An aboriginal artwork depicting bush medicine leaves using a range of blues, greens and whites
Image: Bush Medicine Leaves Dreaming by Louise Numina

Iain’s contribution below opens with a famous quote from Paul Virilio – “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.” 

The second part of that quote is “when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash”, which I’m calling out here because I just read this incredible (long) article about the Boeing 737 MAX disaster, in which 346 passengers and crew were killed in two separate incidents. 

The reason for this disaster? Managerial, design, and engineering decisions, within a system of constraints and a drive for profit above all else, that meant that in certain circumstances, the plane would automatically dive to the ground. 

The Virilo quote is often read to mean that ‘any technology comes with unintended negative consequences’, but when thinking about things like what happened with Boeing, I like to read it as ‘decisions made about technology can have unintended consequences’, or to go more broad, ‘design decisions have consequences’.

Now, saying ‘decisions have consequences’ may come across as a bit glib, but in actual fact, making decisions that lead to good consequences isn’t always easy.

The information we base our decisions on, the systemic factors at play, can all make it really hard to make a good decision, or even just avoid a disastrous one. The recent Boeing example is sadly not a unique case – when I teach design research I regularly use the examples of both the Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia, and the failures of data analysis, communication design, and management in those instances that led directly to their explosions. (The information designer Edward Tufte has written extensively about this topic). 

Making good decisions is of course possible. None of the disasters I’ve mentioned were deliberate, so much as they were avoidable. What’s really positive is that we can learn from the mistakes of others, so that we don’t make disastrous mistakes ourselves – there is a huge wealth of methods available, to both create success and avoid failure. Use the tools and methods at your disposal, and make your decisions count. 

 — Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #44 here.