Rethinking the cybernetic basis of design: the concepts of control and organization

Theodore Zamenopoulos (Department of Design and Innovation, The Open University, London, UK)
Katerina Alexiou (Department of Design and Innovation, The Open University, London, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Publication date: 23 October 2007



Even though design as a purposeful activity naturally fits into the realm of cybernetics, the emphasis on control has limited the scope of using cybernetic principles in design. The idea of organization, another fundamental concept in cybernetics, has received less attention in design research and seems worthy of further exploration. The purpose of the paper is to review the two concepts and clarify their role and meaning in design. Overall, using insights from complex systems science, the paper attempts to recast the relationship between cybernetics and design.


The treatment uses category theory as a language and methodological approach in order to formally express the concepts of “organization” “control” and “design” and then study the relations between them.


Organization is defined using the mathematical concept of sketch, i.e. as a characterization of the complementary relation between theories and models. The paper demonstrates that the peculiarity of design rests on the fact that the distinction between theories and models is an anticipated but emergent state. In contrast, control‐based representations assume that the theory‐model distinction is given in advance, as an intrinsic characteristic. The paper demonstrates that design is a distinct paradigm in relation to control, yet it falls within the domain of cybernetic and complex systems enquiry.


The paper contributes to the understanding of design as a distinct type of problem in cybernetics by exposing differences between control and design problems. The paper also further lays the foundations for developing a cybernetic theory of design based on the concept of organization.



Zamenopoulos, T. and Alexiou, K. (2007), "Rethinking the cybernetic basis of design: the concepts of control and organization", Kybernetes, Vol. 36 No. 9/10, pp. 1570-1589.

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