The Pattern Atlas of System Vulnerabilities

Format: Papers, RSD11, Topic: Learning & Education, Topic: Mapping & Modelling

Peter Stoyko

The SystemViz Project

Societal systems can be thought of as a complex “tangle.” That metaphor can be extended in order to map an array of human-made vulnerabilities. The result is a Pattern Atlas, which can serve as both an analytical and teaching tool. It comes from the forthcoming book How Small Players Change Big Systems (2023). Some 28 types of systemic vulnerability are identified at four levels of scale. The Atlas has several implications for designers.

First, the Atlas explains the “(n) ever-changing world” paradox—how systems adapt to remain more-or-less the same. Misunderstanding that paradox is the source of continual frustrations by those who aspire to change systems for the better. Second, the Atlas explains the scalar dynamics by which small mishaps or design blunders can cascade to become major catastrophes. That is crucial for understanding the Risk Society that has us (mis)directing our collective fears. Third, a lot of designer-led interventions lead to churn or minor changes among systems. The Atlas helps designers target their interventions to make more fundamental changes and (as importantly) reduce the potential for harmful side effects. All three of these implications are central to designing over time. A handout that visually summarises the Atlas is available.

KEYWORDS: systemic design, risk and vulnerability, precarity, risk society, systems change, problem framing, process ontology, visualisation, information design

Pattern atlas poster

Sketchnote by Patricia Kambitch | Playthink

Citation Data

Author(s): Peter Stoyko
Year: 2022
Title: The Pattern Atlas of System Vulnerabilities
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 180
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 20 September 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

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 ##.

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