October 29, 2002
Amy Lee is a work colleague and very patient wife of Mike (look at him now...he's acquired a light on a headband so he can take Sidekick photos in low light! Now here's someone with a gadget fixation :). Earlier today, she sent me a paper on what's called "wicked" problems. The author notes (here) that a wicked problem is "one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem."
Intrigued, I started to read, and then I started wondering how this guy managed to be a fly on the wall in some of our meetings! He notes that a related issue is fragmentation, and that that occurs when "stakeholders in a project are all convinced that their version of the problem is correct." This has certainly been the case where I work, and perhaps is an interesting way to frame the Mars and Venus designer vs usability specialist "war". He also raises the issue of social complexity, which again is related to project stakeholders:
One factor that increases the wickedness of a problem is the number and diversity of stakeholders involved. A stakeholder, as the term implies, is someone who holds a stake in the outcome. Stakeholders are players in the social network around a project, and their input and participation is important to the projectís overall success. Stakeholders often have the power to stop, undermine or even sabotage a project if it threatens them or their designated organizational role.
While this document (which is only one chapter in a forthcoming book) is short on solutions, it is an interesting way of looking at the design process. Whether designers are working on a web site, or documentation for an online product, or forms to fill out one's taxes, this concept of "wicked" problems and the challenges of collaborative design in a technology environment would seem to be worth further attention (the currency of the information age :).
IDblog is Beth Mazur tilting at power law windmills. A little bit Internet, a little bit technology, a little bit society, and a lot about designing useful information products. Send your cards and letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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