Design & SimulationApril 3, 2018

Upstream Thinking

When designing complex systems, a disregard for design, and its ability to…
Avatar Anne Asensio

When designing complex systems, a disregard for design, and its ability to think holistically, can lead to making a system that simply repeats its own mistakes. For a consumer-focused business, the idea of developing new business models without strong design input is anathema, especially in our highly competitive global economy. The same should apply to citizen-centered initiatives. To create an effective solution, it has to be difficult for people, for decision makers, to make wrong decisions.

When starting a mobility project, for example, asking not just whether traffic moves a certain way, but asking what is traffic today and what do we want for the future is paramount. With the incursion of technologies into our lives, questions arise. Automated and interactive systems, services oriented business models, are designed through new platforms, new applications and new design configurations that are put on top of existing industrial networks without evaluating the infrastructure of such an architectural layering.

Acting in an ecosystem where all specifications are prepackaged leads to rebuilding the same structures that the industrial actors have and use today, thereby repeating mistakes instead of moving forward. Without a more holistic approach, we end up repeating our own mistakes. A system that lacks the imaginative and user-centered qualities of design reduces its capacity for successful innovation.

At the same time, design faces a dichotomy in its approach with the opposition of “automatic design” from cybernetic, techno utopian, top down, controlled, parametric, standardized and vertically integrated capacities versus  “autonomic design” using participative, networked, co-creative, bottom up and horizontally distributed capabilities; both approaches are enabled through collaborative platforms.

The reconciliation between bottom up and top down is critical: because complex, nonlinear problems cannot be modeled with a fragmented collection of linear models.

It further enlightens the need for design to create a responsive, receptive and supportive environment for more adaptive configuration.

We can see emerging a new industrial system—a balance between top down, controlled, policy driven, stable, scalable, visual, clear, efficient solutions, and an influential, tactical, close-to-social-demands set of practices to understand needs and behaviors, gaining knowledge and know-how when doing things differently.

Introducing design at an early stage in the value chain, in the up-front part of the process we have called “upstream thinking,” lets innovators do far more than incrementally alter existing products. It lets them embark on an innovative way of defining our world.

With an upstream design phase, taking the best of both design approaches—in which the solution concept is creatively open to new thinking and developed jointly with all the actors and systematically implemented with the best of 3D technologies—has proved very effective. Working upstream allows thinking, design and production to be addressed simultaneously. This “upstream thinking” environment enables people to actively access the transformation at hand in an inclusive and adaptive way.

The upstream thinking process opens up a larger field of possibilities to design and policy makers. With the 3DEXPERIENCE platform proposing 3D as a common language to imagine, design and simulate hundreds of different scenarios, engineers, designers but also users can come up with completely new disruptive ideas.

The process of thinking about innovation can thus be digitized—augmented yet offering fluid continuity of the innovation implementation and adoption—a key enabler to design for a better life.

Upstream thinking is a strategic tool for disruptive innovation. Taking a step up and aside, it allows for a holistic and systemic view, from emerging technologies to new usages and social practices — fostering innovation by design.”[Upstream Agency]

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