Review of Espejo, R., & Harnden, R. (Eds.) (1989). The Viable System Model: Interpretations and Applications of Stafford Beer's VSM. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Dr Terence Love
Edith Cowan University, Western Australia

Important considerations in designing complex products are: ‘Which elements need to be included in developing a design?’ ‘What are the essential pathways of control and communication?’ ‘What are the characteristics of how things will go wrong?’ These control and communication issues are central to designing in most areas of human endeavour and apply to all products and contexts. Beer’s cybernetic Viable System Model (VSM) addresses these questions directly across disciplinary boundaries. 

In this book, Espejo and Harnden bring together analyses and case studies from 2nd generation practitioners using Beer’s VSM. These papers draw attention to the practical and theoretical issues involved in using VSM, especially in complex organisational environments. They point to the importance of understanding and managing the requisite variety in the behaviour and responses of design elements.

This book supports designers in avoiding design failures, minimising the cost of designing, and maximizing the elegance of solutions.