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Birger Sevaldson

This article is adapted from the long-form version posted on


Design is facing ever-growing challenges from an increasingly complex world. Making design matter means coping with these challenges and being able to enter new, important design fields where design can play a crucial role. To achieve this, we need to become better at coping with super-complexity.

Systems-oriented design (SOD) is a new version of systems thinking and systems practice that was developed from within design thinking and design practice, that is, it is systems thinking and systems practice tailored by and for designers. It draws from a designerly way of dealing with super-complexity derived from design practices while referring to established perspectives in modern systems thinking, especially soft systems methodology, critical systems thinking and systems architecting. Further, it is based on design skills such as visual thinking and visualisation in processes and for communication purposes.


The term Gigamapping was coined in 2009 by Birger Sevaldson in the context of the 2009 SOD design studio at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. In that studio, the designerly mapping techniques that were used before already from 2006 and onward were developed to a new level of complexity. Central to SOD is the emerging technique of Gigamapping. Gigamapping is super-extensive mapping across multiple layers and scales with the goal of investigating relations between seemingly separate categories, hence providing boundary critiques on the conception and framing of systems. This type of mapping is not new: Kolko describes a very familiar process, as follows:

The user research sessions will produce pages of verbal transcript, hundreds of pictures, and dozens of artifact examples. Because of the complexity of comprehending so much data at once, the designer will frequently turn to a large sheet of paper and a blank wall in order to “map it all out.” Several hours later, the sheet of paper will be covered with what to a newcomer appears to be a mess—yet the designer has made substantial progress, and the mess actually represents the deep and meaningful sense-making that drives innovation. (J. Kolko, 2010 Design Issues Vol 26 issue 1).

Though this process has been described before, it still needs development to shape it into a substantial technique for the designer. Gigamapping transforms the normal mapping activity of design practices into something more of an organised strategy. Kolko also describes the messiness and the lack of linearity in the process forward toward synthesis. Synthesis is bringing all the elements, relations and new inventions in a system together for the system to take on a new role or new state.

The diversity and number of elements and relation together create an overall feel of the complexity of the system. This we call myriadic quality. Myriadic quality and a degree of messiness are typical for the Gigamapping process.

Gigamapping features

  • A Gigamap is characterised by the following:
  • Designerly construction of a rich picture of a real-life situation
  • Mixing information types and kinds (e.g., images, graphics, texts and other media)
  • Mixing sources of information
  • Myriadic quality, which includes large amounts of information
  • Crossing scales, from a large to small scale (microscope, telescope, wide-angle views)
  • Combining and relating categorically different entities
  • Covering wide fields
  • Digging into details
  • Combining, interpolating and criticising systems models
    Boundary construction, critique and adjustment
Gigamap of workshop

Above: Gigamapping Workshop by Lucie Pavlistikova, Martin Malek, Mirka Baklikova, Mariia Borisova, Georgia Papasozomenou, 2016

Illustrated gigamap components from text

A gigamap draws from and combines many mapping types into one interrelated whole (Diagram: Birger Sevaldson, 2013)