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Design and Knowledge Creation

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Co-written by Tore Kristensen.

It is said that the information technology revolution has made us smarter, faster and more knowledgeable. No doubt computers have become a staple that many people depend on. However, has all this technology enabled us to know more and has the information revolution enabled designers to create better designs?

To address that question, let us clarify what we mean by information, data and knowledge.

Information, as data, is measured in bits and computers enable us to store and access huge amounts of data, structuring it as tables and visual representations. We see that exponential growth and technological progress together with design can enable us to make better visual representations, interactivity and find better ways to articulate information.

Information as knowledge, on the other hand, is what the Plato called "justified, true belief". This means that there must be a conscious, intelligent human being involved, one who can hold a belief and, in addition, the belief must have been subject to a justification or test, enabling us to say that it is actually true.

The question now is whether computers help us here, because we still need to use our conscious reasoning to decide matters. A single person may become smarter by taking a longer and deeper education, by learning new tricks and reading good sources, using memory enhancing and visual tools. In addition to each person becoming smarter, more people can get an education. Together this provides linear growth in knowledge, a much slower growth than that of the exponential growth in data.

There does not seem to be a limit to the growth of data and with this fundamental difference between data and knowledge will we see a closing of the gap between the two? Do we need to and if so perhaps design can address this wicked problem.

Design is, in its essence, about creating meaning, making sense and fulfilling criteria for use. By experiencing, reflecting, abstracting and experimenting, designers learn and create new reality. When designers synthesize concepts they take information, in one form or another, and create one version of truth, captured in an artifact for everyone to engage with, relate to and evaluate.

There are solutions to the information overload, although none are perfect. Some deal with computer aided systems to make information available just when needed. Some solutions are based on extensions of the mind, as diligent uses of the environment can amplify and extend the capability of thinking; "supersizing the mind" to quote Andy Clark. Other solutions deal with selecting, organizing and preserving information as stories or in file systems. Quora is established to answer some big questions and is made available through searching themes. It seems people will soon find systems to design their own system of categorization and a search/ select strategy that will enable them to turn information into knowledge.

At the end of the day, each one of us has to decide what is important for us to know and what we can happily live without and our knowledge and decisions in this regard define who we are and strive to become.

Special thanks to Tore Kristensen for researching and co-writing this article.