Designing Conversations for Socially-Conscious Design


Design is inherently social. It almost always involves conversations. Designing conversations-for-design should be an explicit part of the design process, just as much as designing the-design-process should be. In brief, conversations are vital foundations for socially-conscious design.

A theory of conversations can support the design process, in four modes:

  • If we converse explicitly about goals, we are transparent about frames and values. (This is ethical.)
  • If we converse to agree on means to achieve those goals, we more fully engage participants and their abilities, improving outcomes. (This is collaborative.)
  • If we converse to co-evolve new language, we can escape the limitations of current viewpoints, and create new frames and new possibilities. (This is innovative.)
  • If we converse to agree on the design process, we enter all our conversations as participants, answerable for our actions. (This is responsible.)

A theory of conversations grows out of cybernetics, a major branch of systems, and its roots reach back to Gordon Pask, who was Ranulph Glanville's mentor. At RSD3 in Oslo, Glanville said, "Cybernetics is the theory; design is the action." We need both theory and action to tame the challenges that really matter. A theory of conversation contributes rigor and dependability to socially-conscious design.

Conference Materials

Related Articles

DownloadCybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action

DownloadNotes on the Role of Leadership and Language in Regenerating Organizations

DownloadA Systems Literacy Manifesto (paper) or (PDF of slidedeck) by Hugh Dubberly

DownloadBio-cost: An Economics of Human Behavior 

DownloadBlog Posts on Conversation & Design 

DownloadLinks about Designing for Conversation

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Thanks to Ranulph Glanville, Peter Jones, Hugh Dubberly, Michael C. Geoghegan, and Pooja Upadhyay.


Paul Pangaro’s career spans research, consulting, startups, and education. He relocated to Detroit in 2015 to become Chair of the MFA Interaction Design at the
College for Creative Studies. He has taught systems and cybernetics for design at School for Visual Arts, New York, and at Stanford University in Terry Winograd’s Human-Computer Interface program. His most recent startup is General Cybernetics, Inc., dedicated to new ways of reading and writing in digital media. He has worked with and within startups in New York and Silicon Valley, in product and technology roles. Paul was hired by Nicholas Negroponte onto the research staff of the MIT Architecture Machine Group, which morphed into the MIT Media Lab. With Gordon Pask as his advisor, he was awarded a Ph.D. in cybernetics from Brunel University in the UK.

© Copyright Paul Pangaro, 2016.