Yesterday’s post on prostitution reminded me of a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell from a couple years ago on homelessness. He was writing about the difference between managing an intractable problem and solving it and how doing the latter sometimes flies in the face of logic.
The students at Köln acknowledge that they’re only managing the problem. You can’t fault them for that. It’s not easy to solve; even within the most liberal of societal frameworks. Prostitution is an example of what Horst Rittel called a wicked problem. It’s characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity and there’s no way to even see what the range of options are. These are the kinds of problems that defy an analytical approach.
Richard Buchanan wrote a paper on this subject called “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” for Design Issues back in 1992. Here’s an excerpt [PDF 1.1MB] that’s worth taking a look at. (It’s also in The Idea of Design if you have it handy.)
I’m pleased to see designers taking a crack at this.