserve abstracted in a series of videos (of which Thrownness is #4 of 7).

Boland and Collopy differentiate between a design attitude and a decision attitude.

A decision attitude toward problem solving is used extensively in management education. It portrays the manager as facing a set of alternative courses of action from which a choice must be made.

  • The decision attitude assumes it is easy to come up with alternatives to consider, but difficult to choose among them.
  • The design attitude toward problem solving, in contrast, assumes that it is difficult to design a good alternative, but once you have developed a truly great one, the decision about which alternative to select becomes trivial.

The design attitude appreciates that the cost of not conceiving of a better course of action than those that are already being considered is often much higher than making the “wrong” choice among them.

The decision attitude toward problem solving and the many decision-making tools we have developed for supporting it have strengths that make them suitable for certain situations. In a clearly defined and stable situation, when the feasible alternatives are well known, a decision attitude may be the most efficient and effective way to approach problem solving. But when those conditions do not hold, a design attitude is required. [editorial paragraphing added]

This contrast between a design attitude and decision attitude becomes clearer as Weick later describes thrownness.

Design is usually portrayed as forethought that leads to an intention. But on closer inspection, design may be less originary than it looks. One reason is because beginnings and endings are rare, middles are common. People, whether designers or clients, are always in the middle of something, which means designing is as much about re-design, interruption, resumption, continuity, and re-contextualizing, as it is about design, creation, invention, initiation, and contextualizing. What separates good design from bad design may be determined more by how people deal with the experience of thrownness and interruption than by the substance of the design itself.

Weick refers to Heidegger, via Winograd and Flores (1986):

Heidegger [… unpacks] the word geworfenheit (werf to throw, geworfenheit being thrown), which has been translated as “thrownness.” Heidegger treats being-in-the-world … as “the prereflective experience of being thrown into a situation of acting without the opportunity or need to disengage and function as detached observers” (Winograd and Flores, 1986, p. 97).

An example from Winograd and Flores (1986) is summarized by Weick, in the plight of a chairman in a difficult situation.

“Designing for Thrownness” showed up for me via “Design, Wicked Problems and Throwness” by Harold G. Nelson.  The citation of Karl Weick as a source, with references to Flores & Winograd (1986), led me to find the Managing by Designing research led by Boland and Collopy, with the 2004 conference as Case Western Reserve abstracted in a series of videos (of which Thrownness is #4 of 7).

Boland and Collopy differentiate between a design attitude and a decision attitude.

A decision attitude toward problem solving is used extensively in management education. It portrays the manager as facing a set of alternative courses of action from which a choice must be made.

  • The decision attitude assumes it is easy to come up with alternatives to consider, but difficult to choose among them.
  • The design attitude toward problem solving, in contrast, assumes that it is difficult to design a good alternative, but once you have developed a truly great one, the decision about which alternative to select becomes trivial.

The design attitude appreciates that the cost of not conceiving of a better course of action than those that are already being considered is often much higher than making the “wrong” choice among them.

The decision attitude toward problem solving and the many decision-making tools we have developed for supporting it have strengths that make them suitable for certain situations. In a clearly defined and stable situation, when the feasible alternatives are well known, a decision attitude may be the most efficient and effective way to approach problem solving. But when those conditions do not hold, a design attitude is required. [editorial paragraphing added]

This contrast between a design attitude and decision attitude becomes clearer as Weick later describes thrownness.

Design is usually portrayed as forethought that leads to an intention. But on closer inspection, design may be less originary than it looks. One reason is because beginnings and endings are rare, middles are common. People, whether designers or clients, are always in the middle of something, which means designing is as much about re-design, interruption, resumption, continuity, and re-contextualizing, as it is about design, creation, invention, initiation, and contextualizing. What separates good design from bad design may be determined more by how people deal with the experience of thrownness and interruption than by the substance of the design itself.

Weick refers to Heidegger, via Winograd and Flores (1986):

Heidegger [… unpacks] the word geworfenheit (werf to throw, geworfenheit being thrown), which has been translated as “thrownness.” Heidegger treats being-in-the-world … as “the prereflective experience of being thrown into a situation of acting without the opportunity or need to disengage and function as detached observers” (Winograd and Flores, 1986, p. 97).

An example from Winograd and Flores (1986) is summarized by Weick, in the plight of a chairman in a difficult situation.

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