Jane Addams and Systems Design: What might we learn?

Format: Papers, RSD10, Topic: Methods & Methodology, Topic: Socioecological Design

Danielle Lake

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

Citation Data

Author(s): Danielle Lake
Title: Jane Addams and Systems Design: What might we learn?
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
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First published: 3 September 2021
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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.

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

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