Designing involves making decisions that affect the living and non-living things of the world. It is a practice that undertakes the responsibility of answering what to design, how and why, and consequently determines the lifecycle of artefacts. The designer is supposed to be aware of these responsibilities and evaluate the context and necessity of design projects by studying the footprint of the project in life, considering all related systems.
studioSUSTAIN design studio course series was founded on the basis of this approach, positioning sustainability at the centre of design process. Each academic semester the studio takes a particular locality as the context of design activity. Students are presented with real-life conditions and situations in the local context. They research, experience, and be part of the locality in field trips planned as design camps. They collaborate, work, and live together for a while with locals and stakeholders. They study both the tangible and intangible things and processes, in other words, the systems, in the locality.
Students are expected to think in terms of systems and adopt systems thinking so that they can grasp and understand the local context with the complex social systems and the socio-technical systems within. They use specific tools and methods for visualising their research on various aspects of the local systems. These tools and methods function both as means of making sense of the local information as well as of collaborating and communicating with locals and stakeholders. Students understand individual parts of the local knowledge in relation to sustainability topics. However, when asked to comprehend whole existing local systems and to compose system designs, they have difficulty both integrating and relating these parts and visualising them in system storyboards.
This piece is the presentation of the early stages of ongoing research on a proposal of a framework and template for structuring and visualising systems and system designs. It is suggested that complex social or socio-technical systems can be defined as stories and narratives. Their complexity can be grasped and communicated by visualising these system stories in established visual narratives, namely storyboards and comics. Stories and visual narratives would constitute both a common ground for a mutual understanding of systems as well as for designers to compose and develop system designs through collaboration with stakeholders. The report is accompanied by a selection of students’ storyboards of their system designs from five semesters of studioSUSTAIN.
Keywords: design education, sustainability, system design, story, narrative, storyboard, comics