SOD Origins: Systemic Design as a Field of Possibilities

SOD origins include the idea of systemic design as a pluralistic field open to the possibilities of several different approaches to systemic design that is not only allowed but encouraged. This was the proposal of Birger Sevaldson at the 2013 RSD2 Symposium in Oslo.

The tension between systems and design as well as theory and practice. SOD is placed approximately at the red blurred dot, and slightly off-centre. It is closer to design practice, and a bit design-heavy rather than systems-heavy.

SOD Origins

Systemic design emerged from the Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD) symposia, an initiative by Sevaldson that started in 2012 as a symposium for systems-oriented design students at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO). Sevaldson suggested using the term systemic design for the whole field regarding the intersection between design and systems thinking (Sevaldson, 2013).

The notion of systemic design has diffuse roots, but it was introduced in its current form by Harold Nelson and Erik Stolterman in their book, The Design Way (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012). The motivation of Sevaldson to abandon SOD as a notion for the whole field was because of the risk of watering down its design-oriented and practice-heavy approach and colonising a much bigger territory than what felt justified. This spurred the further development of the RSD symposia as a forum for a pluralistic systemic design field and also triggered the founding of the Systemic Design Research Network (SDRN).

The SDRN was formed between AHO and OCAD University as a cooperative research group to “advance systemic design as an integrated design discipline,” with Birger, Harold Nelson, Peter Jones and Alex Ryan. A standing committee was formed with Silvia Barbero and Jodi Forlizzi. In October 2018, in conjunction with RSD7, the Systemic Design Association was formed at its first general assembly at Politecnico di Torino and announced at the symposium. The SDA is a democratic, non-profit scholarly association based on academic and industry relationships and invites faculty and students worldwide to become members, participate in events, and share research. 


Nelson, H. G., & Stolterman, E. (2012). The design way: intentional change in an unpredictable world: foundations and fundamentals of design competence. Englewood Cliffs: 1st ed. Educational Technology, 2nd ed. MIT press.

Sevaldson, B. (2013). RSD2 intro lecture. Oslo. Retrieved from rsdsymposium.org/rsd2/

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About Systems Oriented Design

About Systems Oriented Design

The main mission of 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.

SOD is open source

SOD is open source

If your project corresponds to all or most of the core parameters, you are welcome to reference it as a SOD project.

The Mind Shifts of SOD

The Mind Shifts of SOD

We need to make several small shifts in our understanding to truly grasp systems thinking in general and to start to become systemic designers.