Books on Systemic Design

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.

Birger Sevaldson

Designing Complexity: The Methodology and Practice of Systems Oriented Design (2022)

This book is for designers in the widest sense, including any individual or organisation involved in change processes. It addresses one of the most pressing issues of our time: How can we design for, with, and in service of the complex world we live in? How can we be useful as designers in world that is rapidly changing due to technological, political and social processes, climate change, and nature destruction?

There is no one “right” way presented in this book. Instead, many experiences, approaches, and perspectives are collected and presented throughout the book. The approach this book is presenting is a methodology called Systems Oriented Design (SOD). SOD is a design methodology and design practice especially geared towards understanding and working with complex systems. It is influenced by a number of systems theories yet it remains true to its origin, the core of designing.

SOD is a living and adaptable methodology.  Though it is based on design thinking and design methodology, it is easily adapted and applied by anybody who is working with complex change processes.

Designers have some very useful skills for planning with complex systems in mind, yet there are also some old habits that need to be overcome. 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 cannot be designed away. Instead, we present ways to live with, influence, and benefit from complex systems.

This book changes the way you think about designing. Instead of simplifying you embrace richness. Instead of controlling you learn to live with uncertainty. Enjoy designing within a complex world.

Peter Jones and Kristel Van Ael

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

This unique practitioner handbook, designed and written by Peter Jones and Kristel Van Ael, 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 collective wisdom from the 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 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, enabling understanding of systemic problems, and building the capacity to collaborate in teams to produce action proposals.

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

Design for Sustainable Culture book cover

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

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.


Design for Care book cover

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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The Systemic Design Association will send you quarterly updates on systemic design and activities in the SDA network. During the annual Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD) Symposium timeframe SDA will send brief updates related to RSD keynotes, papers, and workshops.

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