Systemic design

Systemic design is a recent initiative in design that integrates systems thinking and human-centered design, with the intention of helping designers cope with complex design projects. The recent challenges to design coming from the increased complexity caused by globalization, migration, sustainability render traditional design methods insufficient. Designers need better ways to design responsibly and to avoid unintended side-effects. Systemic design intends to develop methodologies and approaches that help to integrate systems thinking with design. It is a pluralistic initiative where many different approaches are encouraged to thrive and where dialogue and organic development of new practices is central.

The systemic design dialogue is driven by the Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD) symposium series resulting in published proceedings and several special issues on systemic design in the scientific design research journal FORMakademisk.

Academic groups

Systemic design is being developed within the design practice and through the Systemic Design Research Network.[1] Systems Oriented Design is an example of a systemic design approach being used at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.[2] At Politecnico di Torino, the Master of Science in Systemic Design[3] is active and it is named after Aurelio Peccei, in that place didactics and research are growing up together. The Strategic Foresight and innovation master program at OCADU Toronto is a well known systemic design initiative led by Peter H. Jones. At NID India there is a group of academics at the design department, established by late M.P. Ranjan and led by Praween Nahar. Alex Ryan is leading a group of systemic designers at the Government of Alberta.


Systems thinking in design has a long history with people like Christpher Alexander, Horst Rittel, Russl Ackoff, Bela Banathy, Ranulph Glanville, M.P.Ranjan, Harold Nelson and others. Also the main systems theories and models were known and applied in design since their beginning. Despite this Systems Thinking has never become mainstream in design. The reasons for this might be that the prescribed techniques and approaches were too technical and did not fit well to an organic design process.

The systemic design initiative is addressing this problem by seeking new connections and relations between systems thinking and designerly ways of working.


Systemic design started with the Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposia series (RSD) on the initiative of Birger Sevaldson at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design in 2012. Amongst the invited participants were Harold Nelson. Peter H. Jones and Alex Ryan. An initial meeting was held in Oslo to consolidate the possibility of building a future network. Other participants were Michael Hensel, Colleen Ponto and others. The RSD seminars started in the context of Systems Oriented Design (SOD). In 2013-14 a discussion was initiated by Birger Sevaldson questioning the framework of the new emerging network. The network changed its name to Systemic Design allowing it to grow more pluralistically while SOD could develop more specially. The Systemic Design Research Network was founded shortly after on the initiative of Peter H. Jones and with Harold Nelson, Alex Ryan and Birger Sevaldson as co-founders.


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