About Systems Oriented Design

The main mission of systems oriented design (SOD) is to help designers become better at dealing with 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.

About Systems Oriented Design

Systems Oriented Design (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 gigamapping, ZIP analyses and impact and threshold analyses. SOD is regarded as a genuinely 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 with a system of values that needs to be negotiated or synergized.

SOD and Systemic Design

An offshoot of SOD is the Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD) Symposia starting in 2012, and the RSDsymposium.org repository, a searchable resource of hundreds of systemic design presentations, papers, systems maps, and workshops. This resulted in the founding of the Systemic Design Research Network, and in 2018, the Systemic Design Association.

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.

Systems Perspectives

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 approach of SOD is to build the designer’s 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 the need to stay ahead of changes increases the complexity of the design process immensely.

SOD addresses these problems by developing systems thinking in design practice further with concepts, techniques and methods developed genuinely for designers.

Requirements for being SOD

SOD, being based on mindsets, soft prescriptions, and practice, can often appear to be blurred, and the difference from other design approaches might be blurred. However, there are some principles that define what SOD is.

Though SOD is very open and based on mindset and practice, there are a few prescriptions and recommended tools and methods. These prescriptions, methods, and tools are not cut in stone but can be practised and adapted in different ways. The most central are Gigamapping, ZIP and IMP analyses and the relatively vast praxeology. (Described in “Designing Complexity”)

However, some clear things must be present when working with systems and design.

  • To be systemic, one has to deal with large amounts of information in the form of objects, fields, tensions, data, and all other kinds of information. And one has to try to understand the relations between those entities and elements. If not its not systemic.
  • To be designed, one has to demonstrate a designerly way of working with this stuff, for example, through visualisation and visual thinking
  • To be relevant, one has to approach complex social and natural systems through involvement.
  • Finally, one has to demonstrate some generative, creative output. If not it is not systemic design how it is conceived in SOD SOD



Sevaldson, B. (2022). Designing Complexity: The Methodology and Practice of Systems Oriented Design. Common Ground Research Networks.

Sevaldson, B.(2013) Systems Oriented Design: The emergence and development of a designerly approach to address complexity, in Reitan, J.B., Lloyd, P., Bohemia, E., Nielsen, L.M., Digranes, I., & Lutnæs, E. (eds.), DRS // Cumulus: Design Learning for Tomorrow, 14-17 May, Oslo, Norway. https://dl.designresearchsociety.org/learnxdesign/learnxdesign2013/researchpapers/131/

Gjensidige Exchange, Kevin Simmons 2018

Designing Complexity

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 at 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.

more | SOD | CORE

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.