Q: We’re talking about the expanding uses of design. What areas of design do you focus on in your work?

A: I’m interested in what I call that “the third order of design”.
The first order of design is communication with symbols and images. The second order of design is design of artefacts as in engineering, architecture, and mass production. In the middle of the 20th century we realised that we can also design activities and processes. We work progressively more with these activities and services. That’s the third order of design. In the beginning we called it Human Computer Interaction. Now we work with any kind of interaction – it’s about how people relate to other people. We can design those relationships or the things that support them. It’s this interaction I’m after.

Q: And there’s a fourth order as well?

A: Indeed there is. To me the fourth order of design is the design of the environments and systems within which all the other orders of design exist. Understanding how these systems work, what core ideas hold them together, what ideas and values – that’s a fourth order problem. Both the third and the fourth order are emerging now very strongly.

Some designers have the ability to deal with these very complex questions that lie at the core of our social life. Not every designer, but some have the ability to grasp the ideas and the values at the core of very complicated systems. Those are fourth order designers.

Richard Buchanan being interviewed about his four orders of design

His orders are a great framework for thinking about design. It helps explain why design gets the attention it is getting right now.

You wake up at 7am on a wonderful morning in early 2000. Dreamy as you are, you grab your phone to check the news and your email. Well, the news is that no one has texted you while you were sleeping and that your phone doesn’t connect to the internet. Because, well, you don’t have a smartphone. Just like everyone else doesn’t. Actually, a bestselling mobile phone launched in 2000 looked like this. You could still play a round of Snake, though.

After a refreshing shower — pretty much like you remember it from 2013 — you make yourself comfortable at the breakfast table. You’re an early adopter, so you have your laptop right there with you to check the news. While you wait for the computer to start up, you have time to brew some coffee.

Time to check Twitter for the latest…ah well, no Twitter yet. So let’s see what your friends are up to over on Face…doesn’t exist either. Not even MySpace. Heck, not even Friendster.

David Bauer in 2000, the Year Formerly Known as the Future

2000 is only 13 years ago. So many small things changed in our daily rituals and how we keep in touch with people and the world around us.

Designers have developed a number of techniques to avoid being captured by too facile a solution. They take the original problem as a suggestion, not as a final statement, then think broadly about what the real issues underlying this problem statement might really be (for example by using the “Five Whys” approach to get at root causes). Most important of all, is that the process is iterative and expansive. Designers resist the temptation to jump immediately to a solution to the stated problem. Instead, they first spend time determining what the basic, fundamental (root) issue is that needs to be addressed. They don’t try to search for a solution until they have determined the real problem, and even then, instead of solving that problem, they stop to consider a wide range of potential solutions. Only then will they finally converge upon their proposal. This process is called “Design Thinking.”

Don Norman rethinks his position about “Design Thinking”. Het wrote the book “The Design of Everyday Things” when I was 7. A book I read in my early twenties and really influenced how I looked at objects and interaction 

I think designers have a complementary set of skills that really helps in solving challenges. Especially in a time where we need more disrupting innovation instead of incremental. 

Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog.

But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity — the kind that, literally and metaphorically, can put a man on the moon. You’ve all heard the story before: Without a clear path to success when we started, we accomplished in less than a decade a dream several generations in the making. We chose to go to the moon, John F. Kennedy said, not because it was easy … but because it was hard. Suddenly everyone from schoolchildren to the largest institutions were rallying behind the mission. Kennedy understood that the size of the challenge actually motivates people: that bigger challenges create passion.

And that, counter-intuitively, makes the hardest things much easier to accomplish than you might think.

As Captain of Moonshots, Astro Teller oversees Google[x], Google’s “factory” for building moonshot ideas that can be brought to reality through science and technology — including Google Glass and self-driving cars.SolveforX.com is a Google-supported forum for the world to share, collaborate, and celebrate moonshot thinking.

Astro Teller in Wired on “Moonshot Thinking”