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Possibilities and practices of systemic design

by | Sep 2022 | SDA blog

As RSD moves into its second decade, it is possible to question systemic design’s emerging shape

What are the strengths and limits of joining systems thinking and design practice, and how do these compare to other frameworks? How can systemic designers learn from their growing bodies of practice? What does systemic design make possible, and what are its blind spots? Is it sufficiently radical? Sufficiently pragmatic? Which conventions does systemic design contest? Which does it leave in place? Does systemic design entail particular assumptions about the world, and what might the consequences of these be? As it becomes a more mainstream endeavour, how will it address issues of power, complicity, and privilege?

As designers look to address systemic challenges, they must wrestle with tensions and conflicting requirements within their own practices as well as in those situations they seek to change. Systemic questions cannot be approached one at a time in isolation, yet it is inevitable that design is partial in its engagements – to address everything is implausible or else uncritical to implicit boundary judgements and the privileges of dominant perspectives. Unpredictable interdependencies require a cautious approach, yet incremental strategies risk entrenching underlying errors and injustices by making the status quo more palatable. Deep, long-term changes are needed, but the urgency of the present also demands immediately achievable actions. Moreover, design brings its own entanglements and faulty assumptions – design has contributed to many aspects of systemic crises, yet there is no way forward that is not design in some sense. Nothing about enacting systemic change implies an easy path. Difficulties such as these are to be expected when working across and between multiple contexts. But how can these and other potential impasses be navigated? To what extent is it possible to treat these challenges as any other set of conflicting design criteria? Are new modes of designing needed and how might these be enacted?

Building on previous RSD symposia, RSD11 looks to expand further systemic design’s modes of working:

  • Systemic design has thus far drawn primarily on methodological and organisational aspects of systems thinking as a way of handling complexity. In what ways might other perspectives augment systemic approaches?
  • The systems field is open to the creative arts, countercultural movements, enactive cognitive science, family therapy, posthumanism, and others. How might these transdisciplinary connections further enrich and critique systemic design research and practice?

RSD11 programme

The RSD11 programme includes papers, presentations, interactives, workshops and exhibits that extend and challenge the possibilities and practices of systemic design, including contributions such as:

  • Projects and case studies from practice, education, and research in all areas of systemic design.
  • Transdisciplinary theory building that extends systemic design’s modes of working and range of reference.
  • Critical enquiries that can prompt new phases of development in systemic design.


Final submissions are due on
April 30

Open call for Reviewers
April 1–30

Feedback to authors
June 30

sessions OCTOBER 16–18

RSD13-OSLO & Nordmarka Forest October 22–26

Lidar-derived image of the Danube River and floodplain near Tulln, Austria. Daniel Coe. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

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