Towards a Theory for Unintended Consequences in Engineering Design

DS 94: Proceedings of the Design Society: 22nd International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED19)

Year: 2019
Editor: Wartzack, Sandro; Schleich, Benjamin; Gon
Author: Walsh, Hannah (1); Dong, Andy (2); Tumer, Irem (1)
Series: ICED
Institution: Oregon State University
Section: Responsible design
DOI number:
ISSN: 2220-4342


Conventional failure analysis ignores a growing challenge in the responsible implementation of novel technologies into engineered systems - unintended consequences, which impact the engineered system itself and other systems including social and environmental systems. In this paper, a theory for unintended consequences is developed. The paper proposes a new definition of unintended consequences as behaviors that are not intentionally designed-into an engineered system yet occur even when a system is operating nominally, that is, not in a failure state as conventionally understood. It is argued that the primary cause for this difference is the bounded rationality of human designers. The formation of unintended consequences is modeled with system dynamics, using a specific real-world example, and bifurcation analysis. The paper develops propositions to guide research in the development of new design methods that could mitigate or control the occurrence and impact of unintended consequences. The end goal of the research is to create a new class of failure analysis tools to manage unintended consequences responsibly to facilitate engineering design for a more sustainable future.

Keywords: Unintended consequences, Design theory, Decision making, Sustainability, Social responsibility


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