The productive potential of conflicts, dilemmas, and tensions have attracted scholarly attention, which is also implied by the conference theme: Playing with Tensions. This paper proposes that interconnections in a complex system can be examined using dialectic thinking (i.e. thesis-antithesis-synthesis), which can be facilitated through the micro-meso-macro system architecture. Borrowing insights from a project on bike-security systems, individual dilemmas at the micro-level, inter-stakeholder conflicts at the meso level, and conceptual conflicts at the macro-level are examined. Although conflicts are traceable at each level, their structure changes from experiential conflicts (i.e. dilemmas) to interpersonal and conceptual conflicts, respectively. In systemic design, dilemmas help maintain the richness and nuance of individuals’ lived experiences when shifting the focus from individuals to systems. In addition, inter-stakeholder conflicts help address conflicting values and perspectives among stakeholders through revealing their interconnections; and conceptual conflicts help expose the moral and political dimensions of design decisions. Finally, dialectic thinking helps ‘probe’ the system to reveal the reciprocal and emergent relationships among the interconnected elements of a system. Future research is needed to further deepen the theoretical grounding of this framework and to reveal its implications for systemic design practices.
Keywords: conflict, dilemma-driven design, systemic design, dialectics, micro-meso-macro