Design discourse is admittedly mostly technical in the sense of focusing on product development, marketing, and business planning. Nonetheless there is a deeper and, for the social scientist, more interesting background for questions relating to design. At stake is fundamentally a techné of the self in the sense of Foucault’s ethics and Heidegger’s interpretation of technology as poiesis. In a well-known book entitled Sciences of the Artificial, Herbert Simon developed a concept of design that can be traced from Greek techné and applied to Foucault’s technology of self as ethics. For Simon (1996)
“Engineers are not the only professional designers. Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state. Design, so construed, is the core of all professional training…. Schools of engineering, as well as schools of architecture, business, education, law, and medicine, are all centrally concerned with the process of design.” (111)
Bruno Latour would agree to this and add that the concept of design today “has been extended from the details of daily objects to cities, landscapes, nations, cultures, bodies, genes, and … to nature itself… (Latour 2008: 2). Furthermore, this extension of the idea of design to all aspects of reality means that the concept of “design” has become “a clear substitute for revolution and modernization” (5); those two ideals that have led Modernity into an inescapable responsibility for planetary ecology. Finally, for Latour “the decisive advantage of the concept of design is that it necessarily involves an ethical dimension which is tied into the obvious question of good versus bad design” (5). The ethical dimension that Latour finds at the heart of design joins Foucault’s idea of an ethical technology of self for “humans have to be artificially made and remade” (10). Understanding self-knowledge as an ethical and technical (in the sense of techné) task of design should not lead us into post-humanist speculations and the discussion of cyborgs. Instead, that which makes design both ethically good and aesthetically beautiful is its ability to take as many different aspects of what something is and can become into account, to respect all the different claims that can be made on someone or something, to insure that nothing important is overlooked, and to allow for surprises and the unexpected. To design something well, including oneself, in the functional, ethical, and aesthetic dimensions, is to take account of as much information as one can in the process of constructing. Latour proposes that networking, that is, the techné of constructing actor-networks, should be understood as design. This means that design is a “means for drawing things together – gods, non-humans, and mortals included” (13).