This paper argues Jane Addams’s engaged philosophic activism offers insights into how systemic designers might engage with and communicate about wicked problems. I show how her participatory and situated approach to design traces complex histories and geographies, offering transdisciplinary strategies for designers addressing systemic crises. She is remembered as one of the most powerful social reformers of the twentieth century, contributing to the design of innumerable processes and systems to address labour rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights, and children’s rights, peace, food justice, and more. While her ecosystem design efforts have been recognized across a swath of fields and sectors, designers have yet to carefully examine how her approach to design might offer strategies for designing across complex, adaptive systems. After exploring the role of design in wicked problems, I explicate Addams’s approach to wicked problems and design, highlighting the essential roles of relational, historic, and geographic mapping, aesthetic disruption, reflexive feedback loops, and sustaining situated engagement across diverse communities. I conclude by suggesting the combined force of these practices can cultivate design pathways for transdisciplinary design efforts aimed at addressing wicked problems.
Keywords: Jane Addams, systems design, wicked problems, aesthetic disruption, relational revolution, historic and geographic mapping, transdisciplinarity