Climbing Up the Decision Making Tree

Traditional design (up until today) deals with satisfying what people need. For when they’re out in the market, reaching their hand out to a shelf, looking for something to buy.

All of this is conditioned on a decision to have been made (I am going to buy a new car seat, sweater or potato peeler).

Design for agency could climb up that decision making tree, and help with the actual decision making process, independent if that decision turns money to your product (car seat, sweater and potato peeler), mostly because you’re already automating the production, distribution and sale of all of those.

Design that helps decision making is design for agency.
Design for agency helps people make decisions, without having an opinion on what the outcome of these decisions should be.

Published by Nitzan

I am a designer, writer and strategist with interest in machine learning, liminal thinking and complexity science. In my commercial work I help companies build innovative tools, design better qualitative processes, and lead that human machine collaboration with complexity in mind.

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  1. I need to push back on the last sentence:
    >>Design for agency helps people make decisions, without having an opinion on what the outcome of these decisions should be.

    To give an analogy:
    A typeface designer produces a variable font by creating the extrema of the font family.
    These are called masters. All the instances between the masters are interpolated and accessible to the user. Let’s say a four master matrix:

    Light Compressed, Black Compressed
    Light Expanded, Black Expanded

    Note these masters stop at a particular Light or Black weight and a particular Compressed or Expanded width. There is variation, but only up to the mental limit of the designer.

    The user cannot go beyond the limits en-framed by the designer. They may only use any instance between the extrema. These are decisions made prior to the user engaging with the design object known as a font.

    A decision has been made in terms of the magnitude of variation that would be reasonable to show the user according to the designer.

    The mental limits of typeface designers are shallower than users.
    See this tweet exchange as demonstration:

    What would a design that goes beyond such mental limitations look like?
    It would require a formal structure that goes beyond practice.

    1. Thanks Thomas – I think that what I am talking about lack of formality.

      Similar to how we humans talk to each other. when we support each other, we, in a way, enable other’s to have agency without telling the other what to do. This is a social construct, that is rarely articulated (beyond therapy environments).

      I have yet to reconcile this thought with formal tool design, but I suspect that the formality scale is an interesting place to think about.

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