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Tales of the Unexpected: Understanding Emergence and Its Relationship to Design

Hall, NA and Evans, M (2005) Tales of the Unexpected: Understanding Emergence and Its Relationship to Design. In: International Conference of Computational and Cognitive Models of Creative Design VI.

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Abstract

Today’s techno driven society makes use of complexsystems which are made up of multiple components or entities. Thesesystems, and their interaction with the world around them, often givesrise to unpredictable, unexpected and unprecedented properties. Theseproperties cannot be attributed to a single entity within the system, butthe collective interaction of the system as a whole. This phenomena istermed emergence, and the resulting attributes emergent properties.This paper looks at how user adoption and design envisioningcontribute to the recognition, interpretation and utilisation of emergentproperties within the design life cycle. This life cycle encompasses notonly the actual design activity but extends into consideration of useradoption and consumption. The stages in this design (and emergence)life cycle can be identified as: pre-design emergence; design activity;post-design emergence. The value to the designer of an enhancedunderstanding of emergence and emergent properties is considered,and the way in which designers engage with emergent propertiesdiscussed. Models of these engagements are presented.Designer’s ability to understand and utilise emergentproperties in their creative endeavours provides an enhancedopportunity to develop solutions that are more responsive to userrequirements and acknowledge subsequent modes of user adoption.The exploration of the ‘mindset’ of the user through the use of futurescenarios is developed and a consideration of the value of EpisodicFuture Thinking (Atance and O'Neill 2001) to design and emergencediscussed. An awareness of the implications of emergence mayprovide opportunities for designers to develop intuitive and simplifiedmethods of utilising complex systems and technologies. The paperuses a case study, of the ubiquitous mobile phone, to illustrate the roleof emergent properties to design activity, user behaviour, and user adoption patterns.

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