Deepening Systemics and Complexity in Design Research

Track Chairs​

Peter Jones
OCAD University, Toronto

Birger Sevaldson
Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Oslo

Track Subchairs

Paul Pangaro
College for Creative Studies

Jodi Forlizzi
Carnegie-Mellon,

Wolfgang Jonas
HBK-Braunschweig

The interdisciplinary practice of systemic design has become a growing field within design studies and design research. For over 5 years, emerging practices have been curated from a small symposium to an international conference (Relating Systems Thinking and Design), recently joined by the DesignX movement’s attention to sociotechnical problems. These learning events support an active inquiry into the applications of advanced design in complex social and sociotechnical systems, often adopting and enhancing systems and complexity theories. Systemic design takes seriously the commitment to design for complex problem systems which have no definitive solution and foil linear methodology or the imposition of parametric approaches. Such a design practice may be ultimately valued and recognized for its contributions to services, practices, and human performance in currently recognized problems. Yet we might further develop research methods and protocols of requisite adaptability and observational insight to make performance claims in long-term problematics such as human health, urban habitation, sociopolitical economy, and ecological adaptation. We are seeking further development of systemic design knowledge through research discussions, scholarship and theoretical studies. We invite design researchers and scholars informed by systems theory, cybernetics and social systems for applications in service design, public policy and public sector design, complex multi-stakeholder contexts, and sociotechnical systems.

Three dilemmas of systemic design research are of particular interest:

  • Performance effectiveness of systemic design methods and practices
  • Qualifying and organizing systemic design in multistakeholder settings
  • Design varieties: Problem framing and stakeholder selection for complex systems

Contributions may include:

  • Emerging models of systems thinking informing design research, accounting for complex social dynamics in methodology, artefacts, or social systems
  • Learning from studies and cases in evolutionary and developmental approaches to design that inform our understanding of incremental and evolutionary design in complex contexts.
  • Research outcomes from non-parametric (indeterminate, exploratory) modes of design practices for social systems, services, and transition contexts.
  • Novel or experimental approaches to design research that inform the consideration of multiple ontologies and worldviews, perspectives of “systems success,” values and normative tensions across design practices, and other social determinants of design.

Keywords: Systemic Design, Design Cybernetics, Sociotechnical Systems, Complexity Studies

Indicative References

Dubberly, H., & Pangaro, P. (2015). Cybernetics and design: Conversations for action. Cybernetics & Human Knowing, 22(2-3), 73-82.

Jones, P.H. (2014). Systemic design principles for complex social systems. In G. Metcalf (ed.), Social Systems and Design, Volume 1 of the Translational Systems Science Series, pp 91-128. Springer Japan.

Nelson, H. G., & Stolterman, E. (2003). The design way: Intentional change in an unpredictable world. Cambirdge, MA: MIT Press.

Norman, D. A., & Stappers, P. J. (2016). DesignX: Complex sociotechnical systems. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 1(2), 83-106.

Sevaldson, B. (2011). Gigamapping: Visualization for complexity and systems thinking in design. Helsinki: Nordic Design Research Conference.

DRS2018