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the systemic design journal

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. The current and third article in Volume 2 is Methodological Pluralism in Practice: A systemic design approach for place-based sustainability transformations by Hayley Fitzpatrick, Tobias Luthe, and Birger Sevaldson.

Methodological Pluralism in Practice Systemic Cycles tour in Mammoth Lakes. Image: Tobias Luthe.


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.

Methodological Pluralism in Practice: A systemic design approach for place-based sustainability transformations

Haley Fitzpatrick, Tobias Luthe, and and Birger Sevaldson explore methodological plurality and integrate quantitative scientific methods with participatory gigamapping and embodied practices. This longitudinal design inquiry engaged with communities undergoing sustainability transformations across three mountain regions: Ostana, Italy; Hemsedal, Norway; and Mammoth Lakes, California. The authors identify the need for contemplative and psychological practices in systemic design that focus on inner resilience.

Citylab X: Towards a lens on the urban living lab as driver of systemic innovation

Anja Overdiek’s exploration of the ISLE model as a lens for systemic innovation in urban living labs (ULLs) involves the study of a municipal ULL in the Netherlands (Citylab X). She observes that European municipalities increasingly use ULLs for complex situations, demanding a paradigm shift from service design to systemic innovation and a transition approach. The ISLE model is proposed as a process that might support co-creation, provide a heuristic process framework, and mobilise knowledge across ULLs and related networks. The findings include considerations for systemic design practice in ULLs.

Cosmotechnic Encounters: Designing with foodwaste, landscapes, and livelihoods

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.”

Editorial: Engaged Design Scholarship in Contexts

The editorial for the inaugural volume by Editor in Chief Peter Jones and Deputy Editor Silvia Barbero. They provide an overview of Volume 1 and a brief on the emergence of systemic design as an interdiscipline to Contexts, which they view as reflective of “the common ground of complexity that many design scholars share as a common grand challenge.”

Systemic Design as Born from the Berkeley Bubble Matrix

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.

Finding (a theory of) Leverage for Systemic Change: A systemic design research agenda

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.”

The Power and Place Collaborative: Participatory strategies for scaling

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.


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.

RSD11 event updates, program content, and proceedings are posted on