Archive for the ‘Ciencia’ Category

Defining design (Part II)


Some definitions

Every good dictionary (e.g. The Oxford Dictionary of English) defines design as both a noun and a verb. The noun refers to a plan or drawing intended to show the look and function or workings of an artefact, while the verb usually means ‘to do’, ‘to plan’ or ‘to decide’ on the look and functioning of this artefact (i.e. ‘the design’).

The ambiguous nature of the word is illustrated by a seemingly nonsensical sentence:

‘Design is to design a design to produce a design’ (Heskett, 2002, p.3)

Design is a ubiquitous word; we see it often and in many different contexts: schools of design, designer clothes, design prizes, design shops, and everywhere we look we see design and designs. Some theorist even claim that ‘[a]ll what we [humans] do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity. The planning and patterning of any act toward a desired, foreseeable end constitutes the design process’ (Papanek, 1985, p.3).

It seems fair to reckon that since everyone seems to be doing it, then everyone should know what design is, and therefore what designers do and how they do it – or at least have a vague idea – but this is hardly the case. The troublesome definition of design remains elusive. Lawson (2006, p.33) asks rhetorically:

Do we really need a simple definition of design or should we accept that design is too complex a matter to be summarised in less than a book? The answer is probably that we shall never really find a single satisfactory definition but that the searching is probably much more important than the finding.

Even in a canonical source such as the aforementioned one, the reader has to wait until page 31 for an attempt to a definition of what design is and is not. After citing and reflecting on definitions by other authors, Lawson (2006, p.33) finally refers to Jones (1970) in a phrase that Jones himself regarded as the ‘ultimate definition’ of design: ‘to initiate change in man-made things’. This definition is not instrumental at all, but every designer should probably agree, at least intuitively and to some extent, that it resembles to what we do.

Nigel Cross does not provide a definitive definition of design in Designerly Ways of Knowing (Cross, 2007a) – his compilation of canonical papers – either, but instead he offers a fragmented description of characteristics that can be put together as follows: ‘design is rhetorical’ (p.51), ‘design is exploratory’ (p.52), ‘design is emergent’ (p.52), ‘design is abductive’ (p.53), ‘design is reflective’ (p.53), ‘design is ambiguous’ (p.54), and ‘design is risky’ (p.54).

A definition always focuses on certain aspects of the object the author wishes to explain. Often this focus lies in the process or planning of change such as in the aforementioned definitions by Papanek or Jones. The British Design Council also puts forward a definition by Sir George Cox that involves a final goal: ‘Design […] shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end’ (Design Council, year n/a).

Simon (1996, p.111) poses a very famous and short definition that combines the view of design as a common human activity with a goal orientation: ‘every one designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones’. Simon (1996, p.114) takes his teleological view further and adds the artefact as a means to achieving goals: ‘[d]esign […] is concerned with how things ought to be, with devising artifacts to attain goals’. Other authors, point on the final results of the activities without focusing on end goals: ‘the process of creating tangible artifacts to meet intangible human needs’ (Moran and Carroll cited in Visser, 2006, p.115). Visser (2006) mentions other definitions that go in this direction and neglect to mention the crucial difference between the specification and the artefact product itself. This difference is what separates design from craft and it is at the very basis of design methodology (Jones, 1992).

The following all-encompassing definition (Visser, 2006, p.116) provides an accurate image of design:

Design consists in specifying an artifact (the artifact product), given requirements that indicate – generally, neither explicitly, nor completely – one or more functions to be fulfilled, and needs and goals to be satisfied by the artifact under certain conditions (expressed by constraints). At a cognitive level, this specification activity consists of constructing (generating, transforming, and evaluating) representations of the artifact until they are so precise, concrete and detailed that the resulting representations – ‘the specifications’ – specify explicitly and completely the implementation of the artifact product. This construction is iterative: many intermediate representations are generated, transformed and evaluated prior to delivery of the specifications that constitute the final design representation of the artifact product together with its implementation. The difference between the final and the intermediate artifacts (representations) is a question of degree of specification, completeness and abstraction (concretization and precision).

So what is design?

Design is the generative, transformative and evaluative activity behind these artefacts:

Source unknown

Sketches (source unknown)

And behind these:

Volta Paragon Bicycle Helmet

Prototypes for the Volta Paragon Bicycle Helmet

And these:

Volta Paragon Bicycle Helmet

Illustrated specifications for the Volta Paragon Bicycle Helmet

And this too is design:

Volta Paragon Bicycle Helmet

Final Volta Paragon Bicycle Helmet

So then, what is design?

As John Chris Jones argues, design is, above all things, ‘the performing of a very complicated act of faith’ (cited in Lawson, 2006).


CROSS, N. (2007) Designerly Ways of Knowing, Basel: Birkhäuser.

DESIGN COUNCIL (year n/a) What design is and why it matters, [online], available: [Last accessed 08/03/2013].

HESKETT, J. (2002) Design: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

JONES, J. (1970) Design Methods: seeds of human futures, Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.

JONES, J. (1992) Design Methods, 2nd edn, New York: Wiley.

LAWSON, B. (2006) How designers think: the design process demystified, 4th edn, Oxford: Architectural Press.

PAPANEK, V. (1985) Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, 2nd edn, Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers.

PEIRCE, C. S. (1998) The essential Peirce, Vol. 2 (1893 – 1913), Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

SIMON, H. (1996) The sciences of the artificial, 3rd edn, Cambridge: The MIT Press.

VISSER, W. (2006) The cognitive artifacts of designing, Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Have you read Defining Design (Part I)?

Defining design (Part I)


Defining the common aspects of design

It might be redundant to state that – except in pristine nature – we are surrounded by the outcome of design. So, if design is ‘the human capacity to shape and make our environment’ (Heskett, 2002, p.5), one cannot avoid wondering how can design and the designer accommodate to such a variety of requirements. Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus, asserted – in what has become a very famous quote in the field of design – that architects (i.e. architectural designers) construct ‘from the spoon to the city’. After reading this statement, one cannot avoid wondering how can design afford such a variety of domains and how the activities of designing a bridge or designing a pen can be considered to be intrinsically the same activity. I shall try to probe into these issues, even though the questions will probably remain partially unanswered.

Design comprises several disciplines: product, interior, graphic, fashion… just to name a few. Within each of these disciplines there are sub-disciplines or specialisations: within graphic design one can find editorial design, information design, branding, etcetera. Some sub-disciplines are related or are even shared by two disciplines such as packaging, which can be considered product or graphic design or both; or interior lighting design, which can be considered product or interior design or both. Then, does it make sense to talk about design as a unique activity? Or, is it reasonable to consider common aspects of design such as design decision making or design cognition when designers are facing and tackling problems so apart from one another as the design of toothbrushes and car dashboards?

Lawson (2006, p.9) asserts that ‘we must be cautious […] in assuming that all design fields can be considered to share common ground’. But then he posits a notion with tremendous implications: ‘what is certain is that design is a distinctive mental activity’. Here Lawson asserts that design as a mental activity is different from the rest. Nigel Cross goes further and refers to designerly ways of knowing when positing the distinctiveness of design activity and a common cognitive approach among designers (Cross, 2007b, 2011). Designerly can be defined as: ‘the deep, underlying patterns of how designers think and act’ (Cross, 2007a, p.11).

Design methodology tries to be domain-independent (Dorst, 1997; Lawson, 2006), but a domain-agnostic design methodology makes sense if, and only if, designers share cognitive features regarding their approach to design. If there is not such a thing as a designerly way of knowing, pursuing a domain-independent design methodology shall remain a chimera.


CROSS, N. (2007a) Designerly Ways of Knowing, Basel: Birkhäuser.

CROSS, N. (2007b) ‘Forty years of design research’, Design Research Quarterly, 1(2), 3-5.

CROSS, N. (2011) Design thinking, Oxford: Berg.

DORST, K. (1997) Describing Design: A comparison of paradigms, Doctoral thesis, Tecnische Universiteit Delft.

HESKETT, J. (2002) Design: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

LAWSON, B. (2006) How designers think: the design process demystified, 4th edn, Oxford: Architectural Press.


Read Defining Design (Part II)

Intuitive decisions


When making decisions, experts do not necessarily engage rationally in an analytical sense, they have developed their expertise and knowledge to such an extent that they do not always require conscious, volitive or explicit reasoning. Experts seem to usually know what to do in a given situation without necessarily defaulting to rational thought and inference (of course It does not follow that they are always right).

This behaviour of knowing occurs effortlessly and without deliberate analysis and is usually referred to as ‘intuition’. As it was already signalled by Glöckner and Witteman (2010), it is obvious that the intuitive processes are crucial for making decisions. The concept of intuition needs further exploration in order to clear it from the magical or mystical connotation it has in everyday language.

Intuition refers to an evaluation:

  1. of which we are rapidly consciously aware,
  2. with reasons of which we are not fully conscious,
  3. that is sufficiently strong to make us act thereon.

Intuition works thanks to the application of heuristics intended to operate within limits of time, knowledge and computational capacity, without applying calculation of probabilities or utility, as prescribed by the classical models (Gigerenzer, 2008; Todd and Gigerenzer, 2000). Herbert Simon (1992, p.13) offers a definition of skilled intuition:

In everyday speech, we use the word intuition to describe a problem-solving or question-answering performance that is speedy and for which the expert is unable to describe in in detail the reasoning or other process that produced the answer. The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.

It is interesting to note that this definition is accepted by authors belonging to opposite paradigms such as Gary Klein and Daniel Kahneman (Kahneman and Klein, 2009).

Klein (1998, p.31) argues that ‘Intuition depends on the use of experience to recognise key patterns that indicate the dynamics of the situation’. The patterns are subtle and may evade conscious awareness, which means recognising reality without knowing that we are recognising it or how is happening (Gigerenzer, 2008; Klein, 1998). Most of the processes that we frequently call intuition are processes of recognition (Simon, 1999). The capacity of recognition comes from experience, often what is recognised is the deviation from a pattern or expectation more than the recognition of a prototype as such. For recognition, experts use patterns of cues more than the recognition of a particular isolated cue (Klein, 1998).

There are different models of intuition based in so-called dual processing, which indicate a clear distinction between intuitive, automatic processes on one hand and deliberate, conscious processes on the other. Stanovich and West (2000) propose a system 1 and a system 2 dual-process theory, which was adopted by authors such as Kahneman (2003), who describes system 1 as being highly associative, fast, automatic and usually emotionally charged (i.e. intuition). It is implicit – meaning that it is not available to introspection – and governed by habit and therefore difficult to control or modify. The system 2 of reasoning is slow, costly in cognitive terms, likely to be conscious and controllable in most situations (Kahneman, 2003). For a detailed treatment of dual-process theory see Osman (2004).

Authors such as Glöckner and Witteman (2010) argue that intuition is not an even concept but rather a group of different cognitive mechanisms:

  1. intuitive association based on simple learning retrieval processes,
  2. matching intuition based on comparison with prototypes,
  3. accumulative intuition based on evidence accumulation,
  4. construction intuition based on the construction of mental representations.

A model of intuition

The figure below (adapted from Klein, 2003) can be taken as a model of intuitive decision making based in pattern-recognition. This model depicts four steps:

  1. A situation generates cues.
  2. Cues allow decision makers to recognise patterns.
  3. Patterns activate action scripts.
  4. Action scripts are implemented to affect the situation.


Two processes that are related to intuition are those of pattern matching and the activation of action scripts, which can occur in an instant and without conscious reasoning (Klein, 2003). The decision maker translates her experience into judgements and decisions based on a process of pattern-recognition and pattern-matching. Once the decision maker gains sense of the situation, she monitors for cues and recognises patterns, which activate routines for responding: the so-called action scripts. The pattern tells the decision maker what to do and the action script indicates how to do it. An action script is thus a kind of routine for making things happen but is a general course of action, not one that can be carried out algorithmically as a sequence of steps. In fact, it needs to be contextualised and adapted to the situation in order to be adopted, requiring expertise to be executed. In general, experts have a greater collection of actions scripts at their disposal (Klein, 2003).

See Glöckner and Witteman (2010) for a comprehensive overview of categorisation of processes underlying intuitive judgement and decision making


GIGERENZER, G. (2008) Decisiones instintivas, Barcelona: Ariel.

GLÖCKNER, A. & WITTEMAN, C. (2010) ‘Beyond dual-process models: A categorisation of processes underlying intuitive judgement and decision making’, Thinking & Reasoning, 16(1), 1-25.

KAHNEMAN, D. (2003) ‘A Perspective on Judgment and Choice: Mapping Bounded Rationality’, American Psychologist, 58(9), 697-720.

KAHNEMAN, D. & KLEIN, G. A. (2009) ‘Conditions for intuitive expertise: a failure to disagree’, The American psychologist, 64(6), 515-26.

KLEIN, G. (1998) Sources of Power, Cambridge: The MIT Press.

KLEIN, G. (2003) The power of intuition, New York: Currency Books.

OSMAN, M. (2004) ‘An evaluation of dual-process theories of reasoning’, Psychonomic Bulletin Review, 11(6), 988-1010.

SIMON, H. (1992) ‘What is an explanation of behavior?’, Psychological Science, 3(3), 150–161.

SIMON, H. (1999) ‘Problem Solving’, in: WILSON, R. & KEIL, F. (eds.), The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, 674-676, Cambridge: The MIT Press.

STANOVICH, K. E. & WEST, R. F. (2000) ‘Individual differences in reasoning: implications for the rationality debate?’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23(5), 645-665; discussion 665-726.

TODD, P. M. & GIGERENZER, G. (2000) ‘Précis of Simple heuristics that make us smart’, The Behavioral and brain sciences, 23(5), 727-741.

Contra la economía


Douglas Rushkoff en “Economics Is Not a Natural Science” escribe:

“If science can take on God, it should not fear the market. Both are, after all, creations of man.

We must stop perpetuating the fiction that existence itself is dictated by the immutable laws of economics. These so-called laws are, in actuality, the economic mechanisms of 13th Century monarchs. Some of us analyzing digital culture and its impact on business must reveal economics as the artificial construction it really is. Although it may be subjected to the scientific method and mathematical scrutiny, it is not a natural science; it is game theory, with a set of underlying assumptions that have little to do with anything resembling genetics, neurology, evolution, or natural systems.

The scientific tradition exposed the unpopular astronomical fact that the earth was not at the center of the universe. This stance challenged the social order, and its proponents were met with less than a welcoming reception. Today, science has a similar opportunity: to expose the fallacies underlying our economic model instead of producing short-term strategies for mitigating the effects of inventions and discoveries that threaten this inherited market hallucination.

The economic model has broken, for good. It’s time to stop pretending it describes our world.”

Coincido con Rushkoff. Las premisas básicas de la economía son meros dogmas, el corpus de la economía no es más que un conglomerado de elucubraciones formalistas cuya fundamentación lógica reside en un conjunto de postulados axiomáticos que poco tienen que ver con la realidad según esta es descrita por ciencias empíricas más rigurosas en la validación de sus premisas, como aquellas que cita Rushkoff en su texto, a las que yo añadiría la ciencia y la psicología cognitivas; al fin y al cabo han sido Kahnemann y Tversky algunos de los que repetidamente han desmontado los modelos que sirven de base a la economía neoclásica.

Coincido, letra por letra, con la frase que cierra el artículo. La economía tal y como la conocemos (en su vertiente neoclásica) debe cambiar: debemos revisar el dudoso estatus científico de la economía. El cuestionamiento de las premisas económicas básicas (como por ejemplo la racionalidad del mercado) y el señalamiento de la inexistente capacidad de la economía para formular predicciones cualitativas aplicables al mundo real y no sólo a los modelos computacionales artificiosos, van en esta línea. Tambien existen otra serie de imperativos eticos y ecológicos no mencionados por Rushkoff que hacen que la revision del status quo de la economia sea inexcusable, por ejemplo la necesidad de revisar de la idea de crecimiento, elocuentemente planteada por importantes autores como Herman Daly.

Acabamos de dejar el neolítico


“La revolución neolítica que tuvo lugar hace ocho mil años nos marcó hasta el siglo XX. Muchos de nosotros hemos estado en medio, hemos vivido la revolución y el declive industrial a la vez que socialmente empezábamos a palpar la revolución cientificotécnica; los hábitos y las costumbres que vivimos de niños eran pervivencias sociales y económicas del pasado neolítico.”

Eudald Carbonell
La conciencia que quema

Ciencia y cultura


¿Porque en España hay ministerios separados para la ciencia y la cultura?

¿Acaso la ciencia no es cultura?

Esta dicotomía se da también en otros países (Portugal), pero no en todos (Holanda). Algunos países no tienen ministerio de cultura (Argentina). Y otros no tienen ministerio de ciencia (Colombia).

Pero como en España la ciencia no es cultura, la tecnología tampoco es cultura y por tanto es tolerable que tengamos una ministra de cultura que se pregunta para qué sirve la banda ancha. Alguien debería explicarle que la banda ancha no sólo sirve para bajar pelis de Manolo Escobar, sino también sirve para ver videos en youtube.

¿Por qué algunos países como Holanda consiguen derribar la barrera entre las dos culturas y otros la mantienen?

Taleb, Kahneman y Mankiw.


En este impresionante panel integrado por Nassim Taleb y Daniel Kahneman, Taleb se preguntaba qué van a hacer las escuelas de negocio después de esta crisis. ¿En qué van a cambiar? ¿Van a revisar sus programas de estudio? ¿Van a admitir que muchas teorías económicas tienen la misma validez empírica que la astrología?

Hoy, pocos meses después del inicio de la debacle, las escuelas de negocio siguen con su business-as-usual (no pun intended).

Además de absurdos tales como Portfolio theory, las escuelas de negocio siguen machacando a sus estudiantes con la idea de los consumidores como agentes racionales, que maximizan la utilidad esperada, la versión 2.0 del valor esperado. Esto es lo que escuchan los estudiantes de licenciatura, los que hacen masters y doctorados sí que reciben otras teorías, pero los más jóvenes son protegidos de la dura realidad del comportamiento humano, una realidad que desmonta las teorías económicas, cuyas predicciones, son, según Taleb, menos fiables que las de los astrólogos.

Gregory Mankiw es el autor de dos textos ampliamente utilizados en escuelas de negocio sobre macro y microeconomía. En el resumen del capítulo 21 de Principles of microeconomics Mankiw dice:

The consumer’s indifference curves represent his preferences. An indifference curve shows the various bundles of goods that make the consumer equally happy. Points on higher indifference curves are preferred to points on lower indifference curves. The slope of an indifference curve at any point is the consumer’s marginal rate of substitution—the rate at which the consumer is willing to trade one good for the other.

The consumer optimizes by choosing the point on his budget constraint that lies on the highest indifference curve. At this point, the slope of the indifference curve (the marginal rate of substitution between the goods) equals the slope of the budget constraint (the relative price of the goods).

Los premios Nobel de economía Herbert Simon y Daniel Kahneman, ninguno de ellos economista, nos dicen que los seres humanos no nos planteamos los problemas de consumo en los términos planteados por los economistas: “¿como debo gastar mi dinero para maximizar mi utilidad?”. Tal vez tenemos la maximización como objetivo, es razonable tenerlo,  tal vez queremos ser totalmente racionales y tomar la mejor decisión, pero no nos comportamos de esta manera.

Simon nos dice que en general no maximizamos, sino que nos conformamos (satisficing), Kahneman nos habla de aversión al riesgo y utilización de heurísticos. Con su monumental Prospect theory propone una alternativa al modelo clásico de maximización de la utilidad esperada, una alternativa anclada en la realidad y no en los deseos.

El modelo de maximización nació y se extendió porque es lógico, y los seres humanos queremos ser lógicos. Se afianzó como modelo porque sería razonable y deseable que las cosas fueran como propone el modelo, pero no lo son. Prospect theory es un marco descriptivo que nos explica como las cosas son, no como deberían ser.

En diez días me toca ir al Saló de l’Ensenyament con Elisava. en cuanto tenga un  minuto libre me pasaré por los stands de las escuelas de negocio y les preguntaré: “En vista de los acontecimientos actuales, ¿cómo piensan ustedes revisar sus programas de estudio?”.

A ver qué dicen.



Como no tienen vejiga natatoria, si los tiburones dejan de nadar, se hunden.