The Dialogical, The Ecological and Beyond


  • Jon Goodbun Royal College of Art
  • Ben Sweeting University of Brighton



In this article Jon Goodbun and Ben Sweeting engage in a conversation about design and its complex relation to communication. They look at the role of dialogue, the dialogical (signifying signs), and the limitations of the dialogical as one considers contemporary processes of cybernetisation and how “asignifying signs” are produced and exchanged within complex systems of all kinds. Prompted by the opening question referring to cybernetics as a general study of information processes, focusing on the production, exchange, and consumption of meaning, not limited to a focus on digital logic, Goodbun and Sweeting revisit a plethora of positions on dialogue including those of Gordon Pask, Gregory Bateson, Ranulph Glanville, David Bohm among others. In so doing, they make clear certain semantic confusions related to terms such as communication vs. conversation, dialogue vs. discussion, and analogue vs. digital, and provide a richer understanding of why these semantic revisions are necessary for the context of everyday design practice. Using examples from their own research and teaching work, they point towards models where an alternative approach to communication that critically acknowledges the complications related to “asignifying signs” can help designers grapple with the ecological crisis in the contexts of politics, research, and education.

Author Biographies

Jon Goodbun, Royal College of Art

Dr Jon Goodbun considers architecture in relation to a wider field of systems-theoretic discourses, working in particular with concepts of ecological aesthetics and environmental semiotics that he develops out of the anthropological cybernetics of Gregory Bateson, while also drawing upon three significant contributions from the Marxian tradition concerning cognitive mapping, the production of space and the production of nature. He is currently working on a book entitled ‘The Ecological Calculus’, and initiating a series of environmental architecture field projects in Greece, where he is now mostly based. He occasionally leads workshops on long-distance train journeys with Derailed Lab. He contributes to programmes at the Bartlett (UCL), University of Westminster, and the Royal College of Art. His co-authored 2014 book The Design of Scarcity has recently been translated into German (2018) and Greek (2020). He can be found on twitter @jongoodbun, and at

Ben Sweeting, University of Brighton

Ben Sweeting teaches architecture and design at the University of Brighton. Ben studied architecture at the University of Cambridge and the Bartlett (UCL). Ben first encountered cybernetics at the latter, going on to use and explore it through the completion of PhD research supervised by Neil Spiller and Ranulph Glanville. Ben is an active member of the American Society for Cybernetics, the British Cybernetics Society, the Systemic Design Association and the International Society for the Systems Sciences. Ben’s research interests include ways in which design can contribute to ethics as well as vice versa; rethinking ‘place’ in the context of systemic crises; historical intersections between architecture and cybernetics in the works of Gordon Pask and Cedric Price; and the development of counter-conventional methodological approaches inspired by cybernetics’ original transdisciplinary agenda.


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