‘The Design Ecosystem’ – A systemic view towards design and society, in the Indian context


systems thinking
design ecosystem
systems theory
systemic foresight
Indian context

Design, at the simplistic level, is a human endeavour to make our environments more congenial; the denominators of which are arbitrary and change from context to context. We have reached a point in time where design cannot be an activity in isolation synonymous with mere creativity or innovation. With the need for design to be able to provide a holistic solution, it necessitates a look at the entire system.

It has been noted by a number of designers, design thinkers and system thinkers that a change in paradigm is underway in our society which not only concerns with the World of Design but the environments’ we live in. It is therefore perhaps pertinent to take a re-look at not only our understanding of ‘design’ but also how the same can be differently employed for alternate design solutions. Towards this end, the concept of Design Ecosystem is proposed. Though still in the conceptual stage and further directed to an evolving stage, the concept, provides an alternate perspective and, hopefully, an approach in consonance with the needs of the day. For the most part, in India we continue to follow the understanding of design as in the West, where it originated as an industrialisation by-product. The need of the day though, seems to be adopting a much wider definition of design that would incorporate the practices that have developed sans industrialisation too.

The term ‘system’ implies an orderly arrangement, an interrelationship of parts. The approach views Design and the Society through the lens of systems theory that enables us to see the structure and the behaviour of the system, and makes an attempt to understand the relationship between the two. Thus, the design community is related to an ‘ecosystem’. To draw a parallel with a system of both biotic and abiotic components, the design community is made up of the players that actively affect the system and of other variables that can be said to be part of the ‘exo-system’ that affects it. The proposed term ‘Design Ecosystem’ views the encompassing environment and the society as a whole, besides the components that ‘design’ seeks to directly address , each of which is in fact affected by ‘design’ at every possible sub-system level. The overlapping, nested, and networked subsystems operating within broader systems need to be identified; their elements, their interconnections and function/purpose of each sub-system, which is the most crucial determinant of systems behaviour, requires determination further.

The objective of interpolating the concept of ecosystem in an exhaustive understanding of design is to capacitate individuals and organisations in providing holistic long-term solutions even for situations that might possibly arise in the future; this is achieved because the solution proposed encompasses all the components of the system – the ecosystem in entirety. While this approach might already be adopted in the West, at least in parts, the need for the same appears severely wanting in the Indian context where it is perhaps even more pertinent and imperative, and, yes, equally challenging.

This ‘eco-system’, in the Indian context, should take into account the ethnic variations, the socio-cultural factors, the geographical factors, the political and economic factors, and the roles these play in producing patterns of behaviour over time. Identifying these patterns is key to understanding the system, and thus the emergent properties of the system, the leverage points that can initiate desired change, and determining the potential for threshold behaviour and qualitative shifts in system dynamics. A framework that focuses on knowledge and understanding of system dynamics is therefore proposed for the ecosystem – an ’open’ and complex system forever in a state of ‘flux’. The research and analysis needs to unify information from both specific social values as well as wider objective forces. This requires thinking that is capable of grasping the big picture, including the interrelationships among the full range of causal factors underlying them.

Posted: Oct-2017

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