The Second World War and the decades that followed changed the way knowledge production was understood and practiced in the highly industrialised countries of the Global North. The so-called military-academic-industrial complex intertwined academic, industrial and political interests, and promoted new theoretical and methodical approaches such as cybernetics, operations research, technological forecasting, and design methods. Interdisciplinary cooperation, an orientation towards “applied” research, and an emphasis on managing risks and uncertainties were at the heart of post-war knowledge production.
I explore the role of design methods and design thinking within this historical period. I focus on Western discourses and practices that propagated design as a third knowledge culture alongside the humanities and natural sciences. Expanding on C. P. Snow’s much-discussed “two cultures” argument, design educators and researchers, such as Tomás Maldonado, Herbert Simon, Bruce Archer, Nigel Cross and Horst Rittel, called for design to be recognised as a practice-based epistemology. They highlighted the fundamental contribution design could make to the process of world-making, the creation of artificial systems, and the resolution of ill-defined problems. “The ability to design”, to them, was an “essential and universal aspect of human culture” (Archer, Baynes, and Roberts 2005, 3).