Gerry's Home Page Interpretation in Design Hermeneutic Software Design Marx & Heidegger

Sec 3.1
Sec 3.2
Sec 3.3

Chapter 3


Simon (1981) says, “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones” (p.129). Design is a broad and diverse business. For the sake of concreteness, this chapter focuses on lunar habitat design and the problem of providing computer support for this task.

A number of characteristics of lunar habitat design make it an interesting candidate for studying the process of interpretation in design and the possibilities of providing computer support for interpretation. It is a high-tech undertaking requiring too much detailed information for an individual to keep track of without computer support. Significantly, although the field of lunar habitat design is so new that it must be considered an example of exploratory design, it also avails itself of extensive systematically codified domain knowledge. That is, lunar habitat design efforts necessarily innovate and explore new possibilities. Every effort at design is likely to make new discoveries that could not have been foreseen but that should be captured for future design work. At the same time, these efforts are obliged to take seriously design guidelines and technical studies compiled by NASA. There are so many social, technical, and bureaucratic constraints on the task of laying out a habitat for astronauts on the moon that it is a non-trivial—particularly wicked—problem. Yet it is specific enough that it makes for a realistic, but manageable case study. Its wicked nature is clear in the way the designers who were studied had to frame the problem of privacy in order to work out a layout solution.

A tool such as the proposed Hermes system is attractive enough to NASA contractors that cooperation was forthcoming for conducting a study of the work process involved in lunar habitat design. Specifically, approximately thirty hours of videotapes were recorded of an extended lunar habitat design effort. The sessions were structured as a conversation between pairs of designers in order to elicit verbally the knowledge-in-action that was at work tacitly as well as the more explicit reflection-in-action that emerged when problems were encountered. The following sections take a close look at two segments of the video recordings in order to observe the processes of interpretation at work in design..

Section 3.1 reviews a brief design episode that introduces the issue of privacy and proposes individual crew compartments to provide private spaces for the astronauts. The concept of privacy is a difficult one to represent objectively. It provides a challenging example for a theory of computer support. At first, the concept of privacy seems subjective, having a different meaning for every situation and every designer. Yet, it names a general issue that NASA recognized must be addressed.

Section 3.2 presents a longer transcript that reflects a series of design moves motivated by discoveries about the concept of privacy that resulted from deliberation of different perspectives on bathroom design. This process led to a concept of privacy gradient, that was recognized as an organizing principle for the evolving habitat design. Here the process of design can be seen to involve (a) a creative discovery of the situation, (b) views from different perspectives, and (c) the articulation of tacit understanding in language—both in traditional and in refined terminology.

Section 3.3 takes a look at NASA efforts to capture privacy considerations in their guidelines for manned-systems design. This suggests the difficulty of formulating important design concerns like privacy as generic domain knowledge. However, it also suggests the potential for capturing design ideas as they actually emerge during engaged design activities.

Go to top of this page

Return to Gerry Stahl's Home Page

Send email to

This page last modified on January 05, 2004