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A Theory of Systemic Design

Format: Papers, RSD2, Topic: Cases & Practice

Alex J. Ryan

Over the last two decades, concepts from complexity theory, systems thinking, design, strategy, and philosophy have been synthesized within the Israeli Defense Force, the Australian Army, and the U.S. Army and Joint Force to produce a theory and practice of systemic design (Ryan 2011). Although this conceptual evolution has taken place within a military context, the theory developed has general applicability to the challenges of designing at scale in complex environments. The purpose of this paper is to present the pure theory of systemic design as developed by Western militaries, abstracted away from its military context, in order to facilitate applications to societal, governmental, and business design challenges. By making the theory accessible to civilian designers, it is hoped that they may benefit from the cross-pollination of ideas that have evolved in the highly competitive crucible of contemporary conflict.

In section 2.0, I provide a framework for systemic design consisting of three levels: methods, methodology, and, mindset. The uses and abuses of methods are discussed first. Next, the logic for a systemic design project is outlined and developed as a flexible methodology for developing deeper understanding and constructing novel interventions. Then, the mindset of the systemic designer is characterized as a set of values and habits. Any systemic design project proceeds at all three levels simultaneously, with the levels mutually reinforcing and reciprocally influencing one another. In section 3.0, I discuss meta-concerns for systemic design. They include the rationale for systemic design, design of the systemic design team, and mediation of cognitive tensions.




Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2013
Title: A Theory of Systemic Design
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 15 September 2013
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