Endorsements for Design Unbound

On occasion, intelligent real world practitioners pause to consider their practices. How do the practices work, when and if they work? What makes them work best? How can they be enriched so that routine, effective execution gives way to invention?


Ann Pendleton-Julian and John Seely Brown, respectively an architect and an innovation strategist, have produced a deep analysis of the creative process rooted in their own professional experience and in reflections over a vast array of intellectual contributors from philosophy, poetry, music, science and technology. They leave no stone unturned. In chapter after chapter they make you see old things and old actions in a new light. They let you glean the value of the often neglected difference between discovering and inventing.


Antonio Damasio, David Dornsife Prof. of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute, USC



Ann Pendleton-Jullian and John Seely Brown have written an important book. Design Unbound explores and illuminates the design process required by rapid change and the erosion of cultural boundaries. The final words before the epilogue are “defendable optimism” which is a core theme.


Design Unbound is a celebration of individual potential to make a difference, nothing is inevitable. It helps us understand the shift from the industrial age to the information age in which individual narratives and social networks establish the context for design. We learn of the importance of a continuous process of questioning, early experimentation, of failure and creative recovery. We come to appreciate puzzles, strategic ambiguity, structured indecisiveness on the way to a complex unity.


Design Unbound draws on a polymathic reservoir of science and philosophy seamlessly blended with real life examples of successful design, Design Unbound is a must-read for architecture and design school faculty. But more, it is a book that all of us who care about how design can advance our common humanity will benefit from.


Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Former President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and of the New School.



The most common and important phrase used in Tibetan debates is, “It follows that…” For every statement made, an elucidation of the consequence of the proposition and reasoning behind it are presented. This is the central thrust of debate. Every proposition, context, and frame is seen as giving birth to a network of outcomes and interdependencies. These consequences are explored in detail, challenged, and compared against reality. The authors of Design Unbound give us “What if?”, following it with a cascading of propositions whose consequences are explored,  experimented with and presented for critique.


As an outsider to the field, it is my perception that designers dwell in the liminal space where mind and life meet. Tibetan debaters and designers are masters of dancing at the edges, on the thresholds between inner and outer. Debaters take a dramatic act of outer work and reshape their interiors. Designers take the raw potencies of their interior visions and reshape the outer world. In both cases, the outer and inner are brought into concert in an inter-informative spiral.


Tibetan debate has been described by one of the foremost scholars on the subject as “rigorous conceptuality for the sake of eventually transcending conceptuality.” I believe that offers a decent context for the concepts presented herein. Debate is a ludic and agonistic enterprise, where play and combat are joined in service to profound purpose. The authors end Chapter 2 with the statement; “The tool set presented in this book is especially fit for the endeavor of building new worlds that present us with new possibilities.” The consequences of that proposition are profound, as our world is more than ripe for renewal.


Considering the stakes of our time in history, considering the minds of those who have crafted this excellent book, I would say that it follows that the ideas in Design Unbound are worth the best play and fight we can bring to them.


Eric Traub, Serial entrepreneur in health care, education, technology, device manufacturing, and leadership training, and a student of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama dedicated to interpreting teachings on mind training and cognitive advancement in Western terms.



As someone who has grappled professionally with the challenges of analyzing intelligence and advising policy-makers for dealing with international security environments that result from the formal complexity of interacting dynamic systems, frustration is a natural product of attempting to communicate these conditions to people raised with the rationality of the Enlightenment: determinism, correlation of cause and effect, predictability, and control of outcomes.


One frequent response by decision-makers to the unpredictable and extraordinarily dynamic environments they now confront across a range of key domains is to ignore the altered conditions and continue to behave as though these environments were still deterministic and amenable to directive control.  Another in the face of these truly complex challenges is to throw up hands in despair and complain they are too unstable and beyond man’s ability to understand or manage.  


Perhaps the most important contribution of “Design Unbound” is to return a sense of optimism to people about the possibility that humans can usefully affect the course of such complex environments through the mechanisms of design. The perspectives provided in this important book offer a range of mechanisms through which human intentionality can be brought to bear, even if such activities cannot bring back the comforts of living in what we had long assumed to be a “clockwork universe.” The authors are careful to avoid the temptation to suggest that control can be recovered even as some measure of directivity can be achieved through the thoughtful application of the concepts they discuss.


Jeff Cooper, Technical Fellow and Vice President for Technology with SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation)



Design Unbound is a terrific, thought-provoking book! As a firm believer that complex, non-linear thinking is the most productive approach for confronting many of the key social, political, economic, and environmental problems facing the world today, I was greatly heartened by the authors' clear, erudite, and well-reasoned use of complex adaptive thinking and the role of emergent phenomena in their vision of a new tool kit for creative design in our fast-changing modern global system. This excellent volume should be must reading not only for students of design and architecture, but for students of today's world in general. I recommend it very highly.


Jerry Sabloff, President of the Santa Fe Institute, member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.



We live in a complex world.  Human societies, cities and nations are all complex systems.  Globalization, technology and the Internet accentuate their complexity.  The complexity of our environment often overwhelms us, because we can neither fathom its inner workings, nor predict its trajectory.


Beginning with the inspiring example of El Sistema, Design Unbound shows how we can manage complexity, even if we cannot completely master it, to produce great outcomes.  Drawing on an eclectic mix of ideas and methods like world building, we are shown new ways of looking at complex problems.  These fresh perspectives can turn defeat into optimism, and with the Vision, Vehicle, Concept, DesignEvolving approach, translate insight and understanding into action and real outcomes.


Although Design Unbound is written for a wide audience, I think it deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in good governance, because the challenge of managing complexity is growing in tandem with an increase in complexity of the operating environment.


Peter Ho Hak Ean, Senior Advisor to the Centre for Strategic Futures, Chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Chairman of the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, former head of the Civil Service, former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security and Intelligence Coordination.



Working with Ann Pendleton-Jullian for an extraordinary year was like building a new world. One in which all voices were heard -- she erected temporary scaffolding for our ideas, curated our thoughts and nurtured our hopes. She designed with and for us a future teeming with coordinated and concerted action -- fabricated into a system that scales -- one that holds in it open possibilities for research, teaching and learning in libraries and universities. This book embodies the characteristics of the work we did together describing it in just the right amount of detail to give the reader real insight into the process. The chapter on System of Action takes us through a complex and fruitful process, one that moved more than 400 hundred people through exercises that succeeded in getting beyond seeing the world as one beset with only immediate problems, but one that could be shaped through world building into a reality that we wanted to co-construct. The result of that yearlong process is now playing out in all parts of North America, as the 125 research libraries in Canada and the US work together within ARL to fashion a new reality.  With this thinking and through this book, Ann and JSB have helped us see our way forward -- now it is in our hands to fashion our collective work to construct that world.


Elliott Shore, Executive Director of the Association of Research Libraries, former Director of Libraries, CIO and Professor of History at Bryn Mawr College.