Systems versus Humans

In my previous post I discussed art and design in the context of communication. Now I want to reveal a correlation that came up between the work of John Zachman and Abraham Maslow. I believe it reveals that computer systems and human systems respectively obey the same basic principles.Here is the Zachman model:


Here is the Maslow Model:


As you can see both frameworks share a similar hierarchy. It is my assertion that they are the same.

Design versus Art

In his blog Up Against It Thomas Roth-Berghofer discusses his reading of The Laws of Simplicity by Medea. He quotes Medea:

“The best art makes your head spin with question. Perhaps this is the fundamental distinction between pure art and pure design. While great art makes you wonder, great design makes things clear.”

I believe the path to the appreciation of Art and the path to the appreciation of Design is very simple.

Art’s path is Physical -> Logical -> Contextual -> Conceptual

Design’s (Good Design’s) path is Conceptual -> Contextual -> Logical -> Physical

I believe that communication is a continual cycle ascending and descending these complimentary paths between people.


Good Design

Designers for years have been attempting to portray a system as a bipolar system and are continually trying to strike a balance like children on a seesaw. However, this view of a system is not grand enough. It does not do justice to the many aspects of a system. It leaves a product of design without a spatial context that the system is placed in. It does not consider the temporal contexts to which the system must operate. It does not consider what the goal of the system’s users ultimately is. And, finally, it does not determine how personal the experience the user has when using the system. All it thinks about is the material and its manipulation.

I urge designers to abandon the minimalism of this perspective and recognize the array of focuses any system has and how they interplay. You may ask, “What defines good design?” Of course it depends on who you ask because they each have a different set of variables in different ratios. Of course, my variables and ratios can change as well, but I feel there is a minimum for any interactive system and that is the basic interrogatives. Let’s look at them with a different set of terms than the 5W1H:


First, good design keeps the goals of the user prominently in mind to be effective. Second, good design assumes a form that is materially efficient. Form is “what” function will manipulate. Third, good design requires a function that is effortless. Function is about “how” not “why”. Fourth, good design affords itself spatially in a manner that accessible without being intrusive. Fifth, good design affords itself at the time the user needs it. Good design knows the user’s tempo. Sixth, good design is personal, a liberating democratic product without the need for middlemen like an IT department between the user and the five other variables.

A good design is not a necessarily a balance of all six variables in equal ratios. Design can be distorted by many factors to emphasize an audience with specific needs. What do you think the priorities are in the following Venn diagram?


If you say emphasis on goal, formal and temporal aspects you’re right. And there is an audience for such a system. So when you design determine what your audience’s primary needs are and emphasize the variables accordingly. If you can strike a complete balance great, but remember the axiom: If you try to please everyone, you will please no one.

I am borrowing this representation of design in Venn diagrams from Alan Cooper. I think it is a very expressive way to consider the number of variables in a system and what emphasis they are given. When you are only considering form and function are you short changing yourself of the affordances you need as a designer to meet your client’s requirements?

The Data Is Only Part of the Message

Marshall McLuhan is famous for his statement, “The medium is the message.”  In McLuhan’s definition of “medium” we get the broadest possible scope.  The media that McLuhan describes encompasses any “thing”, any “form” that can be used to communicate.  And I feel that McLuhan’s definition is more suitable for the definition of the interrogative “what” in defining a system than John Zachman’s “data”.  Data is too often restricted to digital media and most computer systems deal with media outside of this scope.  Therefore, I propose altering the Zachman Framework Abstract to use the term “medium” instead of “data” and calling the result the “McLuhan Framework”.


From here on in we don’t talk of a “data model” we talk of a “media model”.