The social and political changes in modern society lead inevitably to changes in design patterns and new paradigm. Technological innovation, rapid population growth, and expanding markets were central to increasing the complexity and speed of the process of production and distribution. Mass distribution preceded mass production. The coordination of the traffic flow and the safety of passengers required elaborate administrative procedures and organizational innovation. The revolution in mass production came more slowly, as it required new technologies and processes. Thus, while mass distribution was largely based on organizational innovation and improvements, breakthroughs in mass production relied on the development and utilization of more efficient machinery and higher quality raw materials along with the intensified application of energy.
The changes took place in attitudes and understanding of design. There was a shift from a simple “doing” to “thinking” paradigm. The adoption of continuous process machines that turned out products automatically greatly increased output per worker. In the early 1920s, these new processes became widespread in the tobacco and the refining and distilling industries. The metalworking industries faced a bigger challenge. They relied on a greater variety of raw materials and needed to coordinate multiple subunits for the production of castings and moldings and the assembly of complex products such as stoves, firearms, sewing machines, and typewriters. The initial focus was largely on refining the technology. But the prolonged depression of the 1930s meant a continuing drop in demand and an increase in unused capacity. As a result interest shifted to organizational innovation to improve efficiency and productivity. Based on these notions, the design principles of design rotation, design enlargement, and design enrichment emerged. Designers focused on design enrichment since, as he pointed out, zero plus zero still equals zero, as in the case of simply rotating different monotonous and unsatisfying designs, for example. Designers emphasized that designs had to be enriched to include planning, preparation, and control tasks in addition to mere execution functions. Conceptually, this indicated a radical departure from design principles of strict separation of planning/control and executing functions. According to the proponents of design enrichment, work motivation was no longer to be regulated through technology and/or external motivation systems. Instead workers were to be encouraged to “regulate” themselves, to take on responsibilities and become interested in their work. Even before the emergence of the American design enrichment movement, another approach radically departing human relations developed in Europe. In the British coal mining industry, which provided the central source of energy at the time of postwar reconstruction, stagnant productivity, labor disputes, and high worker turnover prompted a number of research projects. The focus was on improved labor-management relations and the diffusion of innovative work practices and organizational arrangements, in an effort to increase productivity without major capital investments. In this perspective, organizations were viewed as consisting of both a social and a technical system, each of which functions according to different rules and thus has to be regulated and organized according to different principles. Finally, the concept of socio-technical systems design implied that the system as a whole cannot be optimized through independent optimization of solely the social or the technical system; the integrated or joint optimization of both systems leads to the optimal functioning of the organization as a whole.
Design leadership means tragically determined directions and environmentally friendly policies applied to design patterns. In contrast to the American focus on the enrichment of individual work activities, the socio-technical systems approach proposed the concept of semi-autonomous work groups based on the underlying assumption that learning and the development of social and occupational competencies largely occur in cooperation and communication with others. In addition, industrial production does not lend itself well to the improved design of individual designs, since most tasks are highly interdependent. The group thus is often the “natural” work unit. Optimal functioning of open, continuously changing systems is seen as predicated on the degree to which the resources and competencies for controlling the work of different organizational units are returned to the members of that unit. The principle of motivation through task orientation rather than external control is enhanced in relatively independent organizational units that allow increased scope for self-regulation of workgroups. Acknowledging that individuals are guided by varying goals and motivations, work has to be organized in a manner that allows different individuals to satisfy varying needs and to develop new goals and aspirations. And rather than enriching designs in consultation with external experts, employees themselves are to plan and regulate their work activities using direct participation based on the principle of self-design. This conceptualization of human nature and work leads to forms of work organization aimed at the development of competencies by giving workgroups the scope and latitude to complete tasks based on their own planning and guided only by specified deadlines and standards. There is no longer a “one best way” for doing things; rather there is discretion and decision latitude rooted in the recognition that different paths might equally well achieve the same goals. The metaphor is that of an organism where different organs fulfill different functions but are dependent on each other, and can function appropriately only in interaction with all other parts of the organism.
Today, design is applied through the lens of environmentally friendly policies and a low-cost approach. Though often highly successful in terms of productivity increases, workplace safety, and worker commitment, various factors prevented the widespread adoption of this approach. In particular, work rules rooted in traditionally adversarial labor-management relations, management’s reluctance to share control over work organization, and the expanding economy in many industrialized countries during the sixties provided little impetus for change. These economic difficulties, combined with surging union demands for worker participation and control, led to a number of sustained socio-technical field experiments. Yet the diffusion of socio-technical systems experiments in Norway declined as workers lost interest in designs focused on changes in design distribution and wage systems rather than on workers’ concerns. Similarly, in implementing projects developed jointly by union and management in Sweden, conflicts between union and management goals became evident. Largely management-dominated designs led unions to shift their focus to a collective resource approach, involving researchers, workers, and union representatives in the design of technologies linked to opportunities for skill development and expanded influence on the organization of work Once again, a combination of economic forces and changing values gave rise to a new way of conceptualizing work and work organization and experimentation with new organizational choices. In the United States, these forces have only recently come into focus. Rapid technological change, quality instead of quantity of output as the key competitive element in an increasingly global economy, the shift from a producer- to a consumer-oriented market, and the changing expectations of an increasingly educated segment of the workforce have created an environment in which companies are forced to search for new ways to assure organizational success and survival.
The work of modern design is to create a unique individualized approach for every client. The overview of the different conceptualizations of work and work organization throughout this century can be summarized as follows: Depending on the approach taken, the design of work activities and work organization may create a more broadly or more narrowly defined structure that may either deliberately stifle and limit, or enhance the developmental potential of human beings in the context of work activities. These structures and processes have a powerful influence on the characteristics and behavior of the organizational members. People in rigid and bureaucratic organizations tend to develop rigid and bureaucratic personalities; if the organization does not change, people are not likely to change either. Organizations that are flexible and dynamic tend to “reproduce” similar characteristics in their employees. While characteristics of work and organizational design reflect the changes in the economic, political, and social environment, rather than replacing each other, different elements of the design approaches discussed here tend to coexist in various combinations in today’s organizations or in different industrial contexts. Self-regulation means having the resources, competencies, and desire to solve problems where they occur. Work unit members thus gain a sense of control, as uncertainties about fluctuations and problems arising from the organizational context can be largely eliminated. Production problems can be addressed quickly and with greater flexibility. For example, members of a socio-technical system unit ought to be in a position to execute and make decisions about all aspects related to the accomplishment of the unit’s primary task. This includes minor repair and maintenance work (if necessary, a technical expert can be called upon). The supervisor, in general, does not make decisions internal to the socio-technical unit but focuses on boundary management in order to minimize disruptions to the unit’s functioning. This often involves coordination with other units whose work may influence or depend on this unit’s work. The supervisor’s responsibility, for example, is to make sure all necessary materials and documents are available, technical experts are at hand when needed, and so forth. If the technical and organizational design creates self-regulating, relatively independent organizational units, the supervisor takes on support rather than a control function, aimed at fostering self-regulation and independence of the unit within the organizational environment. This involves managing the relationships and linkages between the unit and other parts of the organization, thus providing a buffer function. The above discussion of sociotechnical design criteria focused on functional work organization characteristics in support of joint optimization. It described the structural arrangements that foster competence development processes and optimal organizational performance. For the design of individual work activities, however, additional criteria have to be considered that address the needs of the individual for physical and psychological well-being and development.
Design reflects the nature and structure of broader society, its cultural changes and moral preferences. Each individual is different. We all know that, and yet we tend to design designs as if such differences didn’t exist. Different strokes for different folks – what is good for one person may not be appropriate for another. To take people’s varying abilities, skills, and needs into account two basic principles have to be considered in the design of work activities: variable design design and developmental design.
The vivid examples of design companies are Fast Company, Fast Thinking, and Entrepreneur. In these companies, as s design demands and/or individuals’ needs, preferences, and competencies change, work assignments should be reexamined periodically together with the employee affected. Rather than seeing individual needs and motivations as barriers to design, they should be viewed as opportunities to respond to changing demands as flexibly as possible. Both of these principles are based on voluntaries. People respond differently to certain working conditions or task demands. What is seen as a challenge by one individual may be experienced as stressful by another person. Negative effects on psychological and social well-being occur if a person feels qualitatively or quantitatively overloaded or underutilized. While such limitations are subjectively experienced, they have an objective, external cause, for example, noise, monotony, work overload, time pressures, unclear or contradictory instructions by a supervisor, racism, sexism, or fast work pace. The persistence of such factors over time can result in symptoms of stress-related illnesses and long-term negative health effects.
In sum, the above discussion suggests that a new design paradigm implies much more than the application of socio-technical work design principles. It requires a new organizational philosophy based on different values and assumptions. This system, often based on setting up units of cooperation and competition at different levels, attempts to create the perception that employee and organizational goals are identical, and that no conflicts of interest among different organizational groups exist. In this application of selected participatory design principles, employee input remains very restricted and is channeled toward the achievement of productivity and quality goals.
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