Scalar framing is a current and ongoing research focus and project. I have explored scale for two reasons: (1) the rise of “wicked problems” is tied, in many ways, to the increasing breadth, interconnectedness, and complexity of our social, technological, and environmental systems; and (2), we have few models for understanding how problems change as the scale of them increases (or decreases). The research is cross-cutting and transdisciplinary, using scale to explore natural phenomena, networks, and design. The ultimate objective of this project is to use this knowledge of scale and system behaviors to articulate a design methodology that practitioners can utilize to manage complexity and find a way to productively engage with seemingly intractable challenges.
The project includes the following:
A genealogy of scale: what is the origin of scale. Where does the concept come from? How has the concept evolved over time? How is it that the same terms applies to fields as diverse as cartography, music, visual studies, urban planning, design, and so on?
From materiality to Immateriality: an exploration of the ways in which scale and measure have shifted from constructs that relate to the human body and human experience (the foot; the hand; the meter…) to universalized, scientifically replicable weights and measures (the meter as the distance light can travel in a vacuum in 1/300 millionth of a second).
Electronic and digital mediation: an investigation of the ways in which scale gets distorted in the desktop computing environment. What are the impacts on our perceptual and cognitive systems when scale gets translated across digital environments and we lose the corporeal connection to it?
Scalar behaviors: what happens to physical properties when scales shift? This research highlights phase shifts that occur in complex systems when the scale is changed (natural phenomena, allometry, typography, internet rating sites, traffic, visual media…).
Physical shifts: in diverse systems we see something that scientists call “scalar variance,” which is the condition whereby phenomena obey regular and consistent properties as scales shift, but at some point a shift in scale results in surprising new behaviors or characteristics in the system.
Cascading system change: we see instances where small changes to complex systems can cause massive and total change in the system, such as when tiny algae invade lakes and quickly deplete it of essential nutrients. Can we harness the power of cascading system to change to develop a model for triggering positive change in dysfunctional social systems?
Designing for Scale: why does scale become a salient and even urgent design problem in the 21st century? How does the issue of scale become more relevant in the evolution of practice from designing artifacts to designing for socio-technical systems?
Scaling up innovation: as designers, how do we take solutions that are tailored to the small communities that we were working with but lack the capacity to “scale up” these solutions to have a larger impact across a broader population?
Scalar framing: given that all design challenges have both local and global characteristics, how do we deal with the seemingly impossible complexity that faces every design decision? In this section I detail a design methodology I call “scalar framing” that parses a potentially complex global challenge into transects that are manageable though interconnected.