Buckminster Fuller on Design with Intent

Buckminster Fuller, talking to the New Yorker in 1966, quoted in this article by Elizabeth Kolbert:

I made up my mind . . . that I would never try to reform man—that’s much too difficult. What I would do was to try to modify the environment in such a way as to get man moving in preferred directions.

That’s what this research is all about. Design as trimtab, perhaps, with all the debate, decisions, multidisciplinarity and implementation issues that implies.

Many thanks to Rick Thomas for sending me the quote.

And on the multidisciplinarity issue, Metropolis currrently has a feature on Fuller including this perceptive quote from Chuck Hoberman (of Hoberman sphere fame):

“I think he’s [Fuller] been highly influential as an iconoclastic spirit, who never accepted that the boundaries between disciplines were anything other than something to be climbed over or circumvented in some way. To me that’s not so much a heroic stance as much as a very practical way to proceed in the world today. That’s also why he pre-staged a lot of what’s going on now.”


  1. “That’s what this research is all about. Design as trimtab, perhaps, with all the debate, decisions, multidisciplinarity and implementation issues that implies.”

    You will never be able to escape from the one irreducible problem here, though:

    You can’t argue with the architecture if you disagree with it.

  2. Something about this post made me think of legislature as a form of “design with intent.” I think that law and policy often becomes a case of design with un-intent, and we end up having good intentions turned into unintended consequences. For example affirmative action policies can actually be a blockade to empowerment, like the Bumiputra example.

    Maybe government policies are often formed too negatively (to stop certain actions rather than encourage actions). Could there possibly be a way of applying “design with intent” to result in better actions and reduce the need for bigger sticks?

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  5. Thomas

    Another good quote is, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” People will change when they see a good reason to do so.

  6. Dan

    Thanks Thomas, that is indeed a beautiful quote and very relevant to influencing behaviour: show people something better. I guess the problems then become ones of education and dissemination.

  7. Duncan makes a great point, and I think we see a lot of this idea of Fuller’s in the current climate debate. It’s more effective to create useful solutions to problems than to preach to someone about how to change. If someone were trying to bang a nail in with a rock, you wouldn’t debate about the usefulness of a rock vs. a hammer, you’d just give them a hammer, right?

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