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Between Heaven and Earth: Design tensions in the Book of Changes

Format: Papers, RSD10, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Evan Barba and J.R. Osborn

For some time, we have been using the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, or I Ching, as a resource for systemic design in both professional and classroom settings. We have found the results of these experiments to be surprising and encouraging, and suggestive of a more complete and formalized methodology. Here, we tie the theoretical underpinnings of this methodology to a few important concepts and texts in the systemic design canon, emphasizing design as an intentional change and the dynamic equilibrium, constant transition, and interconnectedness of systems. We then articulate our notion that the sixty-four passages of the I Ching correlate to commonly observed stages of iterative design, and the creative process more generally. Finally, we encourage others to explore the I Ching’s usefulness as a collection of design prompts by providing the backbone of our method — design-centred interpretations of the eight essential trigrams of the I Ching and sixty-four designerly names for the hexagrams — as a means of scaffolding interested designers in their own application of the text.

Keywords: intentional change, methodology, I Ching, systemic design, design pedagogy

Citation Data

Author(s): Evan Barba and J.R. Osborn
Title: Between Heaven and Earth: Design tensions in the Book of Changes
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 3 September 2021
Last update:
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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).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested citation format (APA)

Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

Publishing with RSD

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

Papers and presentations are entered into a single-blind peer-review process, meaning reviewers see the authors’ names but not vice versa. Reviewers consider the quality of the proposed contribution and whether it addresses topics of interest or raises relevant issues in systemic design. The review process provides feedback and possible suggestions for modifications.

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In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholar's spiral—a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—and in 2023, launched Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal. Together, the RSD symposia and Contexts support the vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars and practitioners to publish work in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design.

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