Episode 109 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Hugh Dubberly. Hugh is the founder of Dubberly Design Office, an interaction design studio based in San Francisco. Besides being a leading practitioner, Hugh is also a design thinker and educator of uncommon depth and breadth. He’s my colleague at the California College of the Arts MDes program and I’m lucky to also consider him a mentor and a friend.

We met in his studio to talk about his essay Why we should stop describing design as “problem solving”. As suggested by its title, the essay argues that design isn’t (just) a problem-solving discipline. The challenges facing designers today are of a different order than those that faced designers during the industrial revolution. As Hugh put it,

There’s a sense that the nature of design practice has moved from a concern with artifacts — and especially the form of artifacts — to delivering products as services, to the services starting to take greater precedent over the product, the products becoming channels in a sense, to the place where value is really added as in software and in connecting a series of touchpoints.

Also, the nature of the challenges themselves has changed. Among other references, Hugh referenced Rittel and Churchman’s idea of wicked problems:

What Rittel means by a wicked problem is a problem for which, among other things, but principally, there is not agreement on the frame of the problem or the definition of the problem. And furthermore, there are various aspects of the situation which make it unlikely that the stakeholders are going to reach consensus anytime soon.

This suggests that a key part of design practice today entails finding — and perhaps redefining — the boundaries of ‘solution spaces,’ the frame around the situation that defines possible areas of exploration.

As always with Hugh, this was an enriching and enlightening conversation. I feel privileged to have been able to discuss these ideas with him and to be able to share them with you.

The Informed Life episode 109 - Hugh Dubberly on Design Models