The FVS Manifesto Explained
On the first page of the book Flexible Visual Systems, you will find a Manifesto that does not come with any explanation. In lectures, I tried to explain each of the points because I am aware that every abbreviation contains the risk of misinterpretation. This is an attempt to make the elaboration available to everyone.
- Working with systems is more efficient because the application can be automated.
- Working with systems is more durable because the components can be optimized without having to overhaul the entire system.
- Working with systems enables teamwork, as it is based on objectively comprehensible rules.
- Thinking in systems makes empathy necessary for communication because design components have to be understood in context, as people will encounter them, which may be very different from how you encounter them.
- Thinking in systems creates a sense of responsibility, as your work affects the system as well as everyone and everything involved.
- Thinking in systems leads to the opportunity for criticism of systems because you realize that the system may be the problem, not its components.
- Not working or thinking in systems corresponds neither to today’s communication networks nor to contemporary communication behavior.
Working with systems is more efficient
because the application can be automated.
One of the biggest advantages of a system is its efficiency. Once the designer has decided which are the components and how they have to be used, decisions have been made that make future decision-making processes unnecessary. This applies to the design process as well as any interaction between humans. If we know what is our role in a team, what is expected of us, and what is not expected of us, we avoid unnecessary redundancy and in the worst case deconstructive confrontation. Laws are nothing else than juridic systems that organize what we can do and what we can’t. As we all know everything changes constantly and so should the systems that organize our lives. It is therefore important to observe their effect and adjust when negative.
The possibility of automation allows us to use algorithms to apply our systems. This has advantages too if the work is boring or so complex that we would not be able to apply it ourselves. But it can have disadvantages too if automation is used for tasks that it shouldn’t be applied to, like for example the complex tasks of “reading between the lines”, “having a sense for the audience” or “emotional intelligence”. Undeniable important, yet intangible skills and unmeasurable data. I am therefore not a fan of automating the design process, but automating the application of systems designed by us is fantastic.
Working with systems is more durable
because the components can be optimized
without having to overhaul the entire system.
Understanding systems, their components, and how they behave is a big step toward being able to change them. It is normal that systems need to be adjusted from time to time and if the system has been designed with the flexibility it should allow changes. In communication design as in every societal system.
The necessity to overhaul an entire system obviously exists. Especially if it hasn’t been designed flexibly. But the destruction of a system and the design of a new one is a huge waste of energy. So when it is your turn to design a system, for whatever use, make sure it allows future adjustments and is flexible to different contexts in order to avoid unnecessary waste of energy.
Working with systems enables teamwork,
as it is based on objectively comprehensible rules.
Systems do not need to be abstract or only designed for machines. Systems help us to organize human communication and build teams, groups, communities, or societies too. If the rules of our systems are superindividual we are able to cooperate.
Communication systems use written and spoken words, but also images, objects, and spaces. The communication system money allows us to interchange products and services even though the person’s products and services we want to make the exchange with are not of interest to us. Money is a communication system with a high optional value. It is also one of the few values that is able to be stored, which probably has more disadvantages than advantages as history proofs. Establishing the possibility to work in networks by designing communication systems on the contrary has been proven to be the most powerful “invention” in culture as in nature.
Thinking in systems makes empathy necessary for communication because design components have to be understood in context, as people will encounter them, which may be very different from how you encounter them.
Before we design communication we have become aware that what we say, write or show is never what will be perceived. Our thoughts are of no value if not reevaluated with the person’s perception in mind we want to communicate with. Perception is influenced by the person’s past and present experiences, which makes communication very complex.
It is our task as communication designers to take up this challenge. There is no way around it. We need to constantly learn about everything that might affect our work. Which makes our job extremely difficult, but also extremely rewarding.
Thinking in systems creates a sense of responsibility,
as your work affects the system as well as everyone and everything involved.
Some designers hide behind their clients and see themselves as a transmitter of a message they have nothing to do with. Some clients see design as a service getting their message to the intended audience. Both are wrong. As soon as an idea is materialized (in the form of a communication or a product) it is no longer the original idea. It is also no longer just the designer’s or the client’s idea. It has become something that is of everyone because materialization allows perception and interpretation of everyone. We can explain our intentions, but ultimately reality is made by all of us. This might be exploited by the ones that put their perception above everyone else’s. Especially in today’s (bubble) societies. One of the big challenges of our time is to establish criteria to evaluate the different perspectives.
Thinking in systems leads to the opportunity for criticism of systems because you realize that the system may be the problem, not its components.
Donella Meadows writes in Thinking in Systems “The elements of a system are often the easiest parts to notice, … Before going too far in that direction [spotting the elements], it’s a good idea to stop dissecting out elements and to start looking for the interconnections, the relationships that hold the elements together.”
The interconnections are as important as the elements. In a system, everything influences each other, but as Meadows says, not all are equally easy to spot. We need to make the effort to understand the systems that we want to engage with, but also the ones we are acting within and with. Only when we think in systems, will we be able to solve systemic problems.
Not working or thinking in systems corresponds neither to today’s communication networks nor contemporary communication behavior.
With the birth of social media, if not before, we have multiple communication channels at our disposal. The different channels serve different purposes and use different tones, which forces us to adapt our message to different contexts. On a smaller scale, we always have done that when addressing different kinds of people. We speak differently to a child than, for example, our employer or client. But now we are physically not present and have more options to pretend to be someone else. Someone who might have more success in a particular communication in a particular context with a particular audience. We all have become communication designers, intuitively aware of the complex systems of our communication channels. Corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or products are less agile in their communication because they are not one person, but a multitude of persons, needing to find a common identity. Flexible Visual Systems are trying to improve the agility of communication. Instead of formulating messages, we need to design languages.