Books on Systemic Design

Recent and upcoming books in systemic design and from SDA authors are featured.

A number of the significant articles cited in systemic design were introduced in book collections or have been published by RSD authors in recent books. While many, if not most keynotes have published books, these are notable for their influence on framing the early concepts and leading approaches before the RSD series started, helping to guide the discipline, educators and researchers. Since then, many books have been published by RSD authors themselves, as celebrated in the “Books and Beers” presentations at RSD7.

Some of the earliest works that developed ideas and theories in systemic design were books from RSD keynote speakers (with kudos to MIT Press):

Harold Nelson and Eric Stolterman. (2012). The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Donald A. Norman. (2011). Living with Complexity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

John Thackara. (2005). In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Peter Jones and Kristel Van Ael

Design Journeys through Complex Systems:  Practice Tools for Systemic Design (2022)

As of April 6, BIS Publishers is taking orders for print copies of Design Journeys from their website. This unique practitioner handbook, designeed and written by Peter and Kristel, leads experienced designers, interested scholars, and the growing changemakers in innovation labs to learn leading practices of systemic design for systems change.  Design Journeys draws on validated methods from systems thinking and complexity design for collaborative workshops for large-scale societal contexts (such as climate change, food systems, or urban settlement) and complex socio-technical systems (such as healthcare, media platforms, or autonomous vehicles). The book intends to facilitate a true collective wisdom from use of these tools with stakeholder groups and builds consensus from the shared awareness resulting from visual sensemaking.

Based on the authors’ development of the Systemic Design Toolkit, the book develops design practices developed from core knowledge published in systems science.  Using a tour guide metaphor, Design Journeys trains people’s mindsets and provides tools for dealing with hyper complexity, to enable understanding of systemic problems, and to build capacity to collaborate in teams to produce action proposals.

Designing Complexity book

Print date: TBA

Birger Sevaldson

Designing Complexity: The methodology and practice of Systems Oriented Design (2022)

The traditional purpose and role of design have been to solve problems, find order, organize, and simplify. Yet, the concept of designing complexity goes against these established beliefs because complexity is not something that we can design away. Let’s admit it: It is not possible, through design, to solve complex situations so that they are no longer complex. In general, it is not possible to tame, order, and completely remove complexity through planning. The nature of complex problems dictates that new issues will arise during the process of “solving” them. Any attempts to tame it might backfire, often resulting in more severe issues than the original issues that we try to fix. The word “complexity” in itself represents the answer to this dilemma. The complexity comes from the Latin word complexus, which means embraced, encompassed or plaited. Cutting, sorting, and taming the relations in a complex system will either kill the system or result in something entirely different that is assumedly unplanned and unintended. Nevertheless, we can learn to navigate, cope with, interact with, influence, and change a complex situation. This book intends to provide a complete overview and in-depth discussion on the practice and underlying theories of Systems Oriented Design (SOD). SOD is one of many possible ways or “dialects” in the flourishing and emerging field of systemic design.

Silvia Barbero

Systemic Design Method Guide for Policymaking: A Circular Europe on the Way

This volume aims at clarifying the role of a circular economy according to sustainable development and how policymakers can target it effectively in their activities. The main question is: which methodology can policy managers use to define a clear path towards a circular economy in their regions? Indeed, this path means shifting from a linear and mechanistic approach to a holistic and integrated one, where the number of variables and relations generates a complex environment. So, the policies should manage and solve complex problems with new structured innovation approaches compared to the past. Specifically, the systemic design method provides specific tools to manage complex situations, design new relations among the entities of a territory, visualize the hidden potentialities, and boost proactive collaboration among local actors. This book is a guide to systemic design as a key methodology to establish sustainable regional action plans towards a circular economy.

As the result of an intense dialogue between people who present different perspectives and seek a common language in the current complexity of policy-making and designing, this is the first of a three-book series published across a four-year period (2016–2020) as part of the RETRACE Project funded by the Interreg Europe Programme.

Free download available from RETRACE.

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From the Archives

RSD5 – Systemic Design & Policy Making: The Case of the Retrace Project

Peter Jones

Systemic Design: Theory, Methods, and Practice

This 2018 Springer book was published from leading work presented at RSD4, in Banff (2015,) and is a title in the Translational Systems Science series edited by Prof. Kyoichi “Jim” Kijima. Ten chapters from RSD authors discuss the “better means of change” through integrated design practices for systems and services. Peter Jones calls on advanced design to lead programs of strategic scale and higher complexity (e.g., social policy, healthcare, education, urbanization) while adapting systems thinking methods, creatively pushing the boundaries beyond the modes of systems thinking. Systemic design has emerged to address this interdisciplinary area of research and practice, growing from leadership within design studies and its intersection with system sciences. The nine chapters published in this collection were developed by RSD4 authors. See Peter’s blog post on the book on Design Dialogues. Book overview at SpringerLink.  

Astrid Skjerven and Janne Beate Reitan (Eds).

Design for a Sustainable Culture: Perspectives, Practice, and Education

As culture is becoming increasingly recognised as a crucial element of sustainable development, design competence has emerged as a useful tool in creating a meaningful life within a sustainable mental, cultural and physical environment.

Design for a Sustainable Culture explores the relationship between sustainability, culture and the shaping of human surroundings by examining the significance and potential of design as a tool for the creation of sustainable development. Drawing on interdisciplinary case studies and investigations from Europe, North America and India, this book discusses theoretical, methodological and educational aspects of the role of design in relation to human well-being and provides a unique perspective on the interface between design, culture and sustainability.

Book overview at Routledge

Peter Jones

Design for Care: Innovating Healthcare Experience

Foreword by Dr John Halamka

Design for Care was presented at RSD2 (2013) as a new book that defined early systemic design approaches for healthcare applications and the range of other design practices currently in health professions. It brings methods and practices effective across healthcare contexts to designers in all situations, illustrated by current cases and design research. Across eight chapters, the range of design practices from consumer and patient-centred design to clinical service design and systemic design.  All forms of care and caring in information, practice, environment, and services are to be considered in the quest for enhancing the human experience of health.

Healthcare design concerns are presented not from a traditional user experience perspective but the lived experience and perspective of the patient, practitioner, and designer in the health field. As one of the first books to specifically define systemic design, Design for Care aims to inform information, service, and system designers to make a positive difference in healthcare.  Even after eight years, the book remains the only dedicated volume of service and system design in healthcare, and it remains consistently in use in teaching. Available from Rosenfeld Media. | Download Chapter One

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