These complex problems can be characterized by nine properties, divided into three categories (please read the article for full details on each):
The Psychology of Human Behavior and Cognition
- System Design that Does Not Take into Account Human Psychology.
- Human Cognition: The Human Tendency to Want Simple Answers, Decomposable Systems, and Straightforward Linear Causality.
The Social, Political, and Economic Framework of Complex Sociotechnical Systems
- Multiple Disciplines and Perspectives
- Mutually Incompatible Constraints
The Technical Issues that Contribute to the Complexity of DesignX Problems
- Non-Independence of Elements
- Non-Linear Causal Relations: Feedback
- Long and Unpredictable Latencies
- Multiple Scale Sizes
- Dynamically Changing Operating Characteristics
In 2015 Don Norman made a keynote talk at the Relating Systems Thinking and Design 4th Symposium.
Here, besides referring how designers are ill-trained for today’s problems, he made an interesting metaphor relating to those who are trained with a human centered design (HCD) perspective. The HCD method, because of its constant iteration and improvement, is like climbing one mountain. The mountain is the problem. HCD normally knows exactly what is the mountain, where’s its fixed place and its environs. The problem with complex systems, is that sometimes it’s not obvious which is the mountain, and due to their dynamic nature, their environs are always changing.
In this talk, he mentions how these systems are always “kind of working”, and how we normally don’t create systems, but manageable organizations which don’t interact with each other. “They don’t work necessarily well, but they muddle through quite well”.