Everything in a law department has been designed: a fundamental concept

Design precedes everything created by people. “[E]verything made and used by humans has been designed, in that it has been realized from an idea or its parts have been selected from the store of existing things, modified if necessary, and assembled into a new and purportedly improved thing.” Thus grandly does Henry Petroski, Success through Failure: the paradox of design (Princeton 2006) at 41, sweep everything humanly created under the sweep of design. Seven pages later he repeats that “Designed things are the means by which we achieve desired things.” Things designed have components; things designed make up systems. Law departments demonstrate the truth of Petroski’s view.

The best designers learn from failures. “Failures are remarkable. The failures always teach us more than the successes about the design of things.” (at 49). To Petroski failure is an unacceptable difference between expected and observed performance. All things designed have unexpected consequences and all things designed embody judgments (See my post of Feb. 15, 2011: ideologies underlie design; and June 15, 2011: design sciences.). Petroski praises pilot tests as a way to learn with problems corrected as you go along (See my post of April 8, 2009: pilot programs with 6 references.).

Petroski hammers home the paradox of design: “Things that succeed teach us little beyond the fact that they have been successful; things that fail provide incontrovertible evidence that the limits of design have been exceeded” (id. at 114).

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