Thinking about design in finance
August 23, 2013
The more objects are turned into things – that is, the more matters of facts are turned into matters of concern – the more they are rendered into objects of design through and through. Bruno Latour
What is design? The answer depends upon your theory of design.
The comment section of an article at the TABB Group – Elegant Design and Market Structure: An Oxymoron – demonstrates this point nicely. In this piece, Larry Tabb draws a strong distinction between what is desirable and what is achievable in market structure. Design, he suggests, is hampered by practical issues of implementation and communicating with technical people.
Tabb argues that desirable outcomes occur in situations where design is under tight institutional control. Kirtkujawa responds that to the contrary, the real issue is that simple market design is being thwarted by unnecessary regulation, while anonymole concurs that in a perfectly untouched environment markets will self-organize.
Comments supporting unfettered market evolution get pushed back by asussman who suggests that while systems might evolve organically, market structure is made based on rules imposed on it through specific interventions. At this point, brennan raises the issue of design principles – What are the statements guiding design whether controlled or emergent?
We experienced our own debate about design in the last post (Computing, communication and markets). Tero raised the issue that computers and software are necessarily designed by people; I replied that while systems engineers may not have a vision of the design aspects specific to markets; and JP cautioned that numerous moments of designing market infrastructure can lead to unanticipated properties in the aggregate.
The intellectual politics of design should not be taken lightly. It has become a driving force in a number of areas of research from Nudge theory in behavioral economics to city design in urban planning. The Parsons School of Design, made famous by the reality show Project Runway, for example, embodies the idea that design is socially important and requires a dedicated education separated from other substantive concerns.
(The school boldly states that “Today The New School and Parsons are committed to employing design thinking as a way to help solve complex global problems”).
Science studies is also part of the design-philic movement. (After all, what is social construction of science other than the idea that knowledge is produced as institutions, infrastructures and practices get… designed?) Latour provided five reasons why this concept has baked-in advantages over other constructivist terminologies. Perhaps his definition can help anchor the conversation over the role of design in finance.
Latour on design in A Cautious Prometheus? (2008):
– As a concept, design implies a humility that seems absent from the word “construction” or “building”.
– A second and perhaps more important implication of design is an attentiveness to details that is completely lacking in the heroic, Promethean, hubristic dream of action.
– Design lends itself to interpretation; it is made to be interpreted in the language of signs.
– The fourth advantage I see in the word “design” […] is that it is never a process that begins from scratch: to design is always to redesign.
– The fifth and decisive advantage of the concept of design is that it necessarily involves an ethical dimension which is tied into the obvious question of good versus bad design.