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Plenaries & panels

Birger Sevaldson

The Systemic Design Association (SDA) was founded on 23 October 2018 as a not-for-profit association, registered in Norway.

The SDA charter and organization were formulated in the founding meeting at Politecnico Torino 2018, to formalize the creation of a membership society associated with the RSD community. SDA is led by former RSD chairs and scientific committee members and is established to facilitate the emerging systemic design practice and the research community represented in the RSD symposium. The inaugural board members of the Systemic Design Association include:

  • Chair: Silvia Barbero (Politecnico Torino)
  • Vice-chair: Birger Sevaldson (AHO)
  • Secretary: Jenny Darzentas (Aegean)
  • Treasurer: Benedicte Wildhagen (DOGA)
  • Board member: Peter Jones (OCAD University)

Formerly known as the Systemic Design Research Network, SDRN was a cooperative educational group founded in 2012 with the following aims:

  • To advance the practice of systemic design as an integrated discipline of systems thinking and systems-oriented design
  • To convene an annual international symposium, Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD)
  • To advance the knowledge, theory, and publications in the domains of systemic/systems-oriented design and industrial and social systems design methods in systems practices.


The SDRN was founded at AHO, Oslo School of Architectural and Design, in partnership with OCAD University, Toronto and was organized by a standing committee of six co-organizers Silvia Barbero, Jodi Forlizzi, Peter Jones, Harold Nelson, Alex Ryan and Birger Sevaldson. In 2016, Politecnico di Torino (with a Systemic Design graduate program founded by Aurelio Peccei) joined the SDRN and hosted RSD7 in 2018.

SDRN was a cooperative association based on both academic and industry relationships and invites faculty and students worldwide to participate in events and share research. We are a member group of IFSR and host a moderated, open online community. RSD participants are invited to join the online forum and are welcome to participate with us in future activities: workshops, publishing, symposium events.

As organizers of the Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD) symposium, discourses and publications have been developed for the following areas of research:

  • Strategic Design and Social Systems
  • Systems Oriented Service Design
  • Advanced Design Methods and Systems Thinking
  • Systems Theory in Design
  • Teaching Systemic Design and Systemic Literacy

Systems theory and design developed clear interdisciplinary connections during the era of the Ulm School of Design and Buckminster Fuller’s design science, resulting in the design methods movement (informed by Rittel, Alexander, JC Jones and Archer). However, in recent decades this co-evolution has not persisted, as each field has specialized in preferred core disciplinary methods. Practitioners in both systems science and design have attempted to entail the more effective models and techniques from the other field, but usually in a piecemeal fashion, and only if a problem was so suited or if supported by clients. Systems thinking has generally considered design thinking a soft complement, or analogous to creative planning. Design schools and consulting practices have developed well-packaged presentations of “systems change” approaches, but these are poorly supported by systems theory, interdisciplinary courses or rigorous systemic methods.

Moving forward

Now we call on advanced design practice to lead programs of strategic scale and higher complexity (e.g., social policy, healthcare, education, urbanization) we have adapted systems thinking methods, creatively pushing the boundaries beyond the popular modes of systems dynamics and soft systems.

Systemic design is distinguished from service or experience design in terms of scale, social complexity and integration – it is concerned with higher-order systems that entail multiple subsystems (that might be defined services). By integrating systems thinking and its methods, the systemic design brings human-centred design to complex, multi-stakeholder service systems. It adapts from known design competencies – form and process reasoning, social and generative research methods, and sketching and visualization practices – to describe, map, propose and reconfigure complex social systems.

The proceedings of the RSD Symposia have developed since RSD2 as a kind of foundation for the emergence of research (techne and empirical studies) and inquiry (praxis and phronesis) defining the discipline. As scholarship has further evolved through these discourse communities, we have curated and edited a series of journal publications in FORM Akademisk and She Ji (primarily) as well as an edited volume in the Springer Systems Science series. New courses are showing at universities in Europe and the Americas, beyond those represented in the RSD discourse, as the interdiscipline grows in depth and applicability.




Citation Data

Author(s): Birger Sevaldson: New courses are showing at universities in Europe and the Americas, beyond those represented in the RSD discourse, as the interdiscipline grows in depth and applicability.
Title: Systemic Design Association
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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First published: 16 October 2018
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