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About emergent design

Complex things are made up of a lot of really simple things. With over 20 years of experience in information design and user experience I thought I understood this. Then I started teaching high school science. The multiple feedback loops of a classroom are far more nuanced than any amount of user testing on the Web. Teaching complex subjects to distracted students requires simple paths through the content, a stripping away of the extraneous, and opportunities to engage students in the process of constructing a framework for knowledge.

Emergent Design has its provenance in software development and education theory.
The Agile Development approach described in Scott Bain’s book Emergent Design: The Evolutionary Nature of Professional Software Development is work incrementally, fix as you go along, iterate constantly, and report what you’ve done to the group.

MIT researcher David Cavallo’s paper on “Emerging Design and learning environments” showed how latent skills often existed unrecognized within communities until opportunity allowed itself to be tinkered with. Given tools to work with, experimental tinkering quickly leaps ahead of traditional educational results.

Esther Dyson in a blog post “Release 0.9: Metaweb – Emergent Structure vs. Intelligent Design” cites Freebase as a potential tool for merging the malleability of text with the power of a database and stepping beyond the duality of structure and flow to create the Metaweb. The important thing is that this is a tool (one of several) that can be tinkered with…and maybe used to design solutions to problems.

Let us hope…and evolve.


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