Storytelling for Systems Design: Embedding and communicating complex and intangible data through narratives

Format: Papers, RSD10, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Elise Talgorn and Monique Hendriks

Our research explores how storytelling can support complex systems thinking. In systems thinking, a major challenge is to communicate a large amount of data of complex systems and to give meaning to this data through expressing intangible aspects such as interpretation, intuition, purpose, mental bias, and uncertainty. This is key for systems thinkers to fully apprehend systems, but also for other stakeholders involved in the co-design process to easily access this complexity. There is a need for practical tools that embed in the systems design process the systems’ complexity associated with relevant intangible aspects. Narratives do have the potential to gather, embed, make understandable and memorable the complex and intangible data of systems. We propose several uses of systemic storytelling, an approach based on building parallel story arcs constructed on and/or connected by systems’ elements. Systemic storytelling combines logical analysis with an intuitive and empathetic comprehension of systems. This approach has benefits at several stages of the systems design process: to engage stakeholders and enable the sharing and capturing of their different perspectives, to effectively communicate systems insights, and to ideate on future systems. In this short paper, we describe the method principles and show three preliminary application examples.

Keywords: storytelling, complexity, intangibility, perspective, communication

To view the sketchnote details, click the black arrow on the right. You can zoom in from the view on the new image and explore the whole image. You can also download the full-size image from the new tab.

@simplesketchthinking | Alazne Echaniz




Citation Data

Author(s): Elise Talgorn and Monique Hendriks
Title: Storytelling for Systems Design: Embedding and communicating complex and intangible data through narratives
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 3 September 2021
Last update:
Publisher Identification:

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.

Suggested citation format (APA)

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

Publishing with RSD

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

Papers and presentations are entered into a single-blind peer-review process, meaning reviewers see the authors’ names but not vice versa. Reviewers consider the quality of the proposed contribution and whether it addresses topics of interest or raises relevant issues in systemic design. The review process provides feedback and possible suggestions for modifications.

The Organising Committee reviews and assesses workshops and systems maps & exhibits with input from reviewers and the Programme Committee.

Editor: Cheryl May
Peter Jones
Ben Sweeting

The Scholars Spiral

In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholars spiral—a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—and in 2023, launched Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal. Together, the RSD symposia and Contexts support the vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars and practitioners to publish work in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design.

The Systemic Design Association's membership ethos is to co-create the socialization and support for all members to contribute their work, find feedback and collaboration where needed, and pursue their pathways toward research and practice outcomes that naturally build a vital design field for the future.


Verified by MonsterInsights