Teaching Systemic Design

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 Photo: Sara Svennevik

Track moderator: Harold Nelson

1. Praveen NaharTeaching systems thinking in design at National Institute of Design (NID) India

2. Gordon RowlandTeaching systemic design in the context of organizational communication

3. Andrea Resmini and Bertil Carlsson – Teaching Systems — Getting future IT entrepreneurs to see the full picture

4. Toni KauppilaDesignerLearner, Acting on the Uncertainty

5. Dinesh KorjanPlan D – Finding design solutions



1. Praveen Nahar
Teaching systems thinking in design at National Institute of Design (NID) India


With its large population and enormous socio-cultural-economic-environmental diversity, today India is looked as microcosm for the world. Most of the challenges that the world faces today, are all present in India. Design education has been addressing tactical and creative level however it is imperative for designers in India to explore vision led design approaches which address diversity. They can look to understand design from a broader and deeper perspective. The biggest opportunity for designers today is to build systems and tools that can encourage and build vision for the future.At NID it starts with introductory course at foundation level which is called Design Concepts and Concerns (also known as Design Process) which explores various concepts and concerns from macro to micro perspective on design in local and global context and prepares students to deal with ambiguity and complexity. As the students move towards end of their academic programme Systems Thinking and Design project is introduced. This project lasts for 8 to10 weeks brings perspective on systems thinking and its relation to design. This is offered to both undergraduate and post graduate students. This project involves the application of the systems approach towards a design problem. Theme based projects are undertaken which can cover a wide range of problems areas. The emphasis is on the understanding of interrelationships that make a coherent whole.Over the last decade the course is evolved and now majorly deals with complex issues and wicked problems from socio-cultural-economic-environmental perspective with high level of ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity, students work in groups and facilitated to sustain complexity through various intermediate tools and frameworks. Live Project based on extensive field work, complex systems modeling, design opportunity mapping and design interventions are carried in trans-disciplinary design domains like product, services, systems, policies, infrastructure, communication, social innovation etc.
This has been every enriching for the students as well as for faculty and the institute as a whole to open up to vastness of design and what design can do in almost any field. It also brings empathy, humility, modesty, patience, confidence, and ethics in individuals. Students become active thinkers making effective arguments through interesting formats which would best communicate their ideas visual mapping. They also maintain blogs to reflect and share their process and ideas. The educational framework for systems design is reflective, evolving, transdisciplinary, and occurs at various levels.
Glimpse of Systems Thinking and Design Projects in last few years: • Cycle Share System • Blood collection / donation system • Street Hawkers • Organic Farming • Election Reforms • Sustainable Urban Transport • E-waste • Corruption • Hygiene • Emergency Management • Maternal Mortality • Police reforms • Sustainable Milk Mobility • Truckers and logistics • User Centered Design for Railways • Car Sharing System for Delhi • Mobility for Blind • Rural Urban Digital Divide • Street Education • Universal Design for Public Buses in Gujarat • Transit to School • Mumbai Suburban Rail System • Design Response to disaster • Maternal Health for Rural India • Energy & Sustainability • Rural Transportation • Railway Fright Systems • Mobility for Elderly • Rural Business Hubs • Sustainable Tourism • Issues of Salt workers • Rain water harvesting systems • Solid Waste Management • Design & Informal Economy • Way finding in India • Parking Systems in Urban India • Rocking 60’s: Design for Elder Care • Domestic waste management • Sustainable Home Systems


2. Gordon Rowland
Teaching systemic design in the context of organizational communication


 Over the past twenty years I have developed and taught courses in systemic design for undergraduate students who seek to positively impact organizations and society through communication and learning. In a first-year course, students engage in a wide variety of learning activities and challenges through which they come to a basic understanding of systems thinking, design, and systemic design. This understanding creates a broad foundation for, and begins to develop connecting threads across their studies of corporate communication, and workplace learning and performance. Then in their senior year capstone course, students engage in a systemic design inquiry, which combines research and design in an attempt to address a critical current issue in organizations. I will describe the pedagogical approach that I have developed for these courses, including underlying assumptions, links to strategy, and a rich set of concepts and tools that promote systems thinking in design, and which have potential applications beyond pedagogy.



3. Andrea Resmini and Bertil Carlsson
Teaching Systems – Getting future IT entrepreneurs to see the full picture

Abstract     Working Paper

Information is going everywhere. It is bleeding out of the Internet and out of personal computers, and it is being embedded into the real world. Mobile devices, networked resources, and real-time systems are making our interactions with information constant and ubiquitous. Information is becoming pervasive, and products and services are becoming smaller parts of larger ecosystems, many of these emergent, complex information-based artifacts where participants are co-producers and where relationships between elements, channels and touchpoints are messy and non-linear. Still, within the area of informatics and information systems, we by and large teach management and design as if they were linear. Could we try something different? How would that work?
 This paper details the approach we followed and the early results we achieved while introducing business and informatics students to entrepreneurship and innovation through a holistic approach in the 2-year Master in IT, Management and Innovation at Jönköping International Business School, Jönköping, Sweden.
Two different courses were refactored and tailored to offer, instead of a plain traditional approach to project management and innovation, a comprehensive overview of the complexity hidden behind the ideation, development and deployment of innovative information systems-based solutions, and the basis of a practice-oriented holistic methodology the students could use to approach these messy or wicked problems in their future roles as managers or designers.
While still conceived as independent learning moments because of constraints in the organizational layout of the program, both courses however adopted the same structure and offered students a view over the design of information systems through the lens of multiple competing, diverging perspectives: the business model and ethical point of view of free and open source software, usability and user experience, ubiquitous and pervasive computing, and security. These were tied together through an overarching systems thinking approach.
Instead of having the students focus on understanding one single point of view, often identifiable in the process / project management perspective, the courses aimed at creating an understanding of the elements at play and of their reciprocal relationships. Students were constantly led towards adopting a reflective, iterative process, and to embody their temporary conclusions in communication artifacts to be shared.
The courses were held in English and structured to provide the class of largely non-Swedish, non-European students with the basics of theory necessary to understand and formalize a systems thinking approach, and with practical hands-on group assignments. Groups were randomly assembled: first students had to figure out an internal structure, by choosing a project manager among themselves, and then they were presented with 5 larger areas of possible interventions connected to different aspects of the theoretical framework outlined in the courses, such as technologies for transportation systems, healthcare information systems, cross-border public services, multi-agent systems and social networks, educational solutions for children in primary school and ambient or pervasive systems.
Groups were required to identify a specific issue or problem space within an existing service ecosystem, and work their way through a definition of the boundaries of their intervention, a visual and diagrammatic representation of the customer journey, and a business model representing the current status via Osterwald and Pigneur’s business model canvas devised. They were then requested to transition these findings to a desirable future state by applying, among others, Gharajedaghi’s system mapping framework.
Emphasis was placed in clarifying how there could be no preordered right or wrong answers, but rather a varying degree of fittingness and utility depending on how they successfully (or unsuccessfully) set boundaries around their systems and managed to identify sufficiently specific research questions. Similarly, while basic deliverables (such as the business canvas, a final report, and a slide deck) where mandatory for all groups, and students were introduced to a number of different tools and methodologies including personas, customer journeys, service blueprints, no particular requests or restrictions were posed on the students as far as secondary deliverables were concerned, with the explicit goal of allowing each group to develop their own personal representation of their problem space.
At the end of the courses, groups were requested to present their work to the rest of the class in an allotted slot of twenty minutes, and to conduct a public critique aimed at reflecting on their project through the lenses of individual, organizational and societal indicators as they are commonly found in socio-economic evaluations. For each of these we asked the students to formulate how their proposed future states would affect each indicator in respect to the problem areas.
As these courses were implemented and deployed in a period of months, failings were considered an integral part of the process, and meetings were scheduled to evaluate the outcomes after completions. Major preliminary take-aways include:
The students founds the visual approach of some of the tools and methodologies adopted challenging. This at times resulted in increased pressure on the teachers and in generalized requests for step-by-step guidance: a brainstorming session for using the business model canvas became a painstakingly slow detailed explanation of every single action to be performed.
The examination process for courses of this type, where students are evaluated through a weighted combination of individual and group performances, has to be rebooted since the classical academic project report methods (e.g. IMRAD) do not provide a full picture of what the project parts were about and of the impact they have. And while a better and more suitable examination process is auspicable, conformity to the examination rules given by the Swedish regulatory body needs to be maintained.
The courses was perceived to offer no real boundaries, which implied that students were at loss as to what they would be judged upon. While this was intentional and deliberate, it made them feel insecure and was a major cause of delays and misunderstandings.
On the other hand, all post-mortem assessments concorded that the course offered a liberating hands-on approach that allowed students to create connections between their work in the class, and messy situations they are confronted with when dealing with real-life projects. Similarly, students appreciated the possibility to turn their intuitions into visual representations: they simply could not do it well. This could be solved by introducing targeted lectures combining the theoretical foundations of the different lenses or approaches with hands-on workshops where the students get to work with the tools and reflect on them while still having easy access to a lecturer whenever questions should arise.



4. Toni Kauppila
DesignerLearner, Acting on the Uncertainty


The complexity of contemporary world changes the paradigm of design conventions. To educate practitioners to act in such a world requires rethinking of our pedagogical being. This paper looks at the parallels of design processes, teaching of design and the becoming spaces of learning in the context of higher design education.‘How to develop contemporary design education?’ The design and architectural practices are in the state of disruption; the tasks we are facing now are more complex than ever. The challenges that we are confronting require a holistic understanding of things and are by their nature collaborative (Thackara, 2005). Thus this age of supercomplexity also challenges the higher education to seek for new approaches in teaching. Beyond merely training skills and knowledge, another set of dispositions is needed (Barnett 2004). The design practices are more and more system orientated and collective by their nature.The presented research is practice-based in twofold where pedagogical and design work merge. The author is engaged both in his own collaborative architectural work and teaching spatial design at the MA level. The architectural agenda is to recognise spaces as dynamic conditions for social interaction. The pedagogical framework in the concurrent courses strive for conditions of encountering; supporting risk-taking in tackling the wicked problems at systems level. The work is about these parallel activities, how the creative processes can be articulated cross discipline boundaries to challenge us in the seeking of the unknown both as creators and learners.
The research makes a hypothesis to elaborate the architectural design methods by adapting techniques from theatre and dance that have more integrated relationship between space, time and action. These various notational and descriptive tools of choreography and dramaturgy are explored as means of broadening the architect’s palette. The choreography operates as creator and organiser of movement of objects in space and time. Similarly in theatre actions and events are directed and orchestrated in a spatial context. Here the architecture’s role is paralleled as moderator for multidimensional spatial effects interacting with the human actions. Beyond the functionalistic tradition the research pursues the immediate and divers use of space by recognizing the uncertainty and the unexpected occupation.
 The dialogue between higher education pedagogy and collaborative design work can both gain greatly while confronting the contemporary challenges. To appreciate design as a form of pedagogy and vice a versa to pursue the education as a creative process enables us to approach the new. The pedagogical space of uncertainty provokes the architectural space of becoming.


5. Dinesh Korjan
Plan D – Finding design solutions

Abstract     Working Paper

Plan D is about finding Design Solutions even when the problems are not conventional design problems. There are some compelling reasons why design solutions may be more effective than conventional approaches to solving complex problems in many instances.Over the years of practice and teaching design I have been keenly exploring ways to integrate systems thinking in the design process. While it is the logical approach for understanding the context in a complex problem it often turns out that the solutions to such problems lie outside the domain of design. Or that design action must be supported by many other changes in policy, law, management etc. to bring about a real transformation. But the real quest has always been – are there situations where design action itself can bring about a significant transformation?In the last few years, as part of two courses I teach viz. Introduction to Design Processes and Systems Thinking / Design – I have been trying two different approaches to make design interventions work at the systems level.
One, to try and create a systemic change through a localized design act and two, to use design to transform a large complex problem where design is not usually considered the obvious answer.The new entity has the potential to re-arrange the interconnections within a complex situation in such a way that there is a transformation of the situation itself without undue pressure on reforming people, policing them, re-creating new systems altogether and so on.A design solution whether tangible or otherwise is always a creation or re-creation. Even when it is a service or experience or process there is a perceptible ‘difference’ that is new and was not there before.

A loose working definition for Design being ‘meaningful creation’. Meaningful – to denote that the act is intentional and directed towards a purpose. Additional keywords being ‘new’ and ‘elegance’.

Examples of challenges taken up include: How can I make the world a better place by re-designing a simple object like a paper weight or a candle or a balloon? What kind of design intervention can solve the problem of ‘Rampant Ticket less Traveling in (Mumbai) Suburban Trains’? What kind of business can I design to pull the country out of a recession? What should I create to change the world by tomorrow morning?The process of engaging with these questions involves arriving at a systemic, structural understanding of the problem space, identifying leverage points and creating minimal yet strategic design actions that could bring about a big transformation.
The results have been fascinating. The solutions are not only convincing and more powerful than the conventional alternatives but the cost of implementation looks like a fraction of what would otherwise get spent.While variations of these courses have been taught at various design / management schools in India viz. National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar, Foundation for Liberal and Management Education (FLAME), Pune, Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore to name a few, the outcomes have been equally interesting throughout. This paper is an opportunity for me to reflect on the process and the outcomes and share this with others on similar quests.

Plan D from RSD2


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