From a workshop with design professionals in Tallin 2013
SOD is open source
Updated November 2017
From the very beginning, the techniques and methodology of Systems oriented design (SOD) were never thought to be precise descriptions of defined processes. On the contrary, each project or systemic intervention needs its own variation of the process. Each situation is slightly unique and demands a rethinking and adjustment of the process. Process design is an integrated part of a SOD project. In that sense, SOD is a ‘methodology without a method’.
Another aspect of this is that the research on SOD has always been shared in the academic context of the design research community.
Announcing SOD as ‘open source' we actively declare this inherent nature of SODand encourage others to participate in its development.
As an open-sourced methodology, anyone is welcome to use any part of the methodology and change it in in any way. As you think about ways to change SOD, we ask you to respect the following:
The Kernel of SOD
To be regarded as a SOD project, your project should be able to check off all or most of the points mentioned above.
By Birger Sevaldson
Many people in general, and designers specifically, do not know about, or relateto systems thinking or systems approaches, which are too often seen as difficult, cumbersome and alien. Therefore, we need to address the mindset needed to appreciate Systems Oriented Design.
When talking about systems, people often think that systems are something specific, something not related to them directly. We use the term systems in everyday language, for example, ‘The system does not work’, or ‘I don’t understand the system’, for addressing large, opaque and often public or organisational problems. One can also use the term system for something smaller, such as ‘I made myself this system for controlling my economy, and it works wonderfully’.
All those uses of the term system are indeed correct. Nobody has a copyright for the term system. The everyday use of the term is as correct as any other more specific use. In fact, the everyday meaning of the term is a good starting point for understanding systems. However, we need to make several small shifts in our understanding to truly grasp systems thinking in general and to start to become a systemic designer.
Revision November 2017
By Birger Sevaldson
Here is a short and superficial presentation of Systems Oriented Design
The field of systems thinking is populated with a myriad of theories and applications. Most scientific realms and knowledge-based professions have managed to situate themselves within this landscape to relate to the more or less generic systems theories and develop specialised applications of those theories to suit their field. Examples are found in creativity research, systems engineering and management. Some fields have not succeeded in the adaptation processes, with one prime example being the realm of design. However, there are a number of design theorists who refer to and apply systems theories and practices in design, and these approaches revolve, almost without exception, around importing systems thinking from other fields, either those that claim to be generic, for example, systems dynamics, or from adjacent fields such as systems engineering. These discussions have been going on for a long time and they are valuable. However, they fail to integrate systems approaches with design practice. In addition, one could assume design practice and theories can be useful for the systems world.
These attempts, however valuable they are, have been not very successful to become influential in design. Though the need to be able to address greater levels of complexity is pressing, the spread of systems thinking in design has been limited. The reason may be because these imported concepts and methods are not easily combined with the main characteristics of design thinking and practice. Typically, the approaches are too technical and ‘mechanistic’ or too ‘anthropological’, leaving little space for design thinking, design practice and design creativity.
Design thinking and design practice are potentially very powerful approaches to deal with super complexity.
The main mission of systems-oriented design is to build the designer’s own interpretation and implementation of systems thinking so that systems thinking can fully benefit from design thinking and practice and vice versa.
If you are interested in this building process, please do not hesitate to contact me at
By Birger Sevaldson
Design for a complex world.
The main mission of systems oriented design (SOD) is to help designers to become better at dealing with very complex problems. Complex problems are described as problem fields, networks of problems, wicked problems and Problematiques.
Complexity comes from the interconnectedness of things. Systems thinking is the science of interconnectedness. Therefore, we use systems perspectives in SOD.
Design can be seen as the science of what ought to be. While system thinking describes the interconnectedness of complex issues, design suggests how to react and innovate as well as solve complex problems. These two modes have not been integrated well enough
Designers are forced into a process of change because the world is rapidly changing. The forces that drive this change are caused by globalisation and the need for sustainability, and need to stay ahead of changes increases the complexity of the design process immensely.
Designers are especially well suited to cope with the complexity of the real world for three reasons: they are trained to synthesise from complex and fuzzy material and can visualise, which is an enormous advantage for thinking about complex issues. When working with complexity many issues and relations need to be understood. Our mental capacity is limited. Visualizing complex systems helps us to keep more details and relations in the forefront. Visualisation is both implemented as a process technique and is used for communicati[.3] on. Finally, designers are creative people trained to come up with new solutions.
SOD instrumentalises these three abilities to better help designers be able to solve the pressing problems we all are confronted with. At their best, designers work creatively and intuitively to generate holistic and synergetic solutions to complex challenges. SOD emphasises these abilities, and it trains systems thinking and systems practice as a skill and an art.
SOD is informed by modern systems thinking and theories such as soft systems method, systems architecting and critical systems thinking. However, SOD contains a series of proprietary concepts, methods, and techniques. Amongst them are GIGA-mapping, ZIP analyses and impact and threshold analyses.. SOD is regarded as a genuine creative tool in design.
An offspring of SOD is the Relating Systems Thinking and Design symposia starting in 2012. This resulted in the founding of the Systemic Design Research Network (www.systemic-design.net). Systemic design was chosen as a term for the larger pluralistic field covering all discussions about systems in design and design for and of systems, where different approaches are encouraged. SOD is one of the most design-oriented approaches in the field of systemic design.