About Systems Oriented Design

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

The aproach of SOD 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.

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.

Systems-oriented design addresses these problems by developing systems thinking in design practice further with concepts, techniques and methods that are developed genuinely for designers.

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 communication. 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.

SOD propagates a multi-centric approach to design. This means that the dominating anthropocentric design orientation, with user centred design as its main expression is criticised. In the age of environmental crises, an anthropocentric design approach is futile. Instead, we should be able to have multiple agendas at play. These could be user oriented, or they could work on behalf of non-human agencies. The different perspectives form together a system of values that needs to be negotiated or synergized

An offspring of SOD is the Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD) 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.





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