Dan Hill presents a very informative outlook on the way strategic designers should approach complex problems –by harnessing the power of “Dark Matter” and moving away from static problem solving, in favor of much more malleable systems thinking. A designer should approach these issues from a standpoint of exploration, research, and investigation, melding together its “Meta” and the “Matter” in order to gain an invaluable inside perspective. This so-called Meta component encompasses the context of the problem and the matter represents the outcome or solution to the design problem. All too often, designers are wrapped up in the final product, the elegant, well presented “solution” per say, as opposed to immersing themselves in the true “architecture of the problem”. (Hill 90)
Dark matter can only be observed via its effects on “more easily detectable matter” (Hill 82) and thus is often overlooked. Dark matter sums up every aspect that surrounds the true “finished product” this outcome is what is known as the matter. While the matter is the recognizable outcome, this does not mean that the Meta has no value. In fact, the Meta is where all of the value is held, and it is here that the matter gains its true worth. If it were not for the deep understanding of a problem’s Meta components, the matter or outcome would be largely useless because it was not designed in the correct context.
It is so important to understand the entire “Architecture of the problem” (Hill 90) as opposed to just the perceived issues and most obvious solutions are imperative to both strategic and speculative design. If you learn how something really works, you will only then be able to truly understand it. This expert ability to perceive the unseen and formulate these findings into a concrete understanding of the system allows for much more meaningful and transformative design. When designers choose to focus on these problems contextually they can effectively implement their design thinking into changing the underlying roots of the problems they are trying to solve.
These small changes made within a system can and will encourage shifts on the macro-level. Though a problem may seem insurmountable or too embedded in unchangeable social, political, or economic issues –when attached from this micro level much like modifying the “servo-mechanism guiding a much larger machine”. (Hill 109) The overarching issue may not be able to be changed directly, or even able to be truly understood, yet its trajectory can surely be altered by utilizing these types of thinking.
This idea of looking beyond the obvious causation and the matter of a situation and focusing on the dark matter reminds me of my research for my Design Methodology class. My group is exploring child poverty in Cincinnati through the lens of education. While researching this topic it became abundantly clear that there was an entire ecosystem of factors that combine to create the overall problem –far too many issues, dynamics, and opinions are embedded into the topic to simply “solve” the problem at face value. Instead, action needs to be taken to dissect the “Dark Matter” engulfing the issue and suggest changes on a microscopic level that will, in turn, implement large-scale change in the long run. In many ways, this is a problem that cannot be addressed until its structure has been analyzed at the micro-level. Only then will our group, as the designers, be able to become fully immersed in the issue. This idea of approaching a design issue as not a simple problem to be solved but rather as a living investigation allows design to create systematic cultural change.