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Design for Care

We Tried to Warn You

Team Design

Systemic Design Research Network

Systemic Design Research Network(Posted this month on the Strategic Innovation Lab site). We are rolling out the Systemic Design Research Network, a cooperative educational group founded in 2011 whose aims are:

  • To advance the practice of systemic design as an integrated discipline of systems thinking and systems-oriented design
  • To convene an annual international symposium, Relating Systems Thinking to Design (RSD)
  • To advance the knowledge, theory, and publications in the domains of systems-oriented design and industrial and social systems design methods in systemic practice.

We are an OCADU research group located within the Strategic Innovation Lab. As Prof. Jeremy Bowes and Dr. Peter Jones have developed the primary courses in Systemic Design for OCADU’s Strategic Foresight and Innovation program, we have trialed (and erred) enough to recognize and validate highly effective approaches to quickly and powerfully combine social research, expert studies, stakeholder workshops and mapping to inform systemic services and societal innovations. We have several years and courses of Gigamaps demonstrating the deep synthesis and creative research from student teams. We have SFI graduates now employed in the Alberta government’s systemic design policy innovation group.

History and Aims

The SDRN was founded at AHO, Oslo School of Architectural and Design, in partnership with OCAD University, Toronto and is organized by a standing committee of four co-organizers Birger Sevaldson, Peter Jones, Harold Nelson, and Alex Ryan.  SDRN is a cooperative association based on both academic and industry relationships, and invites faculty and students worldwide to participate in events and share research.  We are a member group of IFSR and host a moderated, open online community. RSD participants are invited to join the online forum, and are welcome to participate with us in future activities: workshops, publishing, symposium events.

As organizers of the Relating Systems Thinking to Design (RSD) symposium, discourses and publications have been developed for the following areas of research:

  • Strategic Design and Social Systems
  • Systems Oriented Service Design
  • Advanced Design Methods and Systems Thinking
  • Systems Theory in Design
  • Teaching Systemic Design and Systemic Literacy

Systems theory and design developed clear interdisciplinary connections during the era of the Ulm School of Design and Buckminster Fuller’s design science, resulting in the design methods movement (informed by Rittel, Alexander, JC Jones and Archer). However, in the recent decades this co-evolution has not persisted, as each field has specialized in preferred core disciplinary methods. Practitioners in both systems science and design have attempted to entail the more effective models and techniques from the other field, but usually in piecemeal fashion, and only if a problem was so suited or if supported by clients.  Systems thinking has generally considered design thinking a soft complement, or analogous to creative planning. Design schools and consulting practices have developed well-packaged presentations of “systems change” approaches, but these are poorly supported by systems theory, interdisciplinary courses or rigorous systemic methods.

There are significant societal forces and organizational demands impelling the requirement for “better means of change.” As Fred Collopy (RSD2) wrote in Fast Company several years ago, the (2nd gen) systems movement may have failed us and we’re not yet sure if design thinking will restore its promise.  As Jones (2009) replied, systems thinking never had a chance, the way it was presented in the last decade – so perhaps it might be redesigned as a discipline. Now we call on advanced design practice to lead programs of strategic scale and higher complexity (e.g., social policy, healthcare, education, urbanization) we have adapted systems thinking methods, creatively pushing the boundaries beyond the popular modes of systems dynamics and soft systems.

Research Agenda & Practices

Systemic design is distinguished from service or experience design in terms of scale, social complexity and integration – it is concerned with higher order systems that entail multiple subsystems.  By integrating systems thinking, theory and appropriate methods, systemic design brings human-centred design to complex, multi-stakeholder service systems. It adapts from known design competencies – form and process reasoning, social and generative research methods, and sketching and visualization practices – to describe, map, propose and reconfigure complex services and systems.

Publications, Projects & Presentations

Several recent publications have contributed to locating systemic design as a human-centred systems-oriented design practice (Nelson and Stolterman, 2012, Sevaldson, 2011, Jones, 2014).  Publications by the co-organizers can be considered seminal works in systemic design and systems thinking in design practice:


Relating Systems Thinking & Design 3

RSD3 2014 Symposium

Following the successful Relating Systems Thinking & Design (RSD2 symposium) last year, RSD3 seeks to engage a wider audience, maintaining the lightweight style of a small symposium where every participant can easily meet. Registration is open for RSD3 – taking place again at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, October 15-17.

Since last year the organizing committee has co-created an international team to develop collaborative research and curricula, as the Systemic Design Network.  We are convinced that integrated, more effective systems thinking and methods are required for addressing complex societal concerns – and our observation is that educational programs and design agencies are not providing the skills and knowledge necessary to deal with systemic design issues. We believe a stronger integration with design and design thinking is a promising way forward. Last year’s symposium geared up the expectations and increased the enthusiasm.

This year’s presenters are sharing significant progress, constructive projects and research that demonstrates or leads deeper impact on society in domains of social conflict and democracy, new economies, healthcare and community well-being, education and ecological flourishing. We are looking for a deeper understanding of the potential for enhancing design practice, as well as developing firm theoretical foundations for a progressive movement.

Behind all of this we wish to reinforce a dialogue on systemic design: How can we reinvent and innovate the relationship between design and systems thinking?

We have 5 keynote speakers confirmed as:

  • Ranulph Glanville
  • Hugh Dubberly
  • Ann Pendleton-Jullian
  • John Thackara
  • Daniela Sangiorgi

We extend an enthusiastic welcome to join us in the dialogue at RSD3.




Program committee

Visiting Oslo

Emerging Contexts of Systemic Design – ISSS 2014

The 2014 ISSS conference held at George Washington U was organized and convened by current president Gerald Midgely, ( U of Hull) who this year hands off the lead to Open University’s Ray Ison, a leading researcher in water ecosystems. Ray will lead next year’s ISSS conference in Berlin and will be looking for inspiring new ideas for this nearly 60-year organization.

Gary Metcalf provides an excellent recap of the ISSS plenary sessions at the Saybrook University blog. Proceedings are not yet published for the current conference, but the prior years are available online.

The theme for this year was appropriately titled “Leading Across Boundaries,” a clear call to engage ideas across the disciplines to which systems theory and thinking contribute.  I opened this year’s new track in Systemic Design at ISSS 2014 with a context presentation of systemic design in the context of systems practice and education (the additional research paper PPT is posted below this piece).  Our session was highlighted by talks from Ray Ison (Systems and Design: Mutually influencing disciplines and practices?) and Tony Hodgson, who presented his latest Three Horizons work in the context of foresight and systemic design.

Our intent was to share the developing relationships of design thinking to systems research and practice and inspire people in the systems community to contribute to this common ground.  Leading researchers in service and social design have formed a durable discourse toward systems-oriented design as a transdisciplinary design discipline, so we hoped to discover shared cause with the systems disciplines.

Graduate design programs have begun seriously integrating systems thinking courses and pedagogies into leading degree programs. Between the continents, AHO’s Systems-Oriented Design and OCAD University’s Strategic Foresight and Innovation have co-evolved curricula, symposia and workshops over recent years toward the development of a shared space of systemic design research for complex services and social and human-centered systems. This collaboration has resulted in an annual symposium, RSD (moving to Canada for 2015 and 2016), and shared research projects.

Recent Reviews for Design for Care

Design for Care has apparently been discovered by the larger design community this year, after a year in print!  With the launch in June 2013, I had thought that between Rosenfeld Media and my own decently-connected network we might find numerous reviews in the first few months – but more reviews have emerged so far this year. Of course I’m appreciative, they’re all insightful pieces, and its so heartening to me to find that readers are getting the message. The late reviews trend also indicates that the book may have several cycles of discovery. Some of the more in-depth reviews include:

These are primarily reviews within design publications – there are only a few in the healthcare field, and I hope to see more uptake in the clinical and educational domains. My hope is that the late appreciation of the work suggests that the book was slightly ahead of its time, and is connecting with thoughtful readers as its discovered, rather than through reviews being pushed by author or publisher.