Wicked Design 101: teaching to the complexity of our times

Format: Papers, RSD3, Topic: Learning & Education

Author: Patricia Beirne

Design’s capacity to have tangible impact on human identity, behavior, and perception has cast the designed object as one of the strongest influences in culture throughout history. We have come to believe that it is through these objects that our notion of self and community is constructed. Too often the context of design action is not seen to give shape to our understanding of and relation to the past, present and future – an understanding embodied by the product of design vision. In realms such as politics and commerce, the impact of the object has been leveraged for decades – even centuries – to embody myriad visions for the future. But even in the most mundane of design actions, the object is a manifestation of opportunity found within systemic interconnectedness. The combination of the context and the act of design is what makes design such a powerful cultural force. The objective, not the object, is what shapes our future.

The systemic complexity of design is what makes it a critical tool for future-shaping. Yet the prevalent pedagogy of design favors disciplinary processes over design futures and stresses the object over the objective. These frameworks of design education leave out a critical strategy in creating enthusiastic, responsible and thoughtful practitioners. In order to effectively put theories of change into practice, designers must first be empowered to understand and communicate the complex interconnected systems within which experiences and objects are able to deliver a vision. In order to separate the signal, design must first recognize and understand the noise.

Presentation & paper

Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2014
Title: Wicked Design 101: teaching to the complexity of our times
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 28 September 2014
Last update:
Publisher Identification:

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 ##.

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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