Loughborough University London
The importance of systems thinking is often emphasised in the context of current global challenges, but the discussion around systemic interrelationships can often have an abstract and inaccessible feel. This paper starts as an invitation to have a discussion around concepts related to systems thinking in a more accessible setting. It does this by bringing ideas around systemic perspectives into an embodied mode while exploring the design process of a familiar artefact, i.e., biscuits. The familiarity with the process frees the designer-researcher to focus on the interrelationships and wider considerations in the process of conceptualisation and production. This then offers a way to easily access the notion of complexity and introduces complementary ideas around visually mapping relationships. The paper visually traces the internal dialogue inherent in creating biscuits as edible design objects and also as products of a process. In doing so, it helps contextualise the ways in which designers design objects that take part in systems and, in turn, the ways systems often influence how the product is produced. The intermingling of design and research modes is used as a reflexive learning opportunity following a developmental approach and has synergies with Research through Design (RtD). Practice, research, and visual documentation bring to light the presence of a set of pre-acquired, dynamic yet blurry knowledge constructs that seem to be part of implicit processes of negotiation and selection, which I call pre-sets.
Pre-sets consist of both explicit and implicit knowledge constructs that influence choice-making in variable proportions in the design process. While significant research was conducted on materials and methods during the process, final decisions included knowledge constructs that were present before this research. Pre-sets seem to be combinations of preconceptions, previously gained practical and conceptual knowledge, and previous lived experience that can be continually changed or modified due to various factors. They are present throughout the conceptualization process, can guide experience and interaction with various systemic levels, and are operationalized in varying degrees through the process of designing. Since the object needed to be produced in certain ways that satisfied notions of sustainability, which in themselves are changing, the exploration also lays out the negotiation and tensions present in creating sustainability-oriented products.
Keywords: systemic thinking, design process, production, sustainability, visual approaches, pre-sets, research through design, RtD, developmental approach, democratising design, design in the everyday, food design