3. What is problem-setting? - Week 2, October 5

Updated: Oct 25, 2018


This week's lecture (and less explicitly, readings) endorsed the idea of problem-setting as a key part of the design process for properly defining and scoping a problem space before considering solutions.

During this week's lecture, much of Rosner's work was discussed. Specifically, "solutionism," the fourth dimension of her critique. While I don't think it's inherently wrong to try and find a solution to a problem, I agree the framing of that particular word is problematic. To me, it seems to imply that a situation is static. That a solution can be found, and is just hanging out, waiting.

Sometimes a solution works, but then it changes the context and creates a new problem. For example, when humans introduce an invasive species to a new ecosystem to resolve the overpopulation issue of another species only to reduce biodiversity (and often create new problems).

That's why Rosner's work (and the systems thinking thread) is important, because design shouldn't just consider the 'solution' but also how it will embed itself into that particular context and evolve over time.

This was further reinforced by Shon's claim that "a good designer is always reflecting on problem-setting" as opposed to problem-solving. Problem-setting asks what is the right thing to build, as opposed to problem solving which asks how do we build this? I agree with this perspective and it validates my and my group's efforts to contextualize the problem first, before attempting to even consider solutions. Since the possible solutions are entirely determined by the problem space (or canvas) you define when problem-setting. While this could be seen as a constraint, I feel it is a necessary one in order to design the right thing. There is no end to the number of "smart city" projects already in development, but understanding what would provide the most value is an entirely different undertaking.

I did a bit more research into problem-setting and found an article that reiterated Shon's arguments. This lecture and aspect of the readings makes me feel more confident that my group is taking an informed approach by spending time better understanding our context so that we can more clearly identify the problem we are trying to solve.