30 January 2019

The Multidisciplinary Design Movement: A Frame for Realizing Industry, Security, and Academia Interplay

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Originally Published by Small Wars Journal:

The Multidisciplinary Design Movement: A Frame for Realizing Industry, Security, and Academia Interplay

Ben Zweibelson

“Change always implies ‘surprise’ and otherness because of its essentially indeterminate character. For despite the belief in our ability to detect ‘trends’, what actually does happen is always a unique and never-to-be-repeated coalescence of a multiplicity of potentialities.”

— Robert Chia[i]

“The U.S. military assumes that war can be approached just like the study of an atom: conduct research, propose hypotheses, propose desired outcomes, and apply causal analysis and analytical skills related to complexity, institutional analysis, narrative framing and ethics.”

— Grant Martin[ii]

Any attempts to gain understanding by breaking a system into its constituent parts, in this case strategy-operations-tactics, isolate in theory what are united in praxis. As a result, such analysis generates theory that is practically and literally meaningless. The English-speaking world has grown to have a linear view of war with ends, ways and means arranged hierarchically and linked to discrete levels of command.”

— Justin Kelly and Mike Brennan[iii]

Today, there might be few words as overused and fraught with multiple disciplines claiming ownership as the term ‘design’ and associated ‘design thinking’, ‘design practice’ and other variations. ‘Design’ has become one of the buzzwords along with ‘synergy’, ‘innovation’, ‘machine learning’ and ‘augmented intelligence’ within defense circles, but of all of these terms it seems that ‘design’ is the most debated and convoluted. Historians of design frequently point to the rise of the Industrial Revolution as the first manifestation of the modern designer as distinct from previous millennia of artisans and creatives,[iv] while others take an abstract and rather philosophical position that all human activity oriented towards influencing and manipulating the future to one’s advantage falls within the catch-all of ‘design’.[v] For the layperson, these discussions become quite esoteric or overwhelming when we consider what most modern design activities provide today in the diverse fields of defense, change management, city planning, industrial design, product design, or creative problem-solving activities (to name but a few). Tribes of designers even battle amongst themselves, frequently drawing various lines, denying validity, or attempting to brand language and methodology for a variety of reasons. This is a problem not just for the broad design community of practice, but for nearly every discipline that a form of design engages with.

Broadly speaking, the majority of design theory, practice and education today orient towards the imagination, development and utilization of new products, emergent concepts and user experiences, as well as the transformation of organizations so that they can foster greater freedom of action and thought in emergent future contexts.[vi] In the most abstract sense, to design is to seek to use one’s understanding of yesterday and today to create a different tomorrow by combining established ideas and practices with unexplored or novel ones in emergent ways. Thus, planning is a form of design, where business or military planning methodologies use a sequential and highly analytic form of design in order to reform tomorrow into patterns found yesterday.[vii] This becomes problematic with complex, dynamic systems that rarely respond to analytically optimized planning the way we intend them to. As Karl Weick observed, “our actions are always a little further along than is our understanding of those actions, which means we can intensify crises literally before we know what we are doing.”[viii] This subsequently leads to Russell Ackoff’s maxim that: “the righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger.”[ix]

Design introduces novel concepts and patterns found only in tomorrow, and therefore as-of-yet unplanned or unable to be rendered into a reverse-engineered planning construct more familiar with ‘ends-ways-means’ familiar in planning approaches. Novel concepts have a historic age of zero, meaning that those seeking “proof” or “show me” will be frustrated with how innovation actually functions. Successful new design spawns subsequent newly inspired planning, although often in disruptive, transformative and even paradoxical ways when referencing past actions.  Nearly all design disciplines are intertwined deeply with the linear planning approach that subsequently is adhered to with deliberate actions and convergent organized behaviors. Whether in an industry sense or in defense applications, structured planning methodologies are frequently a very productive endeavor. However, the institutional nature of hierarchical organizations and the dominance of single paradigms for decision-making become self-licking ice cream cones of tenacious justifications. These can produce “selective attention, confident action, and self-confirmation…[they can] preconfigure both perception and action, which means they are often self-confirming.[x]Most all design methods across diverse disciplines attempt in a variety of ways to offset this.

Whether one subscribes to one school of design thinking or another, the methodological nuances between one model and another still remain within particular disciplinary boundaries that help distinguish between one sort of design enterprise and another. Digital designers have one organizing philosophy upon which their design methods, language, and behavior differ from that of architectural designers, or perhaps urban development designers. From this rich and diverse brew of modern (20th century) design tribes comes a more recent participant that had previously organized within a different context and under distinct circumstances. The military designer, prior to the 1990s, was unknown within the broader landscape of design as well as within the western profession of arms from across modernized nation states.[xi] At least, the application of design towards security concerns was only considered within highly linear, convergent and analytical structures so much that modern ‘design’ would seem utterly foreign to military practitioners prior to the 1990s.

This may generate some pause for some designers associated with industrial or human-centered methodologies who may not have considered design for uniquely military applications, and potentially some resistance from others that may exclaim that there is no such thing as ‘design’ in a purely military or security context. These designers expect civilian design methods to translate perfectly into security applications with little or no modification. There is also a third group requiring mention that hail from within traditional security organizations themselves that might be termed the ‘old guard’ of legacy system methodologies for military decision-making. This group largely attempts to reinterpret traditional planning methods through adapting select elements of design without disrupting the deeper epistemological structures. As military design represents a highly disruptive and transformative movement for the security enterprise writ large, a large population of traditionalists are potentially resistant not only towards the growing interest in military design theory, practice and education but the progressive challenging and displacement of various concepts, methods and practices that the military design mindset weakens or dismantles through the pursuit of innovation, divergent thinking, and change.[xii]

Currently, design is expressed within distinct disciplines across industry, academia and security forces for a range of at times overlapping interests, while also in potentially incommensurate ways. However, the exciting future potentials of design in security applications, influenced by non-military design methodologies as well as those outside of most civilian design endeavors are creating novel developments in strategy, organizational form and military function within highly complex, dynamic conflict environments. There is a great deal of change, with ‘change’ being changed by the change, and the traditional barriers between these groups and institutions are quickly becoming irrelevant and insufficient in explaining the novel.

How ‘Design’ Came to Mean So Many Things to So Many Organizations

In the early 1980s, the first modern example of ‘design’ appearing in a military doctrine occurred with a revision of the United States’ Army’s ‘Field Manual 100-5, Operations’ with a discussion of how strategy and tactics were distinct and that another ‘layer’ of control and organizational form required the design and planning of military campaigns. This implied that before ‘planning’ occurred where a series of operations could be linked towards some larger strategic goals, a broader ‘design’ ought to occur that required more systemic thinking over analytic reductionism.[xiii] Arguably, there was quite extensive ‘design’ in this sense occurring throughout the 20th century, particularly in Soviet and German military enterprises prior to and during the Second World War.[xiv] Yet once again this term ‘design’ is being stretched and perhaps distorted from the familiar meaning found in industrial and human-centered design considerations. Here, it is useful to first address the non-military earlier forms of design so that the application of design thinking to security contexts can be explored further. Originally, the rise of the Industrial Revolution brought with it the first modern form of ‘design’ through industrial design methodologies. In these first design constructs, the design mindset first took form.

The rise of the industrial designer brought with it a growing tension between timeless artisans and what could be described as a growing gap between functionality and individuality. The cobbler artisan of old could craft shoes tailored just to one customer’s feet, but the range and scale of that pool of potential customers was limited. If Luke the local shoemaker was known for hundreds of miles as the best cobbler money could buy, it was access to Luke that created and also limited shoe opportunity. With the Industrial Revolution, Luke’s wife Liz could market his shoes across multiple continents, but Luke never met his customers or touched their feet. The shoes were standardized, and some aspect of artistry and customization was inevitably lost. Industrial designers and all design successors would chase after this gap, bringing with it the notion of ‘empathy’, alternative perspectives, network of stakeholders, red teaming, and other distinct concepts within what later can be framed as a multi-disciplinary design movement.[xv]

Empathy-based design methodologies first emerged in the early 1960s and quickly became mainstream in various design fields as well as across design academia by the 1980s.[xvi] Human-centered design, as a meta-design mindset, recognized that the strengths of industrial design’s ability to optimize, engineer, and accelerate efficiency gains could frequently miss the mark and result in well-designed products failing. That failure was not due to flaws in the design output (although certainly many new products were defective or poorly designed), but that some things could be designed strictly within an industrial methodology that did not consider or explore vital systemic tensions or minority perspectives. This paradox meant that in complex systems, sometimes the inferior VHS tape would outsell the superior Beta-Max, or the construction of well-designed low-income housing would need to be torn down less than a decade later due to the failure of the city design to facilitate enough low-income citizens to seek to live in them.

Creating something that is ‘better’ than the existing competition might still result in that new thing failing within a complex, dynamic system. The infamous story of a military unit digging wells for Afghan villages where women had to walk long distances to carry water is a useful example as well. The unit was surprised when they discovered the same women were sabotaging the new wells because they did not want a new well dug closer to the village, as they valued their independence and time away over the western projected notions of convenience, efficiency, and modernization. Military organizations that fail to consider multiple stakeholder positions and move beyond their own organizational frames will continue to “do the wrong things more right” and miss out on the important paradoxical elements of the human condition.

One way to frame these different yet overlapping design disciplines and communities of design practice would be to depict them in Figure 1 where the industrial design, human-centered design, and military design communities of practice function within complex reality. Although similar interactions also occur within pure industrial design enterprises, this article focuses upon human-centered design and military design specifically, and industrial design only indirectly. On the left side of Figure 1, business organizations using producer-product relationships must apply planning and decision-making methodologies in order to think, act and react within complex socio-economic contexts.

Yet planning alone is insufficient, particularly in emergent, dynamic or even chaotic situations. In IBM’s survey of over 5,247 C-suite executives, they found a majority is focusing on disruptive innovation. “The pioneers aren’t simply tweaking existing products and services; they’re reinventing their firms.”[xvii] New ideas are being rapidly prototyped, and the CEOs of the most successful enterprises “place a higher premium on agility and experimentation, because they know these are prerequisites for disruptive innovation.”[xviii] Thus, the human-centered designer applies combinations of industrial design and human-centered design in order to disrupt existing planning methods, set organizational forms, and static strategies. They do this to facilitate novel action and create the conditions for design innovation for businesses on the left side of Figure 1.

Meanwhile, military designers do a similar facilitation activity for military planners on the right side of the graphic. Military planners operate in decidedly dissimilar complex security contexts than those of business planners, thus military designers must approach the unique security challenges with a different design methodology that does not function exactly as human-centered or industrial design applications. Within these design disciplines, designers operate as facilitators, interpreters, and change agents to enable the larger organization to subsequently plan differently, critically reflect upon current practices, and implement novel experimentation that results in emergent opportunities of advantage and future relevance.

While industrial design emerged as the first design community of practice coinciding with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of analytic optimization and the transition from human or animal manual labor towards machine labor, the limitations of industrial design stimulated a subsequent human-centered design movement. This happened mostly during the transition after the industrial design successes of World War II as western societies continued to apply industrial design methods towards increasingly complex and culturally rich challenges of urban expansion, globalization, market expansion, and rapid technological development. Human-centered design shifted some of the purely analytic-based optimization mindset of industrial design towards subjective aspects of the complex social-economic qualities of the human condition. Here, empathy, multiple perspectives, paradox, and complex dynamic systems would soften industrial design while also deepening the impact of designing future transformation of the world to the advantage of the humans applying design. Military design came later, and requires additional explanation in order to fully explain this multi-disciplinary frame illustrated in Figure 1.

In the 1990s, while a majority of the industrialized West wandered in the post-Cold War landscape of downsizing militaries and a rapid expansion of low-intensity peacekeeping around the world, the Israeli Defense Force experimented with a variety of novel concepts for organizing, creating defense strategies, and acting within conflicts for military application.[xix] Some new constructs, such as ‘Effects Based Operations’ sought a highly centralized, nodal network where high technology military systems could precisely target and collapse entire enemy organizational structures, enabled by the splashy arrival in that decade of ‘smart bombs’, stealth fighters, and other impressive new weapons promising surgical precision. However, a small group of radical thinkers within the Israeli military took a different direction and considered a disruptive, eclectic blend of postmodern architectural design, complexity theory, organizational change, Eastern philosophy as well as obscure postmodern philosophy. The Israelis called their radical postmodern concept ‘systemic operational design’ or SOD, and it would soon trigger controversy, intense debate, and international intrigue.[xx]

By mid-decade of the new millennium, much of the industrialized West were no longer in the low-intensity and heavy peacekeeping context of the 1990s, and instead were bogged down in confusing and expensive counterinsurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is frequently said that militaries are only open-minded to change when they are losing, and it is no surprise that the American, British, Canadian and Australian militaries began to explore military design applications starting around 2005 through present day.[xxi]

The ubiquitous term ‘design’ quickly took on multiple meanings across these Armed Forces with some applications referring to traditional operational campaign planning that relied upon a convergent language of physics and military engineering, while other applications moved towards Israeli abstraction and their original disruptive design experimentation. Still others reached into the business world and academia, attempting to implement a human-centered design methodology as a potential adaptive model for military crosspollination. Civilian design experts banged heads with military ones, with new and perplexing design ‘tribes’ staking claim to what design ought to mean…depending of course on the context.

Figure 2 illustrates the rapid crowding of the design field with multiple methodologies developed within each discipline. On the left, for example IBM combined elements of human-centered design (drawing from the Stanford University brand of performing HCD) coupled with elements of Agile design methodology which draws inspiration from the intersection of industrial design efficiency methods (Six Sigma and other efficiency oriented models) and human-centered design concepts. There are now countless business variations on the basic HCD design philosophy where advancements in technology, complexity, empathy, iterative experimentation, critical and creative thinking stimulate unique opportunities for business organizations to transform, grow, and innovate.

On the right side of Figure 2, a similar cottage industry of military design methodologies emerged between 1995 and present day across various nations, within services, and also from similar appropriations of other design concepts. Militaries such as the United States Army as well as NATO drew from the 1990s development of industrial and human-centered design hybrids such as Agile or Six Sigma methodologies, converting these from business applications into military ones that focused on planning processes. Militaries would rebrand these as ‘Red Team Methodology’ or “Alternative Analysis” yet they still retain much of the original business design configuration. These efficiency-improvement design models are valuable to critically reflecting on the strategies and planning endeavors, however they are not oriented upon disrupting or innovating beyond the planning logic and should not be confused with other design disciplines. Efficiency-based designing focuses on the content, not form. Further, these design positions improve outputs through convergent means instead of iterations of divergent or disruptive creativity outside of the established rules, principles, or doctrine.

Figure 2 features a few more actors worth mention in the broader multidisciplinary design landscape. On either end of the graphic, anti-design “purists” can be positioned with anti-establishment artisans on the far left (Surrealist painter Salvador Dali and his rejection of the surreal movement after he felt it had gone far too mainstream and had lost its unique disruptive qualities), and positivist military strategists on the far right. The anti-establishment actors reject the industrialization (or mass scaling) of any novel activity, thus artists that are game-changers in ushering in entire movements are useful examples here. On the far right of Figure 2, positivist strategists hold a hard line towards a Newtonian physics-based adherence to military planning and strategy, where as Grant Martin remarks, “war can be approached just like the study of an atom” and reduced to a standardized series of mathematical principles.[xxii] Outside of closed systems or conditions where adversaries are compelled to follow precise and shared rules in warfare, these positivist positions tend to become counterproductive over time. In terms of positions, the anti-establishment artisan and the positivist strategist are about as far apart as possible within this proposed multidisciplinary design landscape of various actors and perspectives.

There are two additional actors illustrated within the multidisciplinary design landscape in Figure 2 colored red. Their color is intentional, as these groups potentially are the more hazardous of various practitioners across the design landscape. These are single-disciplinary designers that advocate a single, overarching approach for design in all contexts. Typically, these designers use pronouns such as “the” design way or model to demand total adherence to a single design method at the expense of all others. If a design method is codified into military doctrine or formalized at a university into what becomes a branded enterprise for proprietary methods of doing design, these single-disciplinary designers promote “their way or it is not useful design”. There are some significant advantages in pursuing these exclusive single-practice positions, in that they can provide ideally more rapid and uniform design education across a large organization through standardized practices, doctrine or templates, and easily reproducible “step by step” approaches in design thinking. These positions become problematic as they violate a core tenet of all design enterprise, in that “change changes change as it changes,” and any design endeavor in complex reality will unavoidably create future conditions for reflective practitioners to transform the very design practice that they started with.

Figure 2 attempts to capture the diverse landscape of multiple disciplines in design, planning, and strategy across industry, academia and military applications. It generalizes the positions of industrial design methods, human-centered variations, combinations between them such as Agile Methodology, and on the military side the various groups of Red Teamers, SOD, ADM, and other design methods attempting to improve traditional military strategy and planning from the strategic to the tactical levels of conflict management. While military red team methodologies addressed gains in military-unique efficiency for strategic, operational or tactical planning processes for decision-making in complex military contexts, these methods differed from military design methodologies that emerged first with the Israeli Defense Forces in the mid-1990s. Most of these design methods were developed relatively isolated from each other, in part due to how security forces frequently develop theory and practice internally and indoctrinate it within their own service-specific manuals and set practices.

What Figure 2 also attempts to demonstrate is that in the current context of multiple design disciplines across reality, there are now multiple communities of practice that use very similar design language as well as overlapping methodologies yet are unable or at times unwilling to recognize other communities of design practice. This results in a design “Tower of Babel” where designers across each design discipline are unaware of, or perhaps vaguely familiar with other ways to perform design, and potentially some of these groups operate exclusively and even incommensurately with other designers to interact with planners in both the business settings and security settings in multiple contexts. As each figure in Figure 2 represents a design community, the expectation that each group is aware and even engaging with other groups decreases as one considers the vast landscape of different disciplines, interests, goals, and culture. This is where too many groups end up claiming remarkably similar positions on innovation, creativity, disruption, adaptation, change management, novelty, divergent thinking, and especially “design”. The remainder of this article attempts to clarify this landscape and provide areas of difference, overlap and potential interplay among these strange bedfellows.

Fundamentals of the Human-Centered Design Discipline[xxiii]

Human-centered design (HCD) broadly addresses the prominence of human perspective within the design methodology of bringing organizations and individuals the innovation that is needed but does not yet exist. Problems in human-centered design are framed within complexity where the users must be deeply considered, design is done holistically, and purely analytic approaches devoid of synthesis and extensive theoretical development will be entirely insufficient and potentially hazardous. [xxiv] Whereas industrial design relies heavily upon analytic optimization towards greater efficiencies and developments,[xxv] HCD focuses on the irrational, subjective, and often nonlinear aspects of humanity that industrial design methods routinely marginalize or seek simple majorities to streamline. Design models emerge out of experimentation with complexity theory, new organizational concepts, as well as non-Western cultural traditions and patterns.[xxvi] The first wave of industrialization designed towards centralized control, the rise of bureaucratic organization, and standardization[xxvii] that quickly became favorites of militaries yet problematic for designers seeking customization.

Figure 3 shows the familiar methodology that most HCD practitioners recognize immediately as the “Stanford D-school” approach to doing human-centered design.[xxviii] While Stanford University was not the first to introduce human-centered design, their development of design education and set methodologies led to potentially the strongest branding of design into a formalized process demonstrated by Figure 3. Many other design theorists as well as subsequent educational disciplines introduced their own methodological structure of human-centered design, however for the purposes of this article the Stanford model is highlighted and expressed epistemologically in Figure 3.

The methodology explained here starts with ‘empathy’ including extensive interviews, appreciation and considering alternative perspectives- thus the designer needs to frame various tensions concerning key stakeholders including the consumer, the producer, and also those within the system that may influence either of those groups. In the epistemological map below the methodology, you see how ‘empathy’ is expressed as either the exploration of multiple paradigms or possibly projecting a single dominant paradigm upon all other stakeholders. This occurs when a designer frames their ‘empathy’ so that their personal or cultural values are displaced onto actors that do not share similar ones, resulting in misunderstood or irrelevant empathetic frames.

In the subsequent (although iterative) periods of ‘definition’ and ‘ideation’, the epistemological assumptions occurring in HCD are structured to define new ways to accomplish new ends within design experience objectives for the producer. These design experiences may be a new product, a new user experience, or a development within the organization so that the organization gains advantage in the future emergent system. The ‘ideation’ portion of the HCD methodology is at the epistemological level attempting to foster conditions for design innovation and disruptive ideas that can, in the iterative fashion of the design process, increase cognitive risk for the designer (and/or design group, organization) so that divergent thinking occurs as well as deeply critical reflective practice.

Prototyping and testing, done in the last two portions of the HCD methodology exist for an iterative process that gradually moves from highly divergent ideation concepts towards tested design innovations that meet some established or emergent concept of success. Epistemologically, this is illustrated here with three distinct possible future outcomes of any HCD endeavor. The system is continued so that the designer establishes a production model with profit for the producer and the consumer(s), or potentially the design deliverable radically disrupts and transforms the market towards a novel, emergent form. In these outcomes, the design is a “game changer” where all other stakeholders and rivals must adapt according to this design innovation or remain in their legacy system behaviors and sustain damage. Lastly, the market may reject this design output, even if the concept is highly innovative and novel. In the case of design failure, the HCD practitioner will re-enter the methodology and conduct reflection in order to respond, reconsider, ideate further and adapt.

For organizational transformation, HCD methodologies are extremely useful, creating conditions for innovation, and gaining positions of advantage in emergent future systems. HCD is oriented towards new products, user experiences, and gaining market advantage within competitive dynamics. Defense oriented organizations use HCD developed outputs. They also use industrial design outputs. More importantly, these defense organizations working within dynamic conflict environments also require unique design methodologies dissimilar from HCD and industrial design methods.

Meta-Themes: Flying in the Same Flock, Yet Donning Different Design Feathers

There are several ‘meta-themes’ we might consider based upon this epistemological study of various design methodologies in practice across civilian, governmental, business and academic communities of practice. As design in broad practice and at core philosophical levels remains a highly fluid, iterative and emergent activity, the novice practitioner requires a point of design departure from which to commence their journey of discovery, self-reflection, and iterative learning. In Figure 4, these overarching shared design constructs are arranged in color-coded bars or pathways that most design disciplines appear to follow within epistemological similarities. There are an infinite manner of graphical depictions here, and Figure 4 illustrates simply one way to articulate these meta-disciplinary design structures. As many design disciplines emphasize some values, processes, and objectives over others, Figure 4 (like any meta-disciplinary study of design) expresses a normative frame on what design ought to be across multiple dominant communities of practice.

First, the blue bar labeled “self-awareness of one’s paradigm” could go under various naming conventions. Whether termed ‘empathy’, ‘environmental frame’, rationale of self or command, most design methods attempt to frame the designer’s own perspective on reality- including culture, sociological structures, beliefs, and the epistemological assumptions made towards complex reality. One important distinction on ‘empathy’ in design is worth mentioning. Some design methods direct an empathy frame at the start of a design activity, yet often this lacks any critical reflection or self-assessment of one’s own frame of values, culture, and beliefs. Designers unable to do this potentially project their beliefs upon all stakeholders, resulting in less useful design expressions. However, when empathy is considered with clear reflection upon one’s own frame, designers can move to explore the edges of their own beliefs concerning a complex challenge, and consider tensions, contradiction, paradox, and overlap with essential stakeholders and their own positions, making for exceptional conditions for realizing empathy in a valued design sense of the term.[xxix]

When we design, we must become reflective practitioners, to apply a concept from sociologist Donald Schon.[xxx]We must think about what we have done, why we have done it so, and how we are framing our future range of opportunities and potential actions. As we design and experiment in a creative process, we must be mindful of why and how we do this, and heedful of our own paradigmatic limits, biases, filters, and assumptions concerning a complex reality.

The second bar in Figure 4 is colored green and has the label “designer’s awareness of other paradigms”. Some design methods capture this under “empathy” or “rationale of rival”, or potentially under some framing of the environment within which the key stakeholders, rivals and competitors are considered. Again, ‘empathy’ covers the design space between the essential self-reflection of one’s own “self” frame, and the tensions, overlap, and interplay with other stakeholders that may or may not share those same values, context and beliefs. One major element here in design is the ability to recognize, explain and explore tensions within the system of interest. There is a legacy system (the way things were), and within that system our different stakeholders and groups maintained and applied different perspectives to interpret reality. As this system transformed into the current or emergent system where things are different, tensions will be expressed through not just the physical transformation of artifacts, objects and activities within the emergent system, but in perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors operated by various stakeholders as they all interact and contemplate this emergent system.[xxxi] There is change, and there is ‘change changing the change’ due to dynamic, emergent qualities of complex adaptive systems.[xxxii] Designers considering other stakeholders, competitors, adversaries, and how those different perspectives are significant towards appreciating the system imply multi-paradigm consideration (overt or implied). Design methods that fail to do this potentially reinforce institutional beliefs despite complexity and emergence.

In Figure 4, the yellow bar is titled “framing the organization, system rivals, and emergent futures”. This should really be done prior to the designer self-defining their own frame or paradigm, and if done in the absence of considering alternative perspectives and belief systems of contemporaries and competitors in the system this will be a single-paradigm design frame. Again, some design methodologies may place this in their ‘environmental frame’ portion of their methodology, or within their ‘define’ phase for building some mental model representing explanation of major system behaviors. If designers in their practice perform a framing of the system without first considering their own “box” as well as the potential dissimilar “boxes” of adversaries and key stakeholders, there once again is the hazard of projecting an illusion of uniformity and stability across a complex and dynamic system. This results in oversimplification and typically the displacement of concepts without self-awareness as designers project their own worldviews upon all others.

Here, a paradox of design systemic thinking and analytic thinking becomes significant in determining how to think about thinking. Designers able to consider nonlinearity, tensions, paradox, stakeholders, multiple futures, and emergence are able to ideate, experiment, prototype and reframe with greater divergence and critical reflection.  If a design methodology places too much emphasis upon analytic optimization and reductionism in order to maintain single-paradigm dominance, they may unintentionally project unquestioned assumptions and institutional values upon the system’s emergent behaviors and tensions. This is often where designers seek to find ‘problems to solve’ using design, resulting in projected values of what is ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘problem’, ‘success’ and other epistemological assumptions that may reduce divergent thinking, accelerate the utilization of institutionally sanctioned planning activities too early, and eliminate profound paths of opportunity due to institutional blindness of emergent, game-changing developments.

The last bar in Figure 4 is the orange one labeled “experimentation through reflective practice”. This is iterative, with the bar twisting back upon itself indicating a cycle of reflective practice, ideation, rapid prototyping and experimentation. Designers, regardless of their preferred discipline, should experience an emergent, perpetual transformation through advancing frames where their design understanding and appreciation of opportunity develop through systemic thinking. This means that the experimentation here concerns both the content of the design and the form. Designers can iteratively experiment and transform the design output, as well as the very methodology being used to achieve that design learning (changing Figure 3, 4, or 5).

In complex, dynamic contexts, design in practice should lean towards a learning-oriented versus solution-based. The solution-based design mindset reinforces established planning methods (and at times, other existing design methods as well), while a learning-oriented design journey disrupts and transforms them. If a system appears quite stable and potentially less complex in activity, the solution-based design orientation could be more valuable. Additionally, these design orientations help the design deliverable quickly converge into industrial or military planning readily and without much resistance. However, when an organization (whether industry, military, or other) demands something completely unprecedented, something that will be a game-changer and transform the system towards an emergent future, the solution-based design will be wholly insufficient. It might also be counterproductive and encourage institutionally sanctioned behaviors to dig in further and resist critical reflection or creative disruption. Recycling yesterday’s ideas and expecting tomorrow’s future to accept them is unlikely to occur except in simplistic or complicated system conditions. For innovation and novelty, design must break out of the practices that served yesterday and chart a new course towards experimentation and thinking about design in the practice of design experimentation itself.

If we think of an ocean explorer that sets off on a journey with the intent of going beyond all charted maps that currently exist within their organization (or that of all key stakeholders), once they cross that line from what was known and charted into the unknown and uncharted, they are on a journey of learning and discovery. Suppose that explorer believes they are going to discover a new sailing route to a landmass they thought would be just over the horizon from where the known map ended, but they instead discovered an entirely new continent…one that required a complete reframe of their institution back home, as well as new language and new concepts for dealing with this enormous discovery.[xxxiii]

The explorer did not “fail” at finding a new path to a known location beyond the edge of the previously framed map. The explorer took a journey of discovery, learning, and transformed the system by experiencing and reflecting upon emergence and novel system behavior as they pushed into the unknown and experimented. This is why a design methodology should not “start here…and establish your desired end-state, now move forward and reach your original goal. Self-evaluate your performance based upon original analysis and measure how efficiently you can reach your original goal by reducing risk and increasing convergence. Reinforce institutional norms and coded behaviors accordingly.” When we see those epistemological assumptions tangled within any design methodology, they may prevent the designers from accomplishing anything innovative, or perhaps leave their organization ill-prepared to recognize that which they need but does not yet exist so that if it is indeed designed, the institution will reject it outright.

At the Crossroads of Industry and Security: Multi-disciplinary Design Practice at the Joint Special Operations University

Today, the world is undeniably complex and moving towards even more unimaginable developments that will continue to shatter and reform expectations on what reality ‘ought’ to be. Change is occurring at rates faster and in configurations previously impossible in legacy systems, requiring novel language and metaphors so that today’s diverse and heterogeneous communities can even articulate some of the developments within limited ways. The business of tomorrow is unknown except for one powerful constant- that it will be deeply infused with change.[xxxiv]

Our abilities to make sense of reality and anticipate trends so that we can develop strategies and prepare education for our organizations are frequently insufficient. Many of our traditions and institutional rituals that used to provide us advantage in the past are now working against us, yet we find it hard to let go of them.[xxxv] The emergent realities of cyberspace, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and social media networks are dramatically different from the more traditional physical domains of our legacy. In this confusing multi-scape of swirling change and surprise, organizations such as JSOU have found new territory to create and develop new design ideas, enable different design thinking, and help foster a design community of practice that is unlike the designs of the past.

The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has a well-established reputation for being ‘out of the box’ in thinking about difficult challenges in warfare and security affairs. The special operations forces of the industrialized West have become the ultimate in organized human precision and specialization for applications of lethal and non-lethal force by a nation state. In order to recruit, train, equip and employ the best possible military forces that can think and act under the most challenging and disruptive of circumstances, USSOCOM invests extensively in education as well as technology and other military considerations. For tailored education oriented towards the unique contexts that Special Operations Forces will encounter, USSOCOM has their own Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) located in Tampa, Florida. Over the past few years, JSOU has developed, experimented, and educated USSOCOM and other military forces on a variety of military design concepts, techniques and methods.[xxxvi]

Within JSOU, the Center for Continuing Education operates somewhat like an intellectual fire station, rapidly responding to calls from the SOCOM enterprise where an emergent and intense need for precise education occurs, and the Center for Continuing Education will develop a response so that the organization gets the education it needs. In recent years, the fire alarm has continuously rung for formalized design education, and JSOU has experimented with a range of different design methodologies to determine which might work more effectively within the unique and difficult contexts that Special Operations must operate under.

JSOU provides basic and advanced design education for the SOCOM enterprise by providing established courses that include tailored inquiry capabilities as well as international and translated versions for allies and partners.[xxxvii] By engaging with a wide range of leading experts from across many different and often unexpected fields where different versions and styles of design are practiced, JSOU has refined for the SOCOM enterprise a version of ‘design for complex security applications’ drawing from aspects of human-centered, industrial, as well as post-modern design practices. This is a multidisciplinary design approach, with the expectation that Special Operations professionals must frequently work within a wide range of contexts where multiple agencies and organizations may be using a variety of different planning, strategy and design methods. Most significantly for designers in SOCOM, the design methodology employed is itself dynamic, open to future designers changing the design methodology into emergent, unexpected forms. Design itself for military applications must remain drifting, open to innovation and the manifestation of novel design forms yet unrealized. This can make for difficult integrations with traditional military decision-making and strategy methodologies that instead place a premium on control, prediction, and uniformity over time.

The epistemology of the JSOU design methodology works off of assumptions just as all of the other previously discussed methods do. These are tailored to Special Operations Forces (SOF) as design practitioners and the acknowledgement that SOF designers may have unique security or organizational contexts that require a meta-design disciplinary appreciation in order to navigate an increasingly crowded design landscape. A SOF design team may work within an organization that is task organized under a command where the higher design sponsor or strategic design recipient expects one design methodology, language and shared concept used. As a SOF design team continues to move from organization to organization, or context to context, those demands and single-methodology requirements may change dramatically, causing a design team not versed in this meta-design awareness to face additional barriers for design explanation, implementation, and institutional acceptance.

Further, this SOF design methodology also intentionally sidesteps self-referential processes and remains open, with the expectation that future designers will transform and improvise with this methodology based upon emergent challenges in future systems. The nonlinear path from which this methodology may transform in form and content is uncharted, and the SOF design team are the explorers able to chart new paths, while also transforming their own design methodology as it suits them for unexpected and novel contexts in these new waters. There is no “the” constricting the exploratory logic of the design path, nor the methodology itself. This potentially makes doctrinal incorporation for such a dynamic design construct difficult, although not impossible.

In terms of methodological choices, the JSOU design methodology for all formal education requirements uses social paradigm theory in an epistemological assumption that in order to accomplish reflective practice in designers, something like this must be done for particular design practice.[xxxviii] It of course can be done in other ways (psychology, more generic techniques involving empathy, or postmodern philosophy for example), provided that the designers think about their thinking and consider alternative perspectives within complex reality, particularly concerning deeply held institutionalisms, rituals, metaphors, and other social elements that shape various group behaviors in thought and action.[xxxix]

Next, the JSOU design methodology moves the design team to develop a systemic understanding of reality with an appreciation that complex dynamic systems are emergent. Here, an emphasis on systemic thinking and an awareness of frequent institutional bias towards reductionist analytic thinking can fragment the design frame of a complex reality. This emergent quality also establishes the importance of multiple futures for designers to consider, whether using a scenario planning methodology, postmodern concepts such as assemblages and rhizomes, or other construct. Some way of breaking away from a reverse-engineered ‘ends-ways-means’ construct is useful with design for military organizations in order to gain deeper appreciation of complex, dynamic systems, and to soften an institutional overreliance on templates, categorization models, and ill-suited mechanistic metaphors.

The JSOU design methodology then incorporates nonlinear, emergent design in both form and function. Here, reflective practitioners render novel designs and also while considering the content of their design method as well as the form of the design methodology itself, generate iterative tailored design outputs and alterations (or radical redesigns) of the design method itself. These can be tailored to the SOF context, remain unique as well as temporary. Nearly all design methodologies utilize an iterative process within their methodology in order to generate rapid and divergent prototypes whether they are things or merely ideas. One distinction remains where some design methods seek out a solutions-based orientation which may accelerate a design team towards immature or underdeveloped concepts in a rush to begin planning, while a ‘learning-based’ orientation focusing on reflective practice will require more time, resources, as well as design skill. For organizational development in design, senior leaders should consider both, and contemplate when one is more appealing than the other.

Lastly, the JSOU design methodology takes an epistemological structure to maintain a regime of systemic and innovative learning. In a perpetual, iterative process for cognitive growth, reflection and experimentation, the designers foster divergent thinking as well as appreciate the disruptive qualities of novel ideas and actions within a complex system. What worked yesterday likely will not work tomorrow in a complex, dynamic system, and any efforts to normalize organizational behavior towards repeating patterns or rigid practices will make it more difficult to foster this necessary environment of design learning and critical reflection. This regime for systemic learning is iterative, highly experimental, and necessitates cognitive as well as tangible prototypes. These prototypes are to be employed in simulations as well as the competitive domains for military action in order to test whether these designs provide the organization with that which it needs but is only now coming into existence through the reflective practice of the SOF designers.

How is Military Design Contextually Unique for Design Practice?

The JSOU design educational courses consider several key differences between military design contexts and those where other more frequently encountered design methods are dominant. This does not establish the reason why militaries cannot simply incorporate existing human-centered design methods or a useful design program from some school directly into all military activities, nor should civilian design applications be considered as entirely compatible contexts for military designs either. First, most militaries work through a monopolistic process of production and employment in a manner unlike all other businesses.

Militaries and defense related entities have precisely what a business is most often denied- the ability to completely control all aspects of a commodity, resource, or activity. For instance, there is only one way a person can become a United States Navy SEAL, a Canadian Infantry Sergeant, or have the career path of a Royal Danish fighter pilot. They must enlist in that service, attend and pass that training, and be assigned in those positions. There are no other alternative ways to become a SEAL, such as studying under a competing program or using their own distance-learning approximation. This means that a military has exceptional control over the quality, quantity, and application of many aspects within their organization. However, this also means that unlike businesses where specialized professionals routinely move from industry to another unrelated industry, the military monopoly restricts professionalization to very rigid and sequential career paths. This can impact flexibility, innovation, and divergent thinking.

Militaries differ in yet another way through context where application becomes key. For businesses, the more restrictive an environment becomes, the more expensive it is to perform business in that context. In military contexts, the higher the intensity for violence and danger, the more expensive it becomes for nearly all business to occur. However, an inverse tends to occur for most militaries in that the lower the intensity of violence, the greater the restrictions become for even routine activities with many security organizations. International peacekeeping activities represent some of the most restrictive military contexts where a military is usually under the oversight and control of multiple local, national and even international authorities. Yet the higher the intensity of conflict becomes, militaries tend to see a dramatic expansion of options coupled with a reduction of control and restrictions. If a military finds itself fighting for the very survival of a nation’s existence, nearly all restrictions likely are removed.

This raises the last key distinction for why military design differs contextually from all other forms of design. While all businesses can go out of business, nearly all militaries are immune from elimination, even at the defeat of a nation. Armies are defeated and although the individuals within that army may be removed, some security force will be restored and used for the nation or territory for the security and defense of that area. Militaries are not businesses, and they are not-for-profit enterprises that happen to cost quite a bit of money to run. There are business aspects within militaries, as well as many business-like behaviors, qualities and relationships. Yet militaries are not businesses, and consequence the direct application of business-inspired design done without addressing these uniquely military contexts will be insufficient for military-specific challenges that military organizations must address.

Changing Change as it Changes in Security Contexts

Military design requires the notion of systemic drift, in that despite a designer’s best efforts in providing holistic appreciation and novel experimentation for an organization in military contexts, the nonlinear motion and development of a complex system will continuously shift and shimmy in unexpected ways. This ‘drift’ is not only the perpetual transformation of the design outputs and solutions, but also a reflective learning loop where the designers challenge their design methodology, experiment with it, and render entirely novel ways to think about design itself. Coupled to this perpetual drifting of complex, dynamic systems, the designers are reflective practitioners and continuously advancing a design mindset of organizational transformation.

This makes for an increased emphasis on flexibility in knowledge structures such as theory, doctrine and language. It will cause institutional resistance from traditionalists and those that desire universal and codified practices through set doctrine, standardized practices, and a centralized hierarchy of top-down control and prediction for group behaviors.[xl] This tension is significant as leaders within the military, industry and academia need to consider how and why their organizations orient towards divergent and convergent forms of thinking, as well as innovation or adaptation within various systems of interest. These systems will always overlap. An organization will often if not always have numerous simplistic or complicated systems that require greater uniform behaviors and set practices to generate desired outcomes, yet those sub-systems coexist within larger and dramatically more complex or chaotic systems that the organization cannot apply the same methodologies towards. Those systems require experimentation, novel action, and entirely different methodologies applied by the same organization.

For the larger complex and potentially chaotic systems of interest, this necessitates designers to focus less on a solutions-orientation and more towards a learning mindset of perpetual self-reflection and experimentation towards development and innovation. Innovation is not the same as adaptation, in that the design innovators are those willing to risk in order to experiment with many different and often unexpected or surprising concepts, bringing together strange and unexpected components (bricolage) so that novel opportunities for innovation are more likely to occur. Innovation transforms the legacy system towards a new one where the innovation forces all remaining system actors to subsequently adapt or perish. Adaptation is when an organization responds to a systemic change that is done by an innovator, only the adaptor does so reactively and at potential cost.

All too often, militaries are strong adaptors and poor innovators.[xli] The strengths associated with steep bureaucracies and centralized hierarchical forms provide insulation for risk reduction, improved efficiencies towards established practices and rituals, and the universalization of codified behaviors for consistency and repeatability in many contexts. These strengths become institutional vulnerabilities when the military organization confronts novelty, system change, and the unexpected. A majority of military professional education tilts towards analytic optimization with problem solving, a standardized Taylorism form of management and decision-making[xlii], and the elimination of failure so that reliability and convergent processes promote uniform and predictable processes. In stable systems where tomorrow contains many of the processes that yesterday’s solutions managed well, the military form and function works remarkably well and there is an increased need for detailed planning specialization.[xliii]Yet in dynamic, unstable or novel contexts where tomorrow is entirely unlike anything seen yesterday or ever before, the desire to over-specialize becomes counterproductive.

Military design caters towards the unique qualities that only a military organization maintains and applies within complex contexts for security and defense applications. Yet military design itself is fragmented and heterogeneous thus far in practice, with many different tribes attempting to organize and innovate towards confusing and emergent strategic goals. Even the notion of a military ‘goal’ or strategic ‘end-state’ becomes paradoxical or nonexistent when we consider the nonlinear and emergent process of systemic change and innovation. Militaries are less aligned for new user experiences or products, but also are usually poorly aligned for reverse-engineered ‘ends-ways-means’ military strategies cast within mechanistic modes of decision-making, particularly above the tactical level in war.

Today’s military requires a unique fusion of military design, industrial and human-centered design thinking, as well as a prominent tool for bridging these concepts into traditional military strategy-making and operational planning. Lastly, with the demonstrative rise to prominence of cyber and digital domains for human expression, experience and conceptualization, a ‘digital design’ construct likely becomes essential beyond the design within purely physical domains. A hybrid design stance, drawing from physical and non-physical domains for systems of interest that feature security and industry challenges will potentially render single-paradigm design methods less useful. Across the vast design landscape of today, these various tribes must break out of their stovepipes and collaborate, experiment, and create novel design constructs to better deal with increasingly sophisticated and complex challenges.[xliv]

One Future Path for Multi-Disciplinary Design for Security, Industry and Academia

In order to experiment with a multi-disciplinary design form, designers from across the entire design multidisciplinary landscape could incorporate epistemological interplay, overlap and tension from their design methods into a hybrid model tailored for organizations that routinely operate with security challenges as well as associated industrial and sociological or cultural aspects. There are several existing barriers to this shift in the design landscape. This article provides some of those potential obstacles and a suggested path for various design communities of practice to consider as they navigate through the fog.

Design specialists generally focus exclusively upon one design methodology, and are unable and even at times unwilling to abandon their preferred design process to utilize an alien design. For instance, those experienced in Agile Design might have difficulties working within a military’s ‘Red Team Methodology’, while industrial designers meeting with human-centered designers might face different tensions. Human-centered design specialists found within industry may be challenged to understand and interplay with military design and vice-versa. In these contexts, a hybrid design team of human-centered design specialists along with military design specialists might pursue a design engagement with a military organization using a multi-disciplinary practice as illustrated in Figure 6. Regardless of how they define it, brand it, or structure the methodology, a multidisciplinary design practice must move towards the center of the depicted landscape in order to draw from multiple different design disciplines. The JSOU design methodology uses a preferred epistemological structure to encourage SOF designers to do this already, while potentially others with modification could quickly use similar multidisciplinary considerations.

As design is an experimental, iterative, collaborative and emergent process of discovery, critical reflection, and development, the overlapping design pathways in Figure 6 permit designers from either discipline to advance concepts, shift to another design methodology, and drift between the two in an experimental yet collaborative fusion of theory and practice.  The central figure depicted in yellow illustrates conceptually where a multidisciplinary designer stands. To occupy this space, they must be able and willing to engage, overlap, and interplay with any other design community so that in the design system of inquiry they are collaboratively willing to experiment and transform towards novelty, disruption, and future emergent advantage.

In order to introduce a multi-disciplinary design construct within any organization regardless of whether it operates largely in a military, industrial, or governmental discipline, extensive design education and exploration of the multiple design epistemological choices should be done between design experts before engaging with clients or military organizations seeking design assistance. As all design methods have in their core mindset a dynamic set of epistemological structures, any multi-disciplinary design endeavor also requires this attention.

Lastly, design failure remains a realistic and often expected third outcome of multidisciplinary design practice. While the pure human-centered design epistemological process (see Figure 3) was first framed as ‘market rejection of new design’ followed by ‘reflection, response, adaptation’, the security reframe for ‘market’ requires systemic consideration of what that stakeholder group and complex system might constitute for the military or governmental designers. Were this a design inquiry concerning novel approaches for joint unconventional warfare in multiple domains (cyber, physical, and the unofficial ‘human’ domain in military doctrine) regarding China or Russia for NATO partner nations in Europe, the ‘market’ would be established in earlier phases of the multi-disciplinary design journey with an expansion from primarily socio-economic concerns into security and ‘monopoly of violence’ considerations. In security applications, ‘failure’ again may reflect conceptual simulations and experimentation with planning or organizational transformation followed by evaluation and reflective practice of the designers. Or, a more direct experimentation phase might include technical or tactical applications that possess more tangible or quantifiable qualities for design reflection and reframing.

As the hybrid teams of human-centered (cyber-security, social media, industrial) and military design (defense, security) facilitators would continuously critically reflect and develop the multi-disciplinary design methodology itself, the designers would extend the ‘regime of systemic, innovative learning’ beyond the design praxis itself and into both the content and the form of the design inquiry. They would indeed be changing the design airplane while in flight, while also transforming the destination and even how society considers transportation across the entire system of inquiry. Ultimately, experienced multi-disciplinary designers might craft entirely novel design methodologies that are entirely unlike anything depicted in these figures, however any such novel design development must include deep design deliberation of the underlying design epistemological choices as well as some background evaluation of parent design methods. This returns philosophically to a ‘know the rules, break the rules, create entirely novel rules for emergent conditions and opportunities…and repeat”.


With the many design disciplines interacting, and the design demands occurring from industry to security as well as business clients seeking design innovation, the multi-disciplinary design space at the center of Figure 6 above is usually unoccupied. Most design groups cater to their organizations outside of this overlap, with industry, human-centered design, and military organizations remaining largely separate and unaware of their overlap and potentially crucial design interplay. In this ‘meta-design space’, a fusion of multiple design practices and experimentation using design theory and education could provide 21st century security organizations as well as related defense, governmental, and industry enterprise with significant advantage in critical thinking, innovation and organizational transformation.

Academia may provide a necessary multidisciplinary design fulcrum of sorts for interested parties seeking to expand on this concept and move design communities into new directions and combinations beyond what is even suggested in this article. Over the last decade, academic institutions across militaries and civilian counterparts have recognized some of these trends and conducted several preliminary research efforts, journal contributions, workshops and conferences focusing on a multidisciplinary topic for design, innovation, and transformation. Of these, the ‘Innovation Methodology for Defense Challenges’ or IMDC ranks clearly at the top of this emergent movement and is about to conduct its second annual conference.

The IMDC conference scheduled for February 26-28th, 2019 at Lancaster University, United Kingdom, represents one evolving area of multidisciplinary design engagement.[xlv] The first IMDC conference occurred in Ottawa, Canada in early 2018 through the collective efforts of Canadian and American military design theorists and educators from the Saint Paul University, the Canadian Forces College, the Joint Special Operations University as well as representation from several other military institutions. Originally, an early workshop of multidisciplinary designers in 2016 in Toronto resulted in a special military design issue in the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies for their June 2017 issue as well as extensive networking between previously disjointed groups of military designers, academia, and industry across multiple continents.[xlvi] This helped shape the demand and the structure for the first IMDC in 2018 that was held in Ottawa, Canada that later featured blog posts completed by several participants.[xlvii] The 2019 IMDC has expanded to include senior design experts from IBM, the Polish Armed Forces, and defense leadership from the United Kingdom, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, the United States, Canada and Australia.

At the 2018 IMDC in Ottawa, organizers Dr. Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard and Philippe Dufort first framed this group of military reflective practitioners by bringing together a wide range of different design disciplines into the same conference.[xlviii] The 2019 conference is on track to expand this trend, and foster a deeper exchange of design ideas, practices and education through panels, workshops, and lectures from some of the leading design experts in the world.  The 2019 conference organizer, Karena Kyne (doctoral student with the Lancaster University and 2018 IMDC participant), has organized keynote speakers such as Dr. Antoine Bousquet (prolific author on security topics), Mr. Phil Gilbert (Head of Design for IBM), Dr. Ofra Graicer (master design educator for the Israeli Defense Forces), Mr. Luke Olsen (design architect and educator for the Bartlett School of Architecture), and this author as well.

The 2019 IMDC will also feature speakers and panel participants including Dr. Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard (Canadian Forces College design educator), Dr. Philippe Dufort (founding director of the School of Social Innovation at Saint Paul University), Ms. Donna Dupont (Chief Strategist in Foresight and Design for Purple Compass), Dr. Orit Gal (Senior Lecturer for Strategy and Complexity at Regent’s University of London), Dr. James Greer (Retired Army Colonel, design educator, former Commandant of the U.S. Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies), Dr. Aaron Jackson (design theorist, Senior Researcher at the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group, and serving officer in the Australian Army Reserve), Dr. Mark Lacy (Associate Director of Security at Lancaster University), Mr. David Major (Operational Art Course Instructor for the U.S. Marine Corps Distant Education Program, Marine Command and Staff College), Colonel Jeremiah Monk (U.S. Special Operations Command Chief of Plans and Strategic Design), Dr. Dam Oberg (Associate Professor of War Studies at the Swedish Defense University), Dr. Christopher Paparone (Professor, Eisenhower School of National Security and Resource Strategy, National Defense University), Major Robert Rosa (Military Design Educator, War Studies University in Warsaw for the Polish Security Forces), Mr. Nathan Schwagler (Creativity and Innovation Facilitator for JSOU, founding co-director of the Dali Museum Innovation Labs), Dr. Anders Sookermany (Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Defence University College), Mr. Nicholas Taylor (Senior Principle Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defense’s Science and Technology Laboratory), Major Jeffrey van der Veer (Dutch Army Officer and military design educator), Dr. Adrian Venables (cyber-threat specialist, retired Royal Navy officer from the United Kingdom), as well as several others. The diversity of design disciplines and different fields of expertise in this group should provide exceptional opportunities for the 2019 IMDC to advance the discussion on multidisciplinary design thinking, education and practice.

At the 2019 IMDC as well as other future engagements where the multidisciplinary design topic is considered, Figure 6 in this article is one possible way to express the ever-widening playing field of multiple design disciplines and communities of practice spanning from entirely industrial or business applications towards those involving security, governmental and political complex challenges. Participants might consider how they would map this wide field of practice, where they would anticipate how their community fits, and where tensions, overlap and interplay exist for hybrid design engagements and applications. As these concepts are still quite embryonic, a subsequent discussion on how to theorize, experiment, prototype, and educate multiple disciplines should follow.

Today, most educational institutions providing design education focus almost exclusively upon a single design discipline, whether one looks to a military institution or a civilian one. Many different communities of practice exist, with traditional business strategists and planners as well as military counterparts operating in Figure 6 on either end of the multiple disciplines. This establishes the design gaps between single-design practitioners and their planning counterparts, as well as a gap between different design disciplines. Lastly, only the center space illustrated in purple is where a multi-disciplinary designer can occupy and act in an overlapping design space of spaces. To accomplish this, a multi-disciplinary designer requires extensive study in at least one design discipline at first, and then subsequent development and collaboration with deep designer practitioners and theorists from at least one other dissimilar design discipline.

All design practitioners operating from their own respective design disciplines have unique opportunities to accomplish this, as well as the ability to expand a multi-disciplinary community of practice that as of 2019 remains in an early yet fascinating stage of development. Beyond the 2019 IMDC, there are additional conferences and workshops scheduled in Paris, Copenhagen, and elsewhere that should continue this path of discovery, experimentation and collaboration to further cultivate the multidisciplinary design movement. Those interested in engaging with this community of practice may consider attending a conference or joining one of the numerous social media networks that many of these different groups are fostering as of 2019. See footnote 44 for a partial list of these groups and online sources.[xlix]


End Notes

[i] Robert Chia, “A ‘Rhizomic’ Model of Organizational Change and Transformation: Perspective from a Metaphysics of Change,” British Journal of Management 10 (1999): 226.

[ii] Grant Martin, “Military ‘Science’: What Have You Done For Me Lately? A Response to COL Celestino Perez’s Article, ‘What Military Education Forgets: Strategy Is Performance’” (Draft unpublished provided to author, October 1, 2018), 2.

[iii] Justin Kelly and Michael Brennan, “Alien: How Operational Art Devoured Strategy” (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Department of the Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, September 2009), 8.

[iv] Bruno Munari, Design as Art (New York: Penguin Books, 1966); Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971); Jean-Pierre Protzen and David Harris, The Universe of Design: Horst Rittel’s Theories of Design and Planning (New York: Routledge, 2010).

[v] Kees Dorst, Frame Innovation: Creating New Thinking by Design, Design Thinking, Design Theory (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2015).

[vi] Harold Nelson and Erik Stolterman, The Design Way, Second (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2014); Jean-Pierre Protzen and David Harris, The Universe of Design: Horst Rittel’s Theories of Design and Planning (New York: Routledge, 2010); Naomi Stanford, Guide to Organisation Design: Creating High-Performing and Adaptable Enterprises(London: Profile Books Ltd, 2007).

[vii] The author credits Dr. Christopher Paparone with expressing this view on design and planning in multiple exchanges at design conferences as well as personal discussions.

[viii] Karl Weick, “Enacted Sensemaking in Crisis Situations,” Journal of Management Studies 25, no. 4 (July 1988): 308.

[ix] Russell Ackoff, “Transforming the Systems Movement” (, May 26, 2004), 2,

[x] Weick, “Enacted Sensemaking in Crisis Situations,” 310.

[xi] This article focuses predominantly on western industrialized military organizations. It could be argued that several other nations and military forces outside of the west have demonstrated design-like concepts and actions in the 20th century; this exceeds the scope of this article.

[xii] For positions opposing design or efforts to assimilate design into becoming an optional step within the dominant military planning methodology, see: Milan Vego, “A Case Against Systemic Operational Design,” Joint Forces Quarterly 53 (quarter 2009): 70–75; Andrew Nocks, “The Mumbo-Jumbo of Design: Is This the Army’s EBO?,” Small Wars Journal, September 20, 2010; Thomas Graves and Bruce Stanley, “Design and Operational Art: A Practical Approach to Teaching the Army Design Methodology,” Military Review, August 2013.

[xiii] Kelly and Brennan, “Alien: How Operational Art Devoured Strategy”; Christopher Paparone, The Sociology of Military Science: Prospects for Postinstitutional Military Design (New York: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2013).

[xiv] Dennis E. Shoalwater, ‘Prussian-German Operational Art, 1740-1943’; and Jacob W. Kipp, ‘The Tsarist and Soviet Operational Art, 1853-1991’, respectively chapters 2 and 3 of: John Andreas Olsen & Martin van Creveld (Eds.), The Evolution of Operational Art: From Napoleon to the Present (Oxford: OUP, 2011.

[xv] Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971); Kees Dorst, Frame Innovation: Creating New Thinking by Design, Design Thinking, Design Theory (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2015).

[xvi] Protzen and Harris, The Universe of Design: Horst Rittel’s Theories of Design and Planning; Jesper Simonsen et al., eds., “Situated Methods in Design,” in Situated Design Methods (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2014); Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, Third Edition (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1996); Kees Dorst, Frame Innovation: Creating New Thinking by Design, Design Thinking, Design Theory (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2015); Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971).

[xvii] IBM Institute for Business Value, “Redefining Competition: Insights from the Global C-Suite Study- The CEO Perspective” (Somers, New York: IBM Global Business Services, January 2016), 6.

[xviii] IBM Institute for Business Value, 11.

[xix] Ofra Graicer, “Beware of the Power of the Dark Side: The Inevitable Coupling of Doctrine and Design,” Experticia Militar, October 2017, 30–37; Ofra Graicer, “Between Teaching and Learning: What Lessons Could the Israeli Doctrine Learn from the 2006 Lebanon War?,” Experticia Militar, October 2017, 22–29; Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (New York: Verso, 2007); Yotam Feldman, “Dr. Naveh, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Walk through Walls,” online social media and news blog, HAARETZ.Com (blog), October 25, 2007,

[xx] Shimon Naveh, Interview with BG (Ret.) Shimon Naveh, digital transcript, November 1, 2007; Shimon Naveh, Jim Schneider, and Timothy Challans, The Structure of Operational Revolution: A Prolegomena, A Product of the Center for the Application of Design (internally produced publication: Booz Allen Hamilton, 2009); Shimon Naveh, “The Australian SOD Expedition: A Report on Operational Learning” (Unpublished manuscript, provided to author on December 10, 2010).

[xxi] Alex Ryan, “A Personal Reflection on Introducing Design to the U.S. Army,” The Medium (blog), November 4, 2016,; Alice Butler-Smith, “Operational Art to Systemic Thought: Unity of Military Thought,” in Cluster 3 (Hybrid Warfare: New Ontologies and Epistemologies in Armed Forces, Canadian Forces College, Toronto, Canada: unpublished- Canadian Forces College internal document, 2016), 1–5; Ben Zweibelson, “Designing through Complexity and Human Conflict: Acknowledging the 21st Century Military Design Movement,” in Design Lecture with Phil Gilbert and Ben Zweibelson on Military Design and IBM Design Movements (SPADE 2018: Rethinking Defense and Security in the Digital Age, Copenhagen, Denmark: IBM, 2018).

[xxii] Grant Martin, “Military ‘Science’: What Have You Done For Me Lately? A Response to COL Celestino Perez’s Article, ‘What Military Education Forgets: Strategy Is Performance’” (Draft unpublished provided to author, October 1, 2018), 2.

[xxiii] This section was originally written by Ben Zweibelson for an edited strategy book pending publication in 2019 in a chapter titled, “Appreciating Design Methodologies for Security and Strategic Applications”. Select portions were modified for inclusion in this article.

[xxiv] Jesper Simonsen et al., eds., “Series Foreword,” in Situated Design Methods (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2014), ix.

[xxv] Stanford, Guide to Organisation Design: Creating High-Performing and Adaptable Enterprises, 47–50.

[xxvi] Stanford, 23.

[xxvii] Jorgen Nielsen and Lars Andreasen, “Design and Co-Design of Project-Organized Studies,” in Situated Design Methods, ed. Jesper Simonsen et al. (London: MIT Press, 2014), 52.

[xxviii] HCD emerged into popular usage because of industrial design outputs that yielded results within the preferred methodology and met all evaluation requirements but still failed. Many HCD methodologies start with ‘empathy’ and a self-reflection period coupled with an initial and frequently ill-structured problem for the designers. Later, HCD moves iteratively through sessions of exploration, ideation and rapid prototyping of many divergent concepts to later converge upon several promising ones to test and evaluate. Starting at universities such as Berkeley and Stanford in the 1960s, the HCD movement launched into multiple methodological variations as well as many different fields, schools and communities of practice that continue today to generate many different new products as well as novel user experiences. Within many HCD contexts, industrial design techniques and applications also are valid and well-practiced.

[xxix] Some designers might dispute this and argue that ‘empathy’ is based on the ability to understand or share feelings with another. However, in a limited sense of this term that is frequently used in some HCD methods, this creates a single feedback loop of projecting one’s own undefined values and beliefs upon all others; ‘empathy’ subsequently becomes one’s ability to share feelings with others only in the single lens of one’s accepted paradigm. Here, ‘empathy’ must include a framing of the ‘self’ as well as ‘others’ in order to move to the next portion of the meta-design.

[xxx] Natalie Ferry and Jovita Ross-Gordon, “An Inquiry into Schön’s Epistemology of Practice: Exploring Links between Experience and Reflective Practice,” Adult Education Quarterly 48, no. 2 (Winter 1998): 98–113; Elizabeth Kinsella, “Constructivist Underpinnings in Donald Schön’s Theory Fo Reflective Practice: Echoes of Nelson Goodman,” Reflective Practice 7, no. 3 (2006): 277–86; Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard and Philippe Dufort, “Introduction to the Conference: The Rise of Reflective Military Practitioners” (Hybrid Warfare: New Ontologies and Epistemologies in Armed Forces, Canadian Forces College, Toronto, Canada: University of Ottawa and the Canadian Forces College, 2016); Christopher Paparone and George Reed, “The Reflective Military Practitioner: How Military Professionals Think in Action,” Military Review, April 2008, 66–76.

[xxxi] Mary Jo Hatch and Dvora Yanow, “Methodology by Metaphor: Ways of Seeing in Painting and Research,” Organization Studies 29, no. 1 (2008): 23–44; Haridimos Tsoukas and Mary Jo Hatch, “Complex Thinking, Complex Practice: The Case for a Narrative Approach to Organizational Complexity,” Human Relations 54, no. 8 (August 2001): 979–1013.

[xxxii] Ysanne Carlisle and Elizabeth McMillian, “Innovation in Organizations from a Complex Adaptive Systems Perspective,” Emergence: Complexity & Organization 8, no. 1 (2006): 2–9; Mark Bedau and Paul Humphreys, eds., Emergence: Contemporary Readings in Philosophy and Science (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2008); Eric Dent, “Complexity Science: A Worldview Shift,” Emergence 1, no. 4 (1999): 5–19.

[xxxiii] Kenneth Stanley and Joel Lehman, Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective (Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2015).

[xxxiv] Chia, “A ‘Rhizomic’ Model of Organizational Change and Transformation: Perspective from a Metaphysics of Change.”

[xxxv] Karl Weick, “Drop Your Tools: An Allegory for Organizational Studies,” Administrative Science Quarterly 41 (1996): 301–13.

[xxxvi] Jeb Downing, “JSOU Educational Support for Commander Directed Operational Design Instruction for USSOCOM Leadership and Staff (as of 22 Jan 15)” (Unpublished manuscript in author’s private collection, January 30, 2015); Jeb Downing, “White Paper: Introduction to SOF Operational Design” (Unpublished manuscript in author’s private collection, January 5, 2015); Ben Zweibelson, “Special Operations and Design Thinking: Through the Looking Glass of Organizational Knowledge Production,” Special Operations Journal 2, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 22–32; Ben Zweibelson, “Change Agents for the SOF Enterprise: Design Considerations for SOF Leadership Confronting Complex Environments,” Special Operations Journal 3, no. 2 (Fall 2017): 127–40.

[xxxvii] As of 2019, JSOU has five established and validated design courses. Basic design education occurs through ‘SOC 3440: SOF Design and Innovation Basic Course’, the international version called ‘SOC 3450: SOF Design and Innovation Basic Course International’, as well as a customizable inquiry course called ‘SOC 2440: SOF Design 4-Day Inquiry”. For advanced design education, JSOU provides SOC 4445: SOF Design and Innovation Advanced Course’ as well as the international version titled “SOC 4450: SOF Design and Innovation Advanced Course, International’.

[xxxviii] Social paradigm theory refers to the work of sociologists, philosophers and scientists using the Kuhnian concept of ‘paradigm’ to denote changes in how societies realize, act and agree upon a shared comprehension of reality.  As social paradigm theorists propose different models composed of multiple paradigms in complex reality, societies appear to be in tension and overlap using various systems of thought to agree or disagree on many aspects of society. See: , Majken Schultz and Mary Jo Hatch, “Living with Multiple Paradigms: The Case of Paradigm Interplay in Organizational Culture Studies,” Academy of Management Review 21, no. 2 (1996): 529–57; Dennis Gioia and Evelyn Pitre, “Multiparadigm Perspectives on Theory Building,” Academy of Management Review 15, no. 4 (1990): 584–602; Aaron Jackson, “Towards a Multi-Paradigmatic Methodology for Military Planning: An Initial Toolkit,” The Archipelago of Design Blogs (blog), March 4, 2018,; Marianne Lewis and Andrew Grimes, “Metatriangulation: Building Theory From Multiple Paradigms,” Academy of Management Review 24, no. 4 (1999): 672–90; Marianne Lewis and Mihaela Kelemen, “Multiparadigm Inquiry: Exploring Organizational Pluralism and Paradox,” Human Relations 55, no. 2 (2002): 251–75.

[xxxix] Anders Sookermany, “On Developing (Post)Modern Soldiers: An Inquiry into the Ontological and Epistemological Foundation of Skill-Acquisition in an Age of Military Transformation” (dissertation for the degree of Dr. Philos, 2013); Ben Zweibelson, “Three Design Concepts Introduced for Strategic and Operational Applications,” National Defense University PRISM 4, no. 2 (2013): 87–104.

[xl] Chris Argyris, “Actionable Knowledge,” in The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory: Meta-Theoretical Perspectives, ed. Haridimos Tsoukas and Christinan Knudsen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 427.

[xli] Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations(New York: Penguin Books, 2006); John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

[xlii] Stephen Waring, Taylorism Transformed: Scientific Management Theory since 1945 (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

[xliii] Argyris, “Actionable Knowledge,” 426–27.

[xliv] Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard and Philippe Dufort, “Conclusion: Researching the Reflexive Turn in Military Affairs and Strategic Studies,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 17, no. 4 (June 2017): 273–89.

[xlv] The official website for the 2019 IMDC at Lancaster University is: where interested parties can review the speakers, events, and register for the conference.

[xlvi] Beaulieu-Brossard and Dufort, “Conclusion: Researching the Reflexive Turn in Military Affairs and Strategic Studies.”

[xlvii] The IMDC blog posts from 2018 are available here:

[xlviii] Beaulieu-Brossard and Dufort, “Introduction to the Conference: The Rise of Reflective Military Practitioners”; Beaulieu-Brossard and Dufort, “Conclusion: Researching the Reflexive Turn in Military Affairs and Strategic Studies”; Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard, “Encountering Nomads in Israel Defense Forces and Beyond” (unpublished draft provided by author, 2016).

[xlix] For example, “The Archipelago of Design” at was started by the founders of the 2018 IMDC in Ottawa, Canada and features numerous resources for military design concepts. There is a Facebook group and Slack Channel called “the SOF Design Community of Practice” managed in part by this author. The U.S. Air Force has a design-related journal online at that features podcasts, articles, interviews and blogs concerning design and design-related concepts.  Facebook features a range of groups that cater to some design related topics such as ‘’Developing for Mission Command: The Missing Link”, “The Joint Association for the Advancement of Strategic Concepts”, and the “Warfighting and Strategy Forum” among several others. On LinkedIn, there are communities such as the “Military Design Thinking Enthusiasts” as well as numerous mainstream human-centered design communities. There are two published military journals with special all-design issues, as well as another set for publication in the summer of 2019. The Journal of Military and Strategic Studies had their June 2017 issue dedicated to military design, while the Canadian Royal Military College at Saint Jean’s Blue Knight Review featured an all-military design issue for their January 2018 issue. The Australian Defence Force Journal is undergoing a significant revision and rebranding and will dedicate their new re-launch with an all-military design issue scheduled for publication in August 2019.

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