Design Methods & Systems Thinking

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 Photo: Sara Svennevik


Track moderator: Harold Nelson

1. GK VanPatterInnovation Methods Mapping

2. Alex Ryan and Mark Leung – Systemic Design: Two Canadian Case Studies

3. Michel de BloisThe “self-organizing” project”: a “systemic” view of the design and project processes

4. Jodi ForlizziAn Ecological View of Systems Design

5. Seila Cibele, Sitta Preto Cibele, and Ana Luisa Biavista Lustosa Cavalcante – The importance of systemic thinking for mapping and development in design

6. Sigrun Lurås and Kjetil Nordby Radical design processes for systemic change



1. GK VanPatter
Innovation Methods Mapping


Innovation Methods Mapping analyzed 50 innovation process models spanning an 86 year period from 1926 to 2013. The study has been created for educational purposes. Included in the book is a new form of analysis applied to 50 process models, as well as 25 Key Findings and numerous process design Implications. The project was undertaken in collaboration with OPEN Innovation Consortium, a non-profit think-tank founded in 2009 by a diverse group of seasoned co-creation advocates from numerous organizations operating in several countries. The consortium’s purpose is to explore the subject of open innovation as it applies most broadly to research, history, knowledge, methods, exercises, models, tools, techniques, systems and futures. The focus of the study is not to judge the effectiveness of various methods but rather to better understand methods across the timeline of history in terms of knowledge evolution, design and architectural construction. The goal of the project is to help move the art, science and design of innovation process modeling forward into the 21st century. The ultimate goal of the OPEN Innovation Consortium is to advocate, contribute to and inspire the ongoing evolution of innovation process design and innovation related tool-making in a continuously changing world. The preview to the book can be found on the front page of the Humantific website.


2. Alex Ryan and Mark Leung
Systemic Design: Two Canadian Case Studies

Abstract     Working Paper

The currently fragmented state of ‘systems + design’ praxis is curious in light of the affinities between the two interdisciplines. To explain why designers and systems thinkers have not been talking to each other, we may look to their differences. Whereas the designer learns by doing in concrete situations, the systems thinker’s knowledge accrues by abstracting away from the particular details of any specific instance of practice. But if this is sufficient to account for the lack of dialogue between and synthesis of systems + design, then the two interdisciplines are on a collision course. Since the mid-20th Century, design has followed a trajectory of increasing abstractness, migrating from the design of objects, to the design of services, identities, interfaces, networks, projects, and discourses. At the same time, systems thinking has all but abandoned its ambitions to provide a unity for science. Instead, a diversity of systems approaches have flourished as forms of reflective practice, grounded in the methods of action research.The authors of this chapter are approaching the scene of the accident from opposite, but not opposing, directions. One of us is a systems thinker who got involved in the messy business of institutionalizing design within the U.S. military. The other is a business designer who increasingly needs systems thinking to fold design into the core of business strategy development. Although our systemic design methodologies were developed independently, we have found they provide enough similarity to be commensurable, and enough difference to stimulate critical reflection.In this paper, we present two new case studies where systemic design was applied with impact to address strategy and organizational challenges. Before introducing the case studies, we briefly define what we mean by systemic design and provide a common framework for our analysis. In the following section, our first case study concerns a public procurement project within the University of Toronto, where design and a systems mindset helped the Central Procurement Department re-envision how public policy is implemented and how value is created in the broader university purchasing ecosystem. Our second case study involves improving the effectiveness of the Clean Energy and Natural Resources Group (CENRG) within the Government of Alberta. Design was used here to reframe the way that the five departments within CENRG work together and to create a learning system for continuous improvement. We conclude the chapter by interpreting these case studies as a contribution to knowledge on how systems + design might be synthesized to create a practical approach to systemic design.



3. Michel de Blois
The “self-organizing” project”: a “systemic” view of the design and project processes

Abstract     Working Paper 

This paper examines the phenomenon that allows the built environment (design) project to organize itself and carry out its objectives. The hypothesis states that: projects influence, transform and create the organizations and processes that conduct them, following a dynamic and iterative process, referred to as «self- organizing » and «  structuring ». This « active organizing » process generates transformations – organizational and structural – conditioned by the very nature of the project itself. To support this assumption (hypothesis), an ontological frame, based on four categories of analysis has been devised, including: (a) organization and structures; (b) the project and its processes; (c) the artefact and its design, and; (d) actors’ dynamic. These knowledge fields are put in relations using systemic principles and tools within the paradigmatic frame of complexity. This research, through case studies and case surveys, explores the following topics:(1) the design thinking approach to projects and actors’ dynamic behavior ; (2) the informality of communications and coordination ; (3) contingency factors that influence the « structuring » of the temporary multiorganization – TMO;  (4) the typologies of the TMO, and ; (5) the study of iterative processes and their influence on organizational structures. The analysis produced a set of seven results. They help validate sub-hypotheses that state that: a process of «self-organization » generates transformations – organizational and processual – linked to the specific nature of the project. Therefore, the project : (1) is conducted by both formalized and often linear management approaches as well as  iterative design process, the former being non-linear and self-organizing and responding to systemic principles ; (2) contributes to create its own processes of development, and ; (3) constitutes a contingency factor that influences the structuring of the TMO that is created to conduct the project itself. Two important contributions are drawn from these conclusions : (1) the existence of inter-organizational work constellations; (2) the statement of the « organizing  project » that, through the « self-organization » approach, « organizes » itself and the processes and organization that are created to conduct it.


4. Jodi Forlizzi
An Ecological View of Systems Design

Abstract     Working Paper 

Our world is changing. In the past decade, many new societal problems concern us, including the global aging of our population and climate change due to increasing amounts of green house gases in the atmosphere. Society is failing to heed environmental warning signs and consider the needs of future generations. These are systems of problems, and not sufficiently treated by user-centered design approaches that focus on the development of a single solution common in interaction design.Change also characterizes production industries worldwide. In 2012, The New York Times reported that the number of products manufactured in the U.S. dropped significantly over the past three decades, while the number of services increased. The development of product-service systems and systems of interlinking services are on the rise.After World War II, systems thinking emerged as a means to address these large societal problems. Yet this movement did not have a great influence on the field of design. Today, the interaction design community continues to lack a systemic approach to employ in research and design efforts. My work on service and systems design seeks to explain and exemplify a product service systems design approach.I offer one particular construct, an ecological view of systems design, for understanding problematic situations. My ecological view of design encompasses several ideas. First, design problems are inextricably linked to the physical and social environment in which they take place. This environment must be taken into consideration during the design of artifacts, services, and systems. Second, designers must consider the broader consequences of what they design, understanding their relationship to other systems and their impact both locally and globally. Third, designers must find a way to facilitate collaborations that bridge scientific and design disciplines, and allow the intuition of the designer to play a role in shifts and developments in the research process. In this paper, I present The Product Service Ecology, which can be applied in design research and practice. I begin by laying out four basic systems categories: natural systems, designed physical systems, designed abstract systems, and human activity systems [3] and a set of systems postulates. I next examine systems as a potential for human action, emphasizing the role of a human in relation to a system and the subsequent effect on systems thinking. The Product Service Ecology is an ecological system that can be used to understand and describe how products and services change people’s relationships with systems of products and services and with each other. The Product Service Ecology is a theoretical construct that is applicable in many design situations. It is informed by social ecology theory, which, as in any systems approach, “sweeps in” the approaches of several disciplines to understand the dynamic relationships between an individual and the social environment.The factors in the Product Service Ecology include products and systems of products; the services that link those products together; people and their attitudes, knowledge, roles, relationships and values; the place, comprised of the built environment, norms and routines of the place in which the product is used; and the social and cultural context of the people who use the product and–for some purposes–the people who make the product. The Product Service Ecology is applicable in various settings, whether virtually or geographically bounded.I show how concept of the Product Service Ecology originated from my own design research, in studies of people and their relationships to products, services, and systems in the home, and the many interconnections that result. I will bring in inspirations from social ecology theory, which describes the dynamic relationship between people and their environment.I conclude with a set of learnings that stemmed from reframing my research in terms of this ecological approach to systems design. I show how this approach puts systems design into action, by allowing for consideration of all of the contextual elements in a design problem, by allowing the designer’s judgment to play a key role in finding a solution, by facilitating the incorporation of theory from other fields when approaching a design problem, and by understanding the implications of what we choose to design.


5. Seila Cibele, Sitta Preto Cibele, and Ana Luisa Biavista Lustosa Cavalcante
The importance of systemic thinking for mapping and development in design

Abstract    Working Paper

The immediacy in contemporary society produces pressing issues wherein is seeking short-term solutions. The designer is a professional who develops projects that aims to solve such questions apart from human needs. Based on this dynamic immediacy arise the demands of an hypermodern reality that emerges “culture-world” that means the end of heterogeneity traditional of the culture and the beginning of a universal market culture, in accordance with Lipovetsky e Serroy (2009). So, highlighting Martins e Couto (2006), it is suggested that the pract of the design is always in tune with the global changes. The concepto of the “applied science” in the design, according with Findelli (2001), originates in Ulm School, being an “application” of humanities and social sciences. In that sense, methodology and design theories aim to identify a human need or an opportunity and, as from an project propose a solution. However, relations between cause and effect of market demands and needs identified, as well as solution and adaptation time, use and useful life for users and society are not considered. For this purpose, this article aims address the importance of systemic thought on mapping and development in design, besides presenting some tools of systemic approach. Faced with this scenario, the central question of this study is: how systems thinking could contribute the design? This interrelation can bring new practices to the design, resulting in greater skill front of a complex situation. This relationship will provide a new generation of designers oriented to think continuously and involved in the situation that requires some solution design. The thought will not be linear but dynamic, interactive and integrative. Currently, there is this thought in areas such as health, environmental management, organizational management and social change, among others. Systemic thinking stems from general systems theory, so as to form an organized whole. Ludwig von Bertalanffy was the first author to report about the theory and says that the concept of system is a new “paradigm‟, […] a “new philosophy of nature” […]and that the general systems theory is a general science of all, and then, a scientific investigation of “sets” and “wholes” […]‟ (BERTALANFFY, 2009, p.14). Para Capra (2006), systems are integrated wholes, whose properties you can not be reduced to smaller units and relates that systems thinking should emphasize the basic principles of organization. Thereby, it is necessary study the systems a comprehensive way so, involving all its interdependencies, as for the meeting of all the elements and setting up of a functional unit greater, will can be developed qualities that are not found in their isolated components, confirms Bertalanffy (2010).
 Systems thinking is relevant to the changing of knowledge in the deep understanding of how the whole whether interrelates with the parties, as it covers several methods and tools in order to examine the relation between the inner forces of a system and its external environment by means of a integrated process. By thinking systemically, one learns to recognize the ramifications and possible consequences of the action that you choose. It is important that all stakeholders involved in to view the whole situation, since for have good results in a complex system, should be discussed the largest number possiblities. Regarding the design and design management, Mozota (2011) said that the “system is powered by the strategic vision that considers variables internal and external to the organization and its context in the feasibility of the design activity”. Thus, this study aims to contribute, through a theoretical support coming from the systems thinking to demonstrate the importance of this approach to the development of systems design. For the development of thinking and view systemic you need to know and explore some tools, such as: mind map, concept map and map systems. The mind map is a method to store, organize and prioritize information, using key words and images key that trigger specific memories and stimulate new reflections and ideas. Stimulates the brain to work faster, giving vision of the future and control for choice of actions and reactions (BUZAN, 2009). Concept maps are constructed by means of diagrams of the meanings that indicate relations between concepts. These classify concepts, de acordo com Moreira (2005, p.1), through the elements: concept, proposition and “words of connection” (ONTORIA et al.,1999). The systemic map has the function of constructing a sistemic structure that determines “the behavior patterns of the organization by means of identifying of causal relations between factors and the situation of interest” (ANDRADE, 2006, p. 112). Vezzoli (2010, p. 253-254), says it aims to help visualize the structure of the system, indicating its actors, as a tool for graphical representation. It is described as coded for being a “technical drawing” system actors, demonstrating and comparing all systems for being “a formalization-in-progress map of actors of the solution, giving a precise picture of how to the project progresses” with map format, graphics elements, and a set of rules. The map system is a support tool to design, “because the representation is a way to structure thinking and to facilitate the problem solving”, which utilizes a standard language that can be shared with everyone involved, allowing “clear and objective view of the designed solution,” as well as its evolution. (VEZZOLI, 2010, p.254). Therefore, it is concluded that the learning and utilization of systems thinking in design, and with the use of the tools presented, design professionals will be better prepared to deal with complex situations, visualizing parties and their relationships with the whole to propose solutions the most enduring and efficient, both for the quality of the work of designers such as to meet the demand of your customers and stakeholders, just as the product users and the society itself. This implies the remodeling of thought according to the systemic approach and practices related to the integration mode to the design processes.


6. Sigrun Lurås and Kjetil Nordby
Radical design processes for systemic change

Abstract     Working Paper 

Radical innovation involves a change of frame. A change of what is possible, and what is desirable. When a radical innovation has been presented to the world, status quo has moved resulting in changes in human activity systems at different levels of society. To engage in such wide ranging change is a challenging and messy process.


In this presentation we report on a design research and development project within the maritime domain, the Ulstein Bridge Concept (UBC) project. By introducing new design proposals, the project has changed a number of other systems peripheral to the designed system. This has been necessary for making a foundation for further development of radical innovation.

Marine design has a long tradition. Humans have travelled the seas for thousands of years, and improvements of ships, propulsion systems and navigational aids have continuously occurred. In the UBC project, which is presented here, we seek to redefine the bridge environment of offshore vessels . Our aim is to radically redesign everything from the room layout to furniture design, and from fundamental interaction techniques to detailed screen layouts.

Today’s bridge design is to a high degree defined by rules and regulations developed to ensure operations that pose no harm to human life, property or the environment. The working environment of the ship’s bridge is characterised by highly advanced technology delivered from numerous vendors, and a holistic view of the bridge environment has been lacking in many ships. In order to innovate the bridge environment, rules and regulations must be challenged, collaborative partners from different companies must commit, financial partners must take the risk and fund projects with uncertain outcomes, and potential ship owner and ship operating companies must get involved.

The UBC project has sought to appropriate Ulstein for change through influencing management and employees in general. Another aim has been to affect external parties, like end-users, governmental bodies, regulators, competitors and other stakeholders. This has been done by communicating visions of possible futures through the initial development of a ‘concept bridge’ that has later been detailed to become a more realistic future vision. Through this efficient communication of concepts, our design proposals have provided the project team, the collaborating partners and external parties with a shared vision.

The project has produced three such interventions. The first intervention happening in spring 2011 was purely internally, where the first version of the concept bridge was developed and presented to the management of Ulstein and AHO. These presentations worked as a catalyst and made the management commit to a greater design research project that would last for three years.

The second intervention, happening 1 1/2 years later, was externally oriented. In this we had refined and detailed the concepts, and put a lot of effort into presenting the project in ways which the industry and general audience would easily comprehend and appreciate. The video at the beginning of this abstract was the most important part of this presentation, and it was immediately made available online. The video resulted in a number of positive unintended consequences. Not only did mariners start discussing the design online, with remarks like “I want me one of them!” and “I’d probably take a (slight) pay cut to play with those toys full time.” In addition the design community, the maritime industry, regulatory authorities, other professionals and even politicians started to referring to the project. They used it as a starting point for discussing topics like innovation, the role of design, the appropriateness of existing bridge designs, application of new technology and even software safety in the backend part of the systems. Internally at AHO, the presentation also led to unforeseen changes to the research organisation and how we work with projects.

A third intervention is planned for second half of 2013 and will involve even further evolved design proposals. This intervention will allow users to have a close-up look at the designs and experience interactive demonstrators.

What we have experienced in the first and second intervention is a reinforcing feedback loop (D. H. Meadows, 2009). The more we talk about our ambitions, the greater expectations the outside world places on us, and the greater is the pressure on us and our partners to deliver. Due to our experiences we expect the third intervention to have a similar effect.

In the presentation we will discuss these design interventions with regard to Donella Meadows ‘places to intervene in a system’ (D. Meadows, 1999). We will address how our designs and the means by which we communicate our designs, have affected both the greater system our project is part of, and neighbouring systems. We will introduce barriers that pose a challenge to these kinds of changes, including organisational cultures and a lack of tradition for using designers to take a holistic view on the design for maritime workplaces. We will also discuss enablers that support these changes, including the culture for technological innovation within the Norwegian maritime industry, potential across new technologies and the power of involving multiple design disciplines in the design team.

We argue that influencing what may at the first glance seem like peripheral systems through design visions, is an important means of achieving radical innovations processes. This applies to both to the invested organisation internally and externally through for instance regulatory authorities and collaborating companies. We suggest that such influence can be achieved through strategic and careful communication of early phase design proposals.


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