The Many Faces of Design: From Adaptive Response to Creative Agency to Reflective Engagement

Format: Papers, RSD3, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Perin Ruttonsha and Stephen Quilley

Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR), University of Waterloo

In its broadest sense, design with a ‘D’ might be characterized as the uniquely human ability to reflect on, reorganize, reimagine, manoeuvre within, reengineer, and therefore recreate one’s lived experiences (Edmonson, 1986; Chaisson, 2001; Cross, 2007; Berger, 2009). With this in mind, and in light of contemporary social-ecological pressures, designers have recently been considering how strategic design thinking might be tasked more broadly within the enterprise of social-ecological sustainability. Social innovation and resilience literature indicate that profound change amidst complexity is not a one-stop operation; neither is it direct nor prone to absolute control (Gunderson & Holling, 2002; Westley, Patton, & Zimmerman, 2006). Rather, it requires alignment across multiple domains, and the order in which this takes place will depend on the point from which one begins, as well as the nature of the barriers and opportunities at hand (Westley et al. 2006; Geels & Schot, 2007; Westley & Antadze, 2009). Interpreting design through its many faces—that is, the many definitions that it encompasses, the ways of thinking and behaving that it engenders, and the functions that it serves—is conducive to the development of a flexible and phased approach to change. This paper embeds “the many faces of design” within a social innovation and resilience framework to examine how its mechanisms can engender a multi-layered approach to long-term, adaptive systems transformation, navigating leverage points for change within dominant basins of attraction.

Sketchnote by Patricia Kambitch | Playthink

Citation Data

Author(s): Perin Ruttonsha and Stephen Quilley
Title: The Many Faces of Design: From Adaptive Response to Creative Agency to Reflective Engagement
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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Symposium Dates:
First published: 28 September 2014
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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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