I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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Here’s a little something I wrote ages ago
which I should have shared with you. Never too late:

Simple problems (problems which are already defined)
are easy to solve,
because defining a problem
inherently defines a solution.

The definition of a problem is subjective;
it comes from a point of view.
Thus, when defining problems,
all stake-holders, experts, and designers
are equally knowledgeable
(or unknowledgeable).

Some problems cannot be solved,
because stake-holders cannot agree on the definition.
These problems are called wicked,
but sometimes they can be tamed.

Solving simple problems may lead to improvement”
but not innovation.
For innovation, we need to re-frame wicked problems.

Because one person cannot possibly remember
or keep track of all the variables (of both existing and desired states)
in a wicked problem,
taming wicked problems requires many people.

These people have to talk to each other;
they have to deliberate; they have to argue.

To tame a wicked problem,
they have to agree on goals and actions for reaching them.
This requires knowledge about actions,
not just facts.

Science is concerned with factual knowledge (what-is);
design is concerned with instrumental knowledge
(how what-is relates to what-ought-to-be),
how actions can meet goals.

The process of argumentation is the key
and perhaps the only method of taming wicked problems.

This process is political.

Design is political.

Originally published as part of Why Horst W.J. Rittel Matters
by Chanpory Rith (that’s me!) and Hugh Dubberly,
in Design Issues: Volume 23, Number 1, Winter 2007


  • Daryl [WhiteHatBlackBox]

    gravatarApr 2, 2009
    11:11 am

    Indeed designing the definition of a “problem” is political. I deal with this by trying to state things that I would like to overcome as “challenges”. Don’t know if it makes a difference, but it’s what I do.

  • Kenneth Sena

    gravatarApr 7, 2009
    6:38 am

    all issues are political. be it a problem or a success story, everything is political. we all know this. designs are political because this is where people would see how a certain designer thinks. he would be judge through his work (www.kika.ca)

  • arshad

    gravatarApr 21, 2009
    4:28 am

    Designs are political—great article written by you and that i have read.First you must know the problem then think about it and finally you will got an answer for it.

  • gary

    gravatarMay 17, 2009
    12:56 am

    i once designed a map of india that sparked issues regarding boundaries among pakistan, china and india.. altough it was a small part by the kashmir area, everyone still had to look into the detailed boundary..

  • T Hunter

    gravatarJul 23, 2009
    11:04 pm

    That says it all about designers – “I designed a map”. Not: “I recorded faithfully what the established boundaries actually are”.

    Design isn’t just political: too often it’s about the designer’s ego… (and so many websites pay the price of being designer-led).

  • Prateeque

    gravatarSep 11, 2009
    8:50 pm

    In all matters that involve people, perception is key. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder and since politics are spectacles. Design is political.

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    gravatarOct 8, 2009
    7:52 pm

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