by Patrick G. Salsbury salsbury @sculptors . com 01-02-00


Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science, or “Design Science” for short, is a wide-ranging field of study, which focuses on the process of how to go about solving problems. It was pioneered in the early Twentieth Century by R. Buckminster Fuller, and has now expanded to include several generations of architects, planners, engineers, and designers.

It is Comprehensive because it seeks to find an underlying problem or issue, and solve for that general case, rather than for only one specific instance of a problem. For example, one of my primary interests is in understanding the causes of, and designing solutions for, the problems of homelessness on a global scale; Not simply why one person is homeless on the street in my town, or in yours, but why we have more than 400 million homeless people all around the world.

It is Anticipatory because the Design Scientist seeks to understand not just the problem at hand, but how this problem, or similar ones, may manifest themselves over time. Also, to try and foresee what problems a proposed “solution” might bring up, and to plan accordingly. The Design Scientist incorporates statistical data, demographics and population studies, economic data, and current events, to try and forecast trends and figure out where we're heading, collectively, so we can minimize surprises when we get there.

Design itself is the creative aspect of problem solving. It is the process of analyzing your problem, studying other areas that may have supporting technologies to help you, selecting appropriate resources and tools, coming up with the part, system, drawing, idea or whatever is needed to address the issue at hand, and then implementing the solution. Very often, this process must be repeated through numerous iterations, refining and correcting as you go along.

The Science aspect is also crucial. Design Science is not quite like other fields of design, such as interior, graphic, clothing, or artistic design. Nor is it exactly like industrial, computer, or mechanical design. Rather, it incorporates elements of all of these fields, and many others. It draws upon artistic elements, as well as scientific and engineering elements. Employing the Scientific Method to measure, observe, and refine solutions allows one to arrive at solutions that work not just once, but over and over, and in a variety of situations.

An example can probably help to illustrate the general-systems approach that Design Scientists often employ.

Take the issue of having a clean and reliable supply of drinking water. Everyone needs it, and people in developed countries often take it for granted, but in most of the world, there are no taps, and where there are, the water that comes out often isn't trustworthy. In many countries, people will sometimes walk for miles and wait for hours, every day, in order to get water for themselves and their families. In fact, current estimates are that approximately one billion people on this planet do not have safe supplies of drinking water. This, coupled with poor sanitation, contributes to approximately eighty percent of the world's sickness. (see note 1) So, if we could take care of the water problem, we'd also manage to eradicate about 4/5 of the cases of sickness, worldwide. Not a bad side-effect.

A Design Science approach might look at political, economic, and engineering factors (as well as various others), trying to draw upon the strengths of each, while also trying to minimize the drawbacks and weak points. For example, we find that a large, centralized system is both expensive to construct, and difficult to maintain. One break in a strategic pipeline can leave thousands of homes without water.

Drawing from the design philosophy of the Internet, we find that a decentralized model can be very robust, easily maintained in parallel by many individuals, and is able to withstand the ravages of Nature, as well as malicious intent. Dispensing with the accepted municipal model of a centralized water-treatment plant, various large reservoirs and hundreds or thousands of miles of pipes, we are free to explore alternatives. There are a surprising number of them.

Of course, rain catchment is one very simple method. It is employed in many tropical and sub-tropical zones, where humidity is high and rain is regular. Snow-melt is another good source, in the colder regions of the planet. Small filter and purification systems are readily available for homes, allowing many people who live away from municipal systems to draw water from local streams, rivers, and ponds. Atmospheric condensing is another possibility (see note 2), as is capturing the micro-droplets in fog with large, sail-like arrangements of fabric or plastic sheeting.

There are certainly many other ways of approaching the problem. Some are suitable for many areas. Others are most suited for just a few specialized regions. It's up to the Design Scientist to try and determine the most efficient and elegant solution, given the location and scope of the project, available resources, funding, etc. By taking an open-ended approach, he or she may come up with half a dozen or more workable solutions, none of which look like the traditionally accepted models, and which are perhaps less expensive, quicker-to-implement, and more stable than the conventional ideas.

The Design Scientist thus aims to study as many different fields, and become as well-versed in them, as possible. Then he or she may draw upon those various resources to integrate and synthesize, and arrive at new solutions to some very old (and some as-yet-unseen) problems.

In closing, I feel that the overall generalist philosophy of the Design Scientist is well summed-up by a quote from Robert A. Heinlein's character, Lazarus Long:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”


(1) UN Development Program, as quoted in “Naked Body”, Summer 1998. Printed by The Body Shop

(2) There is further info on atmospheric condensing and water-related issues at the Reality Sculptors web site:

Most Recent Update: 01/19/00

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