Teaching systems thinking and design at National Institute of Design, India

Format: Papers, RSD2, Topic: Learning & Education

Praveen Nahar

National Institute of Design, India

Systemic design at the National Institute of Design

With its large population and enormous socio-cultural-economic-environmental diversity, today, India is considered a microcosm of the world. Most of the challenges that the world faces today are all present in India. Design education has been addressing tactical and creative levels; however, it is imperative for designers in India to explore vision-led design approaches that address diversity.

Designers can look to understand design from a broader and deeper perspective: a significant opportunity for designers is to build systems and tools that encourage a vision for the future. At NID, it starts with an introductory course at the foundation level, called Design Concepts and Concerns (also known as Design Process). The course explores various concepts and concerns from macro to micro perspectives on design in a local and global context and prepares students to deal with ambiguity and complexity.

The RSD project is introduced as the students move towards the end of their academic programme. This project lasts eight to ten weeks and brings perspective on systems thinking and its relation to design. This is offered to both undergraduate and post-graduate students. This project involves the application of the systems approach to a design problem. Theme-based projects are undertaken which can cover a wide range of problem areas. The emphasis is on the understanding of interrelationships that make a coherent whole.

Over the last decade, the course has evolved. It now deals with complex issues and wicked problems from a socio-cultural-economic-environmental perspective with a high level of ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity. Students work in groups and are facilitated to sustain complexity through various intermediate tools and frameworks. Live projects based on extensive fieldwork, complex systems modelling, design opportunity mapping and design interventions are carried out in trans-disciplinary design domains such as products, services, systems, policies, infrastructure, communication, social innovation etc.

The programme has been very enriching for the students, faculty, and the institute as a whole to open up to the vastness of design and what design can do in almost any field. It also brings individuals empathy, humility, modesty, patience, confidence, and ethics. Students become active thinkers making compelling arguments through engaging formats that best communicate their ideas through visual mapping. They also maintain blogs to reflect on and share their process and ideas. The educational framework for systems design is reflective, evolving, transdisciplinary, and occurs at various levels.

Systemic design at the National Institute of Design: a glimpse of projects in the last few years

Cycle Share System • Blood collection/donation system • Street Hawkers • Organic Farming • Election Reforms • Sustainable Urban Transport • E-waste • Corruption • Hygiene • Emergency Management • Maternal Mortality • Police reforms • Sustainable Milk Mobility • Truckers and logistics • user-centred Design for Railways • Car Sharing System for Delhi • Mobility for Blind • Rural-Urban Digital Divide • Street Education • Universal Design for Public Buses in Gujarat • Transit to School • Mumbai Suburban Rail System • Design Response to disaster • Maternal Health for Rural India • Energy & Sustainability • Rural Transportation • Railway Fright Systems • Mobility for Elderly • Rural Business Hubs • Sustainable Tourism • Issues of Salt workers • Rainwater harvesting systems • Solid Waste Management • Design & Informal Economy • Wayfinding in India • Parking Systems in Urban India • Rocking ’60s: Design for Elder Care • Domestic waste management • Sustainable Home Systems

Citation Data

Author(s): Praveen Nahar
Title: Teaching systems thinking and design at National Institute of Design, India
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
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First published: 15 September 2013
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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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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.


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