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2015 | Volume III, Issue 4 | Pages 2.1-2.


Design Without Final Goals: Getting Around Our Bounded Rationality
Jude Chua Soo Meng,
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

ABSTRACT with that, the need to search for what we cannot
Herbert Simon’s theory of design welcomes those too easily know – an idea for which he acknowledg-
unintended consequences of one’s original design es a depth to James March. Indeed, March’s own
intention, with a view to integrating them as new writings instantiate the same insight that we need
final goals of one’s design. Seen this way, design to find strategic ways of exploring and searching
and design education has the powerful potential for ideas that we are often blind to because of our
to broaden human preferences and discover new cognitive limitations. Yet Simon’s attentiveness
cultures, like a kind of liberal education. The basis to bounded rationality and the need for searching
of such an account of design is in the recognition discovery is equally, if not more, indebted to Ludwig
of our bounded rationality and with that, the need von Mises and F. A. Hayek.
to search for what we cannot too easily know – an
idea for which he acknowledges a depth to James This paper traces the likely source of Simon and
March. Indeed, March’s own writings instantiate March’s ideas to Hayek. Hayek was critical of
the same insight that we need to find strategic Cartesian constructivism and argued for the need to
ways of exploring and searching for ideas that appreciate and favor undesigned institutions such
we are often blind to because of our cognitive as the free market (see Hayek, 1994). This line of
limitations. Yet Simon’s attentiveness to bounded thought in Hayek parallels many aspects of Simon’s
rationality and the need for searching discovery is theory of design without final goals. Like Simon and
equally, if not more, indebted to Ludwig von Mises March, Hayek was painfully cognizant of the fact
and F. A. Hayek. Hayek’s ideas critical of Cartesian that as human beings we are not as smart as we
constructivism and the need to appreciate institu- think we are, and that we had to design strategies
tions such as the free market, which are the result for getting around our bounded rationality.
of human action rather than design, parallel many
aspects of Simon’s theory of design without final
goals. All three thinkers, Simon, March and Hayek, HERBERT SIMON: DESIGNING WITHOUT FINAL
were painfully cognizant of the fact that human GOALS
beings are not as smart as they think they are, and For Herbert Simon, “everyone designs who devis-
that we have to design strategies for outsmarting es courses of action aimed at changing existing
ourselves. situations into preferred ones” (Simon, 1969, p. 30).
Although Herbert Simon’s definition of design as the
Keywords: artificial transformation of things or events to arrive
at a preferred state of affairs (or some close variant
of that) is often used as a point of departure for an
INTRODUCTION account of design, there is no general agreement on
Herbert Simon’s theory of design welcomes those the soundness of Simon’s theory of design. His The
unintended consequences of one’s original design Sciences of the Artificial (1996), which unpacks an
intention, with a view to integrating them as new account of a science of design, has been criticized
final goals of one’s design (Simon, 1996, pp. 162-163). as a scientistic mischaracterization of what design
Seen this way, design and design education has the really is. For instance, Nigel Cross (2001) worries
powerful potential to broaden human preferences that Simon’s account of design as a kind of problem
and thinking like a kind of liberal education (Simon, solving guided by instrumentalist technical rationali-
1996). The basis of such an account of design is in ty distorts what designers actually do, and how they
the recognition of our rationality’s limitations and think. Cross argues that design may actually be a 


when a designer moves the design matter that there are some welcome effects. new goals are previously unforeseen. and knowing could have some affinity with what Donald therefore what needs to be done to correct it. Even goals. Like them. to offer new interpretations of what the goals are where the goals are very clear or where there is (Chua. however. the “problem”. If that goal is peting. In pitting wicked problems 162). and by adopting that stance to welcome new. But solution in a different direction upon discovering a Simon’s point is that we should not be too quick to new final goal. p. for instance. against tame problems and highlighting the fact that one might not fully foresee all the consequences designers typically deal with the former. Simon’s so-called instrumentalist theory of design takes on a very different shape. I would even venture goals. now comes much design plan. the designer might not think closer to Rittel and Weber’s insistence on the much of these consequences. the working out the means to realise (a) given goal(s) task of searching for new goals through the prac- implicit in a problem as defined. Instead.1-2. As far as the designer is concerned. and therefore stakeholders can come to an agreed definition of the “problem” Critics of Simon’s instrumentalist theory of design (as well as the general solution). Instead of slavishly It is also useful to understand that for Simon. Issue 4 | Pages 2. given the high number of goals that theoretically. doing something to effect consequences is ent problematization of the phenomenon inevitably useful because it helps the consequences emerge Artifact | 2015 | Volume III. and it does not suggests that.72. 1996. should be also surface. Others will be attractive. 6). Instead. 1996. to think hard about what the problem is and there- which are absent in the earlier editions (see Chua fore work with competing assessments of what 2009).unique kind of thinking. The third and final instrumentalist manner towards that agreed goal. each definition of the problem implicitly puts out a which generates different interpretations of what (design) “solution” different from the solution asso- the design problem is. homo economicus (see Simon. 1997) – one should cause there are so many competing ways to define not pin too much hope on the human mind grasping. one has very interesting accounts of what designing can be. Rittel and that will follow from one’s design plan. is much more complex. the designer does not ciated with another definition of the problem. mind cannot grasp all the available consequences Rittel and Webber (1973) argued that in the design of of one’s actions given rationality’s boundaries – a social policy. and unintended consequences as new goals in the with a spirit of pluralism he welcomes them simply design process. As these Weber were resisting the impression that designers unintended and unforeseen consequences unfold simply thought in an instrumentalist way (see Coyne. which is a departure from his earlier instru- if attractive. Simon’s suggestion ating whether the new design is “better or worse” is for designers to consider adopting these welcome than the original plan (Simon. theme which he developed in his economic and lems. edition. which Cross calls a “de. one would likely be reasoning in a of the Artificial (Chua. because when the stylistic becomes a powerful tool for discovering new goals design without final goals proceeds. Simon’s account of design without final will be unwelcome. This is merely slavishly work out the best means to achieve very different from what under controlled conditions a given goal. presupposes a value judgment about what is amiss signerly way of knowing”. Such a designerly way of or what valuable goals need to be achieved. The general idea is this: When one designs. and to relax our fixation on the as different.2 . seems to me to capture some Whereas in the case of wicked problems. even if attractive. Since every differ. to say that Simon’s design theory makes problems emergent and originally unintended goals. p. By designing without a fixation on final by style (Simon. the aim is to Simon would also agree that design negotiates com- achieve the pre-determined goal. This is very significant. p. one deals typically with wicked prob. 2009). are “tame problems”. 130). When dealing with typically rely on the earlier editions of the Sciences tame problems. so Schön (1983) describes as “reflective practice”. rather designing includes being able or in science. Indeed. Wicked problems are problems that are often psychological works when attacking the optimizing intractable and difficult to problematize in part be. Simon in that 3rd edition speaks of what he the goal(s) are when designing a fitting solution: it calls “design without final goals” (Simon. Because the human on the search for new goals. 1996). following one’s design. discovered and new (competing) conceptions of what the problem is and what the design solution With this analysis of design without final goals. design now focuses tice of designing is very fitting. different stakeholders can have. 2009). all these potentially desirable goals. 1975. design (even more) wicked. and considers that design is often ruled original goal. consensus on the goals. incommensurably different goals. some of these consequences 2005. these are of course not part of one’s mentalist account of design. complexity and fluidity of design work. Typically. he not achieved. the design has failed. we should not be focused on evalu- thumb down the “failed” design. That is.

Thus he commends to us Don what are discovered by design are not merely the Quixote. Indeed. p. and what do builds on Simon’s recognition of our rationality’s he needed to have to benefit others most optimally. precisely because planners did not have the intelligence or rationality design helps us discover what new goals man can that could enable them allocate resources for a desire and pursue. with a footnote under the section not need. Simon (1996) focus on Hayek’s influence on Simon. Note: this means that Weil. indebted to Ludwig von Mises and F. Issue 4 | Pages 2. March & hindsight. goods and services. 85-86). And the nitive limitations. and suggests that we need good or service. which Artifact | 2015 | Volume III. 227). What itly acknowledges a debt to James March (Simon. n. AND HAYEK: CONNECTIONS admission he was to draw more on Hayek’s ideas Seen this way. Indeed. Some of these consequences searchingly Elsewhere. Hayek was keen to insist that pretations of what it means to be human (ibid. As our human ignorance meant that no central planner mentioned earlier. 2005. we may discover ourselves liking. the exchange prices give us a sense of how idea that we ought to set aside conventional ways much of these goods and services are needed. or the more profitable. previously did not consider or like. on “Designing without final goals”.that we cannot. argued that central educated person. in logic of consequences (see March. want to pursue. March’s notion that there we should prices. conception of who he is. which means that entrepreneurs a “catechism of heresy” to challenge entrenched and producers should seek to produce more of these orthodoxies (March. design also allows us to discover the “identities” we had not previously foreseen ourselves becoming. boundedness and with that. he suggested instead was for the central planner to 1996. the need to search for Thus any central planning allocation of goods and what we cannot too easily know.1-2. 162.). whose manner of thinking is ruled by a logic new goals. Yet Simon’s attentiveness to bounded rationality and This happens when we realize we can also begin the need for searching discovery is equally. following but clarifying and devel- include in a curriculum for nurturing the liberally oping Mises’ basic insights.). rather than by the most optimal course consequences that may be welcome. The market prices of goods and services are like a kind of signaling system. may be an opportunity for exposing the agent to quences that play out because of our own design ideas he had not previously been sympathetic to. services was bound to be very inefficient. Thus he recommends that we the more likely therefore is there a demand for that “leap before we think”. A. Should these of action based on a projection of consequences consequences later become desirable to us. By his own SIMON. risky exploratory acts. 263) given that this designing. The of optimizing. design has the powerful potential to than those of Mises’s. MARCH. Hayek. 11). simply because central conceptions of what “man” is. 1958. the basis of such an intellectually had the ability to know how best to give to each exciting account of what design is and what it can person what he needed to benefit himself. complex community. 1994. when so discov. 1994) own refrain from such planning allocation and let produc- writings instantiate the same insight that we need ers abduce or make educated guesses about what to find strategic ways of exploring and searching for people around them needed while they signaled ideas that we are often blind to because of our cog. p. 34. and what is appropriate to design not only reveals unintended or unforeseen that identity. When goods and services are bought and employ “technologies of foolishness” expresses the sold. pp. but new goals that. p. There are many examples of these. he recommends welcoming “transitional And one of those things one can do is to design. Design also helps us discover new planning was bound to fail. p. The result would be poverty on a large scale. and therefore exposes new inter. March’s (1978. Again. Simon explic. if not to desire these consequences our old “selves” more. explicitly considers design something we should Hayek (1988).3 . One’s newfound We know that Simon was familiar with Mises’s and capacity for desiring these things and one’s new set Hayek’s ideas because he refers to them when of preferences shows that one has become a new discussing rationality’s limitations (Simon 1996. in order to discover logics that are different from the and can be welcomed as goals that we now. consequentialist rationality in favor of higher the transacted price. he recommends reading great literature emerged by design can be grasped as attractive. and who is motivated by his ered. 1999. then (ibid. By hypocrisy” (March. to others what they themselves needed. leading to persons having in wasteful excess what they did At the same time. 172).72. Simon was familiar with Hayek’s criticism of socialist central planning and interventionist monetary policies. way to signal this was by way of their transacted I list a few. p. foresee. plans. March & Simon. and others deprived of what they needed. In any event. kind of “self”. In this short piece I also broaden human preferences. we could discover unexpected conse. as armchair philosophers. of appropriateness. 1995. In short.

theories forward. So there concerns what Hayek says about the emergence of is the golden thread of the recognition of bounded the free market system and its ability to coordinate rationality that unifies the theories of Simon. Simon’s early work was of the free market mechanism that has many morally influenced by logical positivism. upset the ethical status quo. Hayek’s political economy critical of central free market. unintended effects that they had not intentionally mand in the marketplace (and hence what is need. Firstly. sensus that some things are universally disliked and Hayek observed that sometimes human actions led others are universally like-able. Simon’s suggestion that designers should welcome Artifact | 2015 | Volume III. Simon himself constantly spoke of the different aims and goals now become useful to each ends of our designs as our preferences. They are in the way Simon. This is because persons of passions. throughout tion and consumption of goods and services leads his life he consistently affirmed that reason cannot to the eradication of mass poverty. powerful ability to upstage current mores. designed towards in order to integrate them as new ed). and what would not be in demand (and hence final goals in a new design iteration. we only have our desires to lead planning. This idea derives from David market not an “economy” so much as a “catallaxy”. If the Let us take stock. March the needs and wants of billions of people. Indeed of making your enemies your friends”. knew they had contradictory ends they would nat. In other words.informs all those watching it what would be in de. p. But between them there remain im- be noted that most businessmen in the market. producing welcome consequences moral relativism. 1988). which he later welcome benefits. but really to help diverge and steer each of their design theories. the more pertinent idea for our chapter planning in favor of spontaneous orders. In fact Simon’s design theory wel- that we had not intentionally “designed”. the coordinated produc. portant differences as each of them pressed their place are not driven by any kind of moral altruism. in principle Simon’s to desirable systems and institutions. Hume who argued that our ends are merely our a word he coined but with etymological origins in a desires. human actions would lead to consequences that the Although in practice there can be a general con- agents had not originally intended.68). which could tell us what are the final ends we ought to seek very likely have resulted from inefficient central when we design.7). the result account of “design without final goals” and his at- would be that businesses could not have the right tentiveness to bounded rationality. Yet their very hu- man actions (driven by profit) led to the emergence Let us start with Simon. Hayek would later speak of “design. with a view to intro- ket. p.4 . Hayek (1976. This suggestion information to discern how best to coordinate their to designers to searchingly welcome unintended production plans with consumer needs and wants consequences as new design final goals has genetic (Hayek. March and Hayek’s moral theories typically there not to help others. what is not needed). recanted (Simon. For this reason Hayek was critical of state intervention to regulate the prices of goods and services. when design expands our preferences. More generally. moral or cultural paradigms these beneficial systems which had evolved without when it enables us to experience and assimilate any human design. and to ing” for these undesigned systems like the free mar. He meant by Hume is famously remembered as the person who this that the free market had the ingenious ability to said that reason is (and ought to be) the slave of our make friends of enemies. These are comes the broadening – and hence alteration – of spontaneous orders that evolved without any inten. such as the design theory is amorally emotivist and inclined to free market. their helps us discover what else there is that we can like.1-2. 1983. A. 1997. whereas if two person nothing to say about our ends. this means it urally have become enemies. parallels in James March’s exploratory decision theory through technologies of foolishness as well Whatever one thinks about the moral merits of the as F. and that all that reason could do was to similar Greek word katallattein that meant “the art work out the means to achieve these desires. MARCH AND HAYEK: DIFFERENCES this signaling system called the free market. We have been unpacking Simon’s free market price signals were distorted. These differences are to be found but rather are driven by the profit motive. themselves to a piece of the pie. Issue 4 | Pages 2. Ultimately therefore. because this interfered with SIMON. However.115) calls the free us (Simon.72. and this means that it has the tional designer. p. This point is exactly mirrored by new desires. Secondly. our set of preferences. and the use other in buying and selling when their exchange of the word “preference” rather than “reasons” is gives what is useful to the other person whose indicative of Simon’s Humean belief that reason has purposes they do not know. It should and Hayek. meaning that one plans to favor and not disrupt ducing new normative.

Thus he often worried about with a sense of duty. but also our Like Simon and March. igree. Simon tors should aim to cultivate in our students. than what is merely useful for something else. 407-408). If there is such presumptuous produce. then Hayek felt there ought to be put in place same name. Thus in On Leadership (March & Weil. March would still engineering or design of systems and behaviors that have us seek an alternative to consequentialism. pp. and not merely new preferences possible futures made available by different courses and ends. Thus rather than leave us to think to bounded rationality also led him to affirm the with a “logic of consequences”.5 . even for a while Simon sought to promote the search for new business school. he argued. which consequentialist thinking typically narrows In its place he suggests that we ought rather to the kinds of subjective utilities or what are the think about what “education” is all about (March. were under the employment of the state. Rather it was a grudging concession given edge is beautiful in itself and that is what educa- the inability to optimize. For Hayek (1988. design-planning. which he thinks is the love of the much because Simon was keen to introduce a new aesthetics of knowledge. required the agent failure to acknowledge our own ignorance and our to think of his or her duties appropriate to his or her rationality’s boundedness leads us to presume that identity and sense of “self”. but is something to be admired in Supposing we could indeed optimize through conse. he points out. was important cultur- the moral agent to his duties. pp.Like Simon. Although Simon did propose that aims of education as prescribed by the “essence” of agents satisfice rather than optimize. Kant referred to these ally because he could in complete freedom sponsor Artifact | 2015 | Volume III. And for this very 2008. and then choosing the one that brings us that March is not merely seeking to broaden our into that best future. rather would say we should do that. as mentioned earlier. He insinuates that education. Whereas thing similar to. 2014). In fact I would even go so far as to say of actions. He thinks of himself as a knight. concerned the same time Simon was unhappy with the way in only with the production of desired consequences. and draws from his sense how coercion by the state could narrow our minds of who he is. he worries about the obsession with relevance. and and enslave them to a consequentialist manner of his primary motivation is to reproduce the kinds of thinking directed to the purposes of some other action that are appropriate for someone who is a person. For this reason he lamented when many knight (March & Weil. Simon himself the “logic of consequence”. operates sources of disruption. education. pp. should not so much be to deliver goals. Consequentialism is a manner of thinking March 1994). rather than satisfice. which the agent cultures and ethical paradigms different to the ought to fulfill regardless of the consequences. through the design of the business school curricu- ing when he argued that human rationality could lum. accord with the logic of appropriateness. one and applying the logic of appropriateness when can broaden the kinds of preferences one would he inquires after what is appropriate to the task of regard as a subjective utility one can aim for. Thus when thinking was critical of consequentialist ways of deliberat. whether this means the one styles of thinking – in some places he seems to think in which we have the most of what we desire. this is not so what education is. Still. merely to be used. March was not merely interested in broadening our set of preferred desires. but not identical with Immanuel the wealthy man of independent means owning Kant’s deontological moral philosophy. 85-86). Hayek’s attentiveness styles of thinking. such as Søren Kierkegaard and Plato (see tialism.1-2. March is also keen to introduce new duties as Categorical Imperatives. introduce and highlight what he called the “logic of although much of these ideas are entangled with appropriateness” (March & Weil. with of consequences that his or her actions would dire consequences. itself. current and dominant ethical paradigm. not clearly see into the futures of our actions. 2005. March’s response to which seeks to produce the best consequence. Knowledge gained in education is not something This is where March is different from Simon. the This latter. In any event. March sought to importance of broadening preferences and logics. One could say in short that March favors the quentialist styles of deliberation. his own political theory. he commends to his readers the spirit of Don narrowed set of goals that works best for account- Quixote de la Mancha in the Spanish novel of the ing. Don Quixote. ends or goals. which points private property. He suggests that knowl- logic. 85-86). when one designs without final goals. but should aim to engender the ways of thinking. 2005. If we could optimize. Here we see him re-introducing reason. At unpacked in terms of a “usefulness”. This is some. he did not quite speak of the search for new the relevantly useful. or that the “logic of appropriateness” is favorable to the least of what we do not desire.72. preferences that the agent desires. and human bounded rationality was to search for new one typically does this by projecting the kinds of logics altogether. Issue 4 | Pages 2. which inevitably plans towards a 2005). March’s March also cites other thinkers to assert his ped- typical target amongst other ideas is consequen. rather than the kinds we can centrally plan – design – our society.

such as the free market and the tradi. Still. in press). Aristotle. By that he meant get around or expand our limited intelligence.and support new thinkers and ideas that emerge. paradoxically but very consistently he their humble admission that we are plagued by hu- lamented that the beneficial moral beliefs of the man ignorance and that our rationality is bounded.72. wanton differ in various ways.6 . and design should take these political realm. We are not as smart as we wished we are. More generally. to paraphrase March. the wealthy land owner of independent means was since these undesigned institutions were the prod- a source of desirable “heresy”. It ciety from scratch as central planners with bounded was not our intelligence that designed these. and ant for Hayek that human beings could enjoy the he would probably suggest we avoid characterizing freedom to discover new ideas and in this respect. Chua 2011. Hayek’s point is close to voluntarist accounts of the will. arbitrary autonomy indifferent to the demands of ing through calculative planning towards these in a moral rules and absolutes (see Chua. propose an alternative such as a “logic of appropri. rather rationality only to make a mess of things. ends as much as it can help us discern the means to lative. consequentialist planning in the ethical and achieve these ends. their coming to be was a result of our actions and their unintended consequences. Hayek was attentive to the need to resist signed. pp. March welcomes strategies to his Meditations on First Philosophy. I myself think but rather to appreciate and favor them. 2014). human reasoning this kind of presumptuous planning also led him to I would argue prescribes choice-worthy values as repudiate “utilitarianism”. and he did that stimulate foolishness – if anything to design/engi- first by doubting everything that could be doubted. with our own intelligence. in order to break through the barriers imposed posed into social and political theory. fallacious spirit of Cartesian constructivism because and Hayek highlighted their importance in the as boundedly rational beings. rather than to seek to design so- without intentional human design (Hayek. even though he did not himself believe these is not lost: our very own recognition of our bounded religions to be true (Hayek. we cannot. if we are to achieve the good consequences endorsement of Don Quixote concedes too much to we desire. need to appreciate spontaneous orders that arise tional rules of morality. also welcomed the liberally educated person when commending the practice of design without final goals. spontaneous orders that evolved without powers that narrowed thinking and the importance human design. we will remember. March’s work on the engineering/ ateness” because Hayek was interested in promot. To conclude. And in anything Hayek consistently repudiated what he all three thinkers we see them suggesting ways to called “Cartesian constructivism”. Issue 4 | Pages 2. in erything they say. sought to build from come the fixation on goals currently available to our scratch a complete epistemology and ontology in bounded rationality. which welcomes unintended and desirable CONCLUSION: OUTSMARTING OURSELVES effects. 136 -137). tions or designs. But all ously. If rationality is a key to outsmarting ourselves. monotheistic religions were no longer taken seri. which is a form of calcu. and his that. unlike March he did not ends into account (see Finnis 1980. they all have this in common: revolution. these as products of design without final goals since Hayek was a liberal. Also.1-2. we have something to learn from all three thinkers about design. evolved over many years to not through human design and to favor them in our become the kinds of beneficial systems that they are own social designs. His fear of Simon’s axiology quite mistaken. this was a very bad idea when trans. 194-195). Here one recalls how Simon that could invite confusion. 1988. Hayek would probably remind ogy of foolishness. the mistaken attitude that thinks ourselves able to build from scratch. it was import. then ironically we should not be design. One could almost say that this was of encouraging sources of new ways of thinking. Given my own sympathies for that sense our intelligence is a product of these sys. Rene be open to new goals that emerge helps us over- Descartes. Hayek’s Artifact | 2015 | Volume III. pp. In other should design to protect and preserve the unde- words. neer opportunities to encounter the new and differ- For Hayek. that which were the result of design without final goals. Instead we strongest terms (Hayek. This does not mean we should agree with ev- sight that we can understand and admire them. all the Simon’s suggestion that in design practice we can moral and cultural systems which benefit us. Chua. and a system with ucts of the unintended consequences of other inten- strong private property rights embodied a technol. I believe. Our task is not to whimsically tear these apart natural law theory (Finnis. However. Although they Still Hayek did not promote irresponsible. us that such institutions were not “designed”. 2011. It is only in hind. design of “selves” sometimes risks coming too ing good consequences primarily. a historically informed endorsement of institutions One could almost say. ent. Hayek alerts us to the systems. 2014). Many complex by rationality’s boundaries. Thomas Aquinas and John Finnis’ new tems. 1980).

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