A System Design and Inquiry of South Railway Station in Shanghai: From functional to symbolic

Format: Papers, RSD11, Topic: Cases & Practice, Topic: Culture & Society

Ye Wang, Yijia Xin, Bill Li, and Jacky Shen

Shanghai Normal University | Shanghai Normal University | UPerform Agile Consulting | UPerform Agile Consulting

Shanghai South Railway Station, an integrated transport hub, is no longer what its designers once envisaged, while the complex system of signs & things still supports people’s actions, the actions have changed. Spontaneous gatherings of skateboards, square dancing, soliciting business, and even permanent settlement. In our observations of this complex system, we realised that the diversity of actions caused by the support of things is making the system’s design difficult. This interesting situation drew our attention to signs, things and behaviours, the multiple symbols of a complex system, the impact of spontaneous and changing actions, and particular implications of the nature of the community. We saw new perspectives and possibilities for systemic design.

We conducted a large analytical sample of the event and the groups involved, interviewed several secondary stakeholders, and used ethnographic in-depth and repeated interviews with three key informants over a three-week period, along with related cross-sectional research. We found that, in this case, the focus of system design has shifted from a functional to the impact of symbolic meaning on complex systems. The analysis of the characteristics and strengths of the community symbols generated by the transport hub itself suggested a participatory hypothesis. The use of service design methods to transform the design outcomes in specific design contexts and reshape the relationship between the design scenario and the new community, thus changing and balancing the contradictions between the new symbols of the system and the pre-determined symbols. We are excited to see similar facets in other areas; it is likely a future research direction. The purpose of this paper is to revisit and explore the issues, goals and principles of systemic design through this research, calling attention to the new perspectives on a complex system.

KEYWORDS: complex system, systemic design, participatory, community, symbolic, spontaneous, innovation

Citation Data

Author(s): Ye Wang, Yijia Xin, Bill Li, and Jacky Shen
Year: 2022
Title: A System Design and Inquiry of South Railway Station in Shanghai: From functional to symbolic
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 081
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 23 September 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


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