Design It Like an Organism

One of the clearest dis­tinc­tions between mech­an­isms and or­gan­isms was given about two hun­dred years ago by the Ger­man philo­sopher Im­manuel Kant. He de­scribed a mech­an­ism as a func­tional unity in which the parts ex­ist for one an­other in the per­form­ance of a par­tic­u­lar func­tion. The clock was the paradig­matic ma­chine in his time. Preex­ist­ing parts, de­signed to play spe­cific roles in the clock, are as­sembled to­gether into a func­tional unity whose dy­namic ac­tion serves to keep track of the pas­sage of time. An or­gan­ism, on the other hand, is a func­tional and a struc­tural unity in which the parts ex­ist for and by means of one an­other in the ex­pres­sion of a par­tic­u­lar nature. This means that the parts of an or­gan­ism – leaves, roots, flowers, limbs, eyes, heart, brain – are not made in­de­pend­ently and then as­sembled, as in a ma­chine, but arise as a res­ult of in­ter­ac­tions within the de­vel­op­ing or­gan­ism.

Brian Goodwin, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots – The Evolution of Complexity

Al­ways, have a pic­ture of the whole – product or sys­tem – while design­ing, de­cid­ing and build­ing. Un­der­stand, or at least have a the­ory of how each change or a new fea­ture is go­ing to af­fect the whole. There are a lot of tech­niques out there – design syn­thesis, design sprints, or pro­to­typ­ing – to visu­al­ize the whole. Bet­ter use them to not end up with a flaky mech­an­ism.

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