Departmental Papers (ASC)

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

October 2007

Publication Source






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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to connect two discourses, the discourse of cybernetics and that of design.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper takes a comparative analysis of relevant definitions, concepts, and entailments in both discourse, and an integration of these into a cybernetically informed concept of human-centered design, on the one hand, and a design-informed concept of second-order cybernetics, on the other hand. In the course of this conceptual exploration, the distinction between science and design is explored with cybernetics located in the dialectic between the two. Technology-centered design is distinguished from human-centered design, and several axioms of the latter are stated and discussed.

Findings – This paper consists of recommendations to think and do things differently. In particular, a generalization of interface is suggested as a replacement for the notion of products; a concept of meaning is developed to substitute for the meaninglessness of physical properties; a theory of stakeholder networks is discussed to replace the deceptive notion of THE user; and, above all, it is suggested that designers, in order to design something that affords use to others, engage in second-order understanding.

Originality/value – The paper makes several radical suggestions that face likely rejection by traditionalists but acceptance by cyberneticians and designers attempting to make a contribution to contemporary information society.

Copyright/Permission Statement

This article is © Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


cybernetics, sciences, design



Date Posted: 22 January 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.