Perpetual Prototyping

Complex systems are not static; they’re always changing in response to changing conditions inside and outside them. They are in a continuous state of becoming; a snapshot of a system at any moment in time will quickly be out of date as the system keeps evolving.

Consider the Wikipedia. During the time it takes for your web browser to download and display a Wikipedia article, many changes have occurred to the site. New articles have been added, existing articles have changed (including, perhaps, even the article you’re downloading!), new links created between existing articles, etc. The article you’re seeing is a small snapshot of an evolving system; if you were to download the entire the Wikipedia to your computer, your copy would be obsolete by the time it finished downloading.

Complex systems ask of designers that we give up notions of control over their final form. Instead, we must adopt an attitude of perpetual prototyping: an understanding that the system we’re designing will soon move on from its initial state to other states that we are ill-equipped to predict from the start.We must develop the ability to understand this evolving system clearly: its structural configuration, the forces acting upon it, the outcomes it produces, and more. Doing so is essential if we are to act skillfully upon its structure and behavior.