Designing for Emergence and Innovation: Redesigning Design by Van Alstyne & Logan


This paper reveals the surprising and counterintuitive truth that design is not always at the forefront of innovation; it is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the success of products and services. The authors argue that design must harness emergence, for it is only through this bottom-up and massively iterative, unfolding process that new and improved products and services are successfully refined, introduced and diffused into the marketplace.

They articulate the similarities and differences of design and emergence, developing the hypotheses that an innovative design is an emergent design, and that a homeostatic relationship between design and emergence is a required condition for innovation. Examples of how design and emergence have interacted and led to innovation include the tool making of early man; the evolutionary chain of the six languages: speech, writing, mathematics, science, computing and the Internet; Gutenberg’s printing press, and the contemporary techniques of collaborative filtering that underlie the meteoric growth of today’s largest Web-based services, including Google and In closing they describe the relationship between artificial and natural systems, noting that a critical trait of every successful design and living organism is its telos or purpose.

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