The Systemic Design Journal
Contexts is an open-access, peer-reviewed research journal supported by members of the Systemic Design Association. It is the first journal dedicated to scholarly reporting and research studies in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design. The journal is dedicated to systemic design and innovation, design process, and design thinking in today’s complex sociotechnical environment. Volume 2 (2023) launches with Cosmotechnic Encounters: Designing with foodwaste, landscapes, and livelihoods.
Article image: Garden service providers leading to impromptu soil application test of Bokashi at their rooftop operation.
Contexts Volume 1 (2022) includes histories, futures, theories, and real-world cases—and reveals new design contexts emerging from acts of co-creation and systemic design's role as an interdiscipline that joins systems thinking to design methodology. As a collection, the articles present a common ground of complexity viewed as a grand challenge.
Volume 2 is now open for continuous submissions, and we are actively reviewing and publishing new articles.
Following a review of publishing options in the Winter of 2021, an SDA working group determined that there was a place for a scholarly journal dedicated to systemic design. The SDA board formed the Contexts publications team to support a continuous publishing model, producing annual volumes (not issues) to allow collections to expand or adapt as necessary.
As an SDA "society" journal, Contexts promises a fresh perspective on publishing for authors, oriented to developing scholars in the field, as much as the quality of scholarship. The change from the publishing ladder to the scholar's spiral indicates this commitment. The editors also aim for a fast turnaround of decisions and more contextual reviews. The call for manuscripts for Contexts is always open—as a continuous publishing model, editors will accept papers at any time.
Markus Wernli and Kam-Fai Chan consider circularity in organic waste, drawing on Daoist cosmotechnics, design research, anthropology, and diverse economies. They suggest cosmotechnic designing with the world, concluding that designing with shapelessness, integral to systemic design with situatedness and mutualistic care, “is essentially about symbiotic survivability or sympoiesis in cosmotechnics.”
Harold Nelson leads the collection with an invited essay, Contexts’ first article, that helps place the footers and foundation into the field that has grown from design for complex scale and generations of systems thinking from the fertile ground of the centre of the 1960s consciousness revolution, the University of California at Berkeley.
Contra-Innovation: Expanding the innovation imperative in the context of futuring, defuturing and fictioning
Dulmini Perera and Tony Fry present a powerful approach to enable systemic critique of innovation propositions and their potential outcomes. The paper takes the form of presenting three “historico-fictions” from the US, China, and Cuba to distinguish these value frames within selected histories of dominant systems. Perera and Fry suggest a “second order design fiction” to bring forth pluralistic expansions of meaning and enable participants in design conversations to recognize many possible positions that might challenge acceleration, defuturing, or sustainment.
Systemic Spatial Design: Enhancing the potential of spatial design disciplines to navigate adaptive cycles in cities
Elena Porqueddu presents a spatial-architectural theory based on complexity theory and complex adaptation. She advances a systemic approach to mixed-discipline spatial design in urban planning, which she calls “systemic spatial design,” and introduces the “multi-scale atlas.” The paper presents a new approach to spatial design—the designer can intervene in the context, but the approach is adaptive and self-organizational, with no claim to control.
Ryan Murphy extends a body of work with an analysis of the function of intervention points that we understand as leverage and argues that the (theory of) leverage is crucial to understanding systems’ complexity, “Finding leverage means finding advantage: identifying the phenomena in a system with the greatest potential to multiply or compound a changemaker’s efforts to achieve the impact they want.”
Danielle Lake, David J. Marshall, Rozana Carducci, and Tracey Thurnes present an action case study of a social lab and interrogate the issues of scaling effective change in social design. This article is valuable for practical instruction on how to achieve diverse forms of scale via more participatory systemic design practices and offers a conceptualization of scaling as a meshy, stretchy place of emergence.