Demand and Design Spaces

When one examines human agency with respect to innovation, two relevant forms of motivation, behavior, intention and action emerge – one of experimenting and one of experiencing. The experimenting form is the result of our direct actions discovering, creating, changing and altering the world around us. The experiencing form is the result of our interaction with a world full of other humans and artifacts that we directly interact with and experience. These two forms are intertwined and inseparable – whatever we create affects the experiences of ourselves and others and vice versa – but these two forms are distinct and can inform our approach to innovation.

A convenient metaphor for these two forms of human agency is our work life, where our purpose is to work, either individually or within an organization that is trying to change the world in some way, and our leisure/play life where we are experiencing the effects that we and other individuals and organizations have on our world. Of course we experience things while working and we create things when playing. The actual world is a complex, fractal and recursive one. But as a convenient model we can conceive of two distinct but interacting spaces as complex, adaptive, systems – one space of experimental-work[1] called the Design Space and one space of experiential-play[2] called the Demand Space.

In the Design Space, the experimental-work we undertake is the constant construction of new artifacts using what Eric Beinhocker in his book ‘The Origin of Wealth’  refers to as ‘deductive tinkering’. It is just human nature to ‘tinker’ or experiment. In the Design Space, the universe of possibilities that can be experimented with consists of all the phenomenon and technologies that Brian Arthur describes in his book ‘The Nature of Technology’. It is a constantly changing, growing, complex adaptive system driven by human agency. The name, Design Space, refers not to any specific design or act of design but to the virtually infinite set of all possible designs.

In the Demand space, the experiential-play we undertake is the constant use of, and adaptation to, new artifacts. The Demand Space, like the Design Space, is a complex adaptive system consisting of the universe of experiences that is constantly changing and growing in its composition, interactions and nature. Its dynamic is due to the constantly changing, virtually infinite, universe of human needs and desires. It is the space of human wants (where ‘wants’ are defined as both rational needs and emotional desires). The Demand Space consists of all human wants and the motivations, behaviors, perceptions and beliefs that create them and cause them to change over time.

The following diagram depicts the two complex adaptive spaces, the Design Space and the Demand Space, and the interaction between them. The mechanism of interaction between the two spaces is the Artifact (see post on The Selfish Artifact). It is artifacts that people and organizations create and it is through artifacts that people experience the world. In the experimental Design Space, an artifact is what is being created. In the experiential Demand Space, the artifact is what is being adopted and adapted to.

The adoption of artifacts creates new experiences on the part of the adopters and causes changes in behavior (their adaptation to the new artifact). This, in turn, creates new needs and desires which drive the creation of new artifacts to meet these newly emerged needs and desires. This self generating feedback loop (described nicely by Arthur) is indicative of a complex adaptive system (CAS) with emergent properties and is the cause of the accelerating transformations taking place in both the Design Space and the Demand Space.

D-D Interaction

Figure 1 – Design and Demand Spaces Interacting through Artifacts

In this model, an innovation framework represents the recursive interactions between the two different, human centered,  complex systems –  the Design Space and the Demand Space, that interact in complex ways through the mediation of constructed Artifacts. The Artifact represents the realized intersection between the Design Space of possibilities and the Demand Space of wants. Each systems interacts with and is affected by the created Artifacts in distinct ways, one as a subject (Design) and the other as an object (Demand).

With the design and demand spaces represented as mutually dependent, yet distinct, Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) interacting through the mediation of Artifacts, the innovation question becomes one of how these systems, and the artifacts that exist within them, can be understood and influenced through human action, either individually or organizationally. If one understands the ‘rules’ (and, by definition, a rule is an Artifact itself) by which each of these systems is driven, then one can develop innovation algorithms that can change and influence these systems.

This, then, is the exciting part of the practice of innovation. Not just creating new offerings and seeing if they will be adopted, but searching the entire Design and Demand spaces for the intersection between Design possibilities and Demand wants and realizing that such intersections involve not just the creation of new organizations of atoms and bits, but new rule sets that change the dynamics of the Design and Demand spaces themselves. This perspective opens up a new world of possibilities about how we innovate and will lead to new innovation frameworks, processes, methods and tools that will drive a new era of innovation.


[1] Experimental work is the form of work most relevant to innovation, that of creating new to the world artifacts that are intended to be adopted

[2] The use of the term ‘play’ is taken from Richard Lanham; The Economics of Attention and is meant to include the ‘leisure’ state as well. Play can be just as much effort as work. We usually consider it ideal when work and play overlap.

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