Bad Design
things, processes and systems
The only reasonable question after Ike is if this piece of the earth - and all others like it - will be cleaned up and allowed to return to their natural state so that calamities like this can be avoided in the future.
Am I sensitive to the loses which people have taken? yes. Do I think they should be helped to rebuild their lives? yes. Do I think that the “we will build it back only stronger” design strategy makes sense? No. This is, in fact, insane.
The focus of this paper is bad design, certainly an inexhaustible subject. I will critique bad design as it is applied to things, processes and systems. The Masthead of this piece shows a small portion of the consequence of Hurricane Ike which hit in 2008. We have had, over the last 500 years, numerous lessons to learn why locations such as this are not a good place to build. This example of bad design is relevant because we can see failures of design on the levels of built artifacts - things - our decision, organizational and governance practices processes - and our failure to understand complexity, Nature and the interaction of millions of ideas, physical components, individual and social actions, and natural forces over time - systems. Recent history makes it is good bet that the same patterns will be repeated, even if not on this site, over and over elsewhere.
When you see bad design repeated over and over on a scale such as shown above, you know that there are memes, myths and paradigms in place which remain unchallenged. You can also follow the money. Results like these are not merely the consequence of incompetence. There is plenty of this, of course, yet this is not the major factor. There is one house left standing in this picture. Clearly, the designers and builder of this structure were more competent than the others. This competency was misplaced to say the least and most likely would not have withstood a category 3 or 4 storm at any rate. Building in this location is simply a bad idea. When so many reasonably normal people can persist in error of this scale for so long, and are very likely to repeat it, by building there again, you have to look elsewhere for “causes.” Ignorance of what a barrier island is, what it does and what happens when it is rendered impotent; the arrogant belief that our “technology” can overcome and dominate any circumstance; Short social memory; the “I want it” no matter what mentality; I can “afford it” (usually a cash/credit short term judgment); the ability to push responsibility off to a social system; a parts focused decision process which ignores context and systemic consequences; the misapplied skill of someone who can employ these factors to “create” a “community” (after a few short years) and turn a buck; the belief that the event was a 500 year something and therefore will not be due again in my lifetime; and when done again, blatantly inadequate design strategies, poor engineering, shoddy construction and virtually non existent infrastructure compared to the design challenge. In a child this kind behavior is called “infantile.” By an adult, in another circumstance, it is called mental incompetence. In our world today it is called “development” and business. When disaster hits, it is called “bad luck” and those left holding the bag “victims.”
I call it just plain bad design.
That something like this can happen again and again, and is all over the globe at larger and large scales, makes me wonder about our ability as a species to survive. This a repeating pattern - a human species-scale habit. This is a disaster generating system fueled by human genius and the power of our organized social system we call a political economy. Competency, genus, enterprise, hard work, wealth creation, social cooperation on one scale creating breakdown on another.
What is the outcome of this game?
What is the scale, rate of growth and the vector of this behavior?
What are the many forms this pattern takes?
What is the likely consequence to the Human Enterprise?
What actions are necessary to bring adequate change to this “system?”
What is the legitimate role and responsibilities of the designer, business, government, community, the end user?
In the context of the world we will build over the next generation, what is good design?
Return to INDEX
Rebirth at Ground Zero
Katrina - the RDS Response
Matt Taylor
September 30, 2008


SolutionBox voice of this document:


click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox

posted: September 30, 2008

revised: June 21, 2009
• *
• •

(note: this document is about 4% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2008, 2009