Design Journeys – A Systemic Design Tourbook

Peter Jones Service Design, Social Systems Design, Systemic Design

Kristel Van Ael and I completed a year-long project for this special book, designing the first practitioner handbook for systemic design practice. BIS Publishers is listing the book, and it will be in print by May.

We summarize the value proposition as follows:

This book presents important new developments in systemic design, guided into practitioner pathways that teach the power of using visual tools in collaborative dialogue to make sense of complexity. As the 21st century becomes ever-more complicated, leaders and changemakers are forced to deal with highly complex issues on a daily basis, with decisions that may have impacts far into the future. 

Accessibly designed as a launchpad for both new learners and experienced practitioners, Design Journeys Through Complex Systems will affirmatively shift how you, your team, and client projects generate insights about high-complexity problems. With the book’s 30 design techniques presented in context, you will discover powerful insights with stakeholder collaboration, innovative maps to lead system change, and value opportunities in complexity.

Structured across chapters in a seven-stage methodology, Design Journeys uses a distinct design language developed for systemic design cocreation. Built upon the foundations of the authors’ critically acclaimed Systemic Design Toolkit, Design Journeys illustrates the grammar of systemic design through pragmatic applied tools, updated models, and practical advice. Embrace this comprehensive set of tools for convening work as a systems leadership.   

 Each chapter defines a flexible journey that guides selected tools for stakeholder cocreation, based on essential questions that explore and design for a complex change challenge.

About the Book

Designers, social innovators, and business leaders are now called to address transformational challenges – often with the audacious language of systems change – for which we have no relevant academic or practice training. For designers, these challenges are fascinating, but not quite welcome. We are not often contracted to directly design solutions for systemic problems such as regional economic rejuvenation, food webs in poverty zones, or educational systems redesign. Systemic contexts in general are problematic because they break defined boundaries that focus our work and limit project scope.

As exciting as the prospect may seem to ‘change the world,’ the experience of leading systems change projects can be a disorienting journey without a clear destination. There are no standards or preeminent schools of thought in the evolving practices of systems change, as there are in sociotechnical systems. Reaching an agreement on end goals, means and methods, and definitions often requires seemingly endless discussions and meetings. New practitioners of systemic design can find it challenging to balance leadership and participatory process within the constant ambiguity of complexity.

Many of us may show beginner’s confidence when applying known design tools for systems change and complex, multi-organisational challenges. However, complex systems (and the prospect of changing them intentionally) only get more challenging as we explore and learn together with system stakeholders. Better guidance is needed – yet a cookbook approach to methods and tools would fall far short of the power and sophistication necessary to engage systems change.

Design Journeys provides a repertoire of collaborative practice tools for system solutions developed and tested in dozens of projects. The book integrates theory and practices of the 7-stage Systemic Design Toolkit for cocreation, in a single handbook. As a text, it informs practice and teaches relevant theories to help new system leaders coordinate much better design processes for these challenges.

A Brief Reflection

Working on Design Journeys (while teaching, consulting, research) to finish within a year has kept me from posting much on Design Dialogues, or from other real publishing. I am well behind on research work, which might be expected. (And thanks to great co-authors, Kristel, Ryan Murphy and Pranay Arun-Kumar for what we have done the last year). The book was a focused project we took on for the rapidly emerging contexts in practice, and the original book idea was expanded a bit once the seven-stage methodology of design/systems current/future to shape with the new tools. Our audience analysis, or imagined reader, became clearer as we ourselves took on more practice work in social/systems change and policy design. New tools developed or refined to fit the UN SDG program or Bounce Beyond informed the use cases, as well as the usual “secret projects” that contributed to the collection.

We also wrote the book to use ourselves – we’ve been actively using the Toolkit for four years since its launch at RSD7, using informal guidelines and (more recently) Miro boards. We have both been teaching and training with an ever-expanding set of SD tools, using the sources articles, brief handbooks and mixed materials. We believe the book will democratize systemic design, and will help connect service design and systems leadership to a participatory design approach, for the many new contexts we’ve found in practice, such as systems change programs (large-scale transitions, SDGs), public service labs, policy shops, social innovation studios.