Complex societal challenges cannot be resolved with quick fixes, nor can they be successfully addressed from disciplinary or institutional silos. In this article we propose an innovative approach to tackling contemporary societal challenges based on complexity theory and transdisciplinarity. The lens of complexity reveals that such challenges emerge within complex contexts. Complex challenges cannot simply be resolved, due to their dynamic, non-linear nature. Instead, the complex context itself can be steered in a certain desired direction through iterative action and learning cycles. Transdisciplinary approaches help us understand how different perspectives and ways of knowing held by relevant actors can be combined to serve effective action in complex contexts. We have integrated complexity theory and transdisciplinarity to create a co-evolutionary model of innovation illustrating that who we work with, how we work, and what we learn and create co-evolve over time. We show how an innovation approach based on building a vision and including a reflexive social learning method can provide a guiding structure to this co-evolutionary process. We illustrate this approach with a case study focused on improving the well-being of staff and students at a university. We conclude the paper with implications for design.
Moving into the social and public sector, service design is becoming both more complex and more participatory. This is reflected in the greater diversity and interrelatedness of stakeholders and the wicked problems being addressed. However, although many service designers working in the social and public domains bring into their design practice the intention to make design more participatory and equitable, they may lack an in-depth understanding of power, privilege, and the social structures (norms, roles, rules, assumptions, and beliefs) that uphold structural inequality. In this paper we present findings from seven interviews with service designers to investigate the challenges they face when addressing power issues in design, and their experiences of how power shows up in their design process. By drawing from understandings of power in social theory, as well as the interviewees’ perspectives on how power manifests in design practice, we outline a framework for power literacy in service design. The framework comprises five forms of power found in design practice: privilege, access power, goal power, role power, and rule power. We conclude by suggesting that service design practices that make use of reflexivity to develop power literacy may contribute to more socially just, decolonial, and democratic design practices.
Service design is increasingly seen as a means to enable systemic change in complex contexts. The contexts in which services are co-produced—the social group, network, service organisation, or ecosystem—can be considered complex social systems. A characteristic of complex social systems is that new system behaviour emerges through a mechanism called self-organisation. Self-organisation shows how human relationships are at the core of social systemic change. Such systemic changes are reflected in system behaviour such as adaptation, mutual learning, and collective creativity and motivation. As service design is in essence about human relationships, it becomes relevant to ask how we can design for human relationships to positively enable social systemic change? In this paper, I argue that expert design reasoning is an important source in designing conditions that enable positive human relationships, and that this design reasoning can be expanded to work towards a design rationale for systemic change by building on theories of complex social systems. I illustrate this perspective with the reasoning of service designers in two cases, who used their insights to design for human relationships. I conclude with a discussion of the implications for service design practice and service design education.
Transdisciplinary research is claimed to be essential in tackling today’s complex societal challenges. Transdisciplinarity includes collaboration and integration across academic disciplines, non-academic ways of knowing, and the ‘real world’ of citizens, professionals and other stakeholders. Design can contribute to transdisciplinarity by framing complex challenges, integrating knowledge towards synthesizing solutions, and providing participatory practices to engage with the real world. However, for design to be successful in transdisciplinary research contexts, a better understanding of transdisciplinarity and design is required. In this paper I present a conceptual and practical perspective on transdisciplinary de-sign. I show how design relates to three different conceptions of transdisciplinarity: a multi-level disciplinary practice, a participatory practice, and a practice focused on complexity and social learning. Furthermore, I propose a set of trans-disciplinary competences that enhance designers’ ability to contribute to tackling complex societal challenges, including epistemic intelligence, worldview awareness, power literacy and reflexive and dialogic skills.
Higher education (HE) students experience rates of depression and anxiety substantially higher than those found in the general population. Many psychological approaches to improving wellbeing and developing student resilience have been adopted by HE administrators and educators, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. This article aims to review literature regarding integration of resilience and wellbeing in HE. A subsequent aim is to scope toward developing foundations for an emerging discipline specific concept – designer resilience. A literature scoping review is applied to chart various conceptual, theoretical and operational applications of resilience and wellbeing in HE. Twenty-seven (27) articles are identified and analysed. The scoping review finds that two general approaches to implementing resilience and wellbeing training exist in HE. First, articles reacting to a decline in student mental health and remedying this decline through general extra-curricular resilience or wellbeing programmes. Second, articles opting for a curricula and discipline-specific approach by establishing why resilience will be needed by future graduates before developing and testing new learning experiences. The presence of cognitive flexibility, storytelling, reframing and reflection lie at the core of the practice of resilience and design and therefore offer preliminary opportunities to develop ‘designer resilience’ training. Future research opportunities are identified throughout the article.
In recent decades, design has expanded from a practice aimed at designing things to one that helps to address complex societal challenges. In this context, a field of practice called systemic design has emerged, which combines elements of systems thinking with elements of design. We use a case study approach to investigate how expert practitioners carry out systemic design work in the context of public and social innovation, and explore what we can learn from their practices and design rationales when we compare them to systems thinking theories and approaches. Based on findings from five case studies, we present five systemic design principles: 1) opening up and acknowledging the interrelatedness of problems; 2) developing empathy with the system; 3) strengthening human relationships to enable creativity and learning; 4) influencing mental models to enable change; and 5) adopting an evolutionary design approach to desired systemic change. One way that scholars can contribute to this field is by continuing to monitor and describe emerging systemic design principles developed and performed at the forefront of the field, strengthening these learnings by building on the body of knowledge about systems thinking and design.
Service design is one of the keys to improving how we target today’s complex societal problems. The predominant view of service systems is mechanistic and linear. A service infrastructure—which includes solutions like service blueprints, scripts, and protocols—is, in some ways, designed to control the behavior of service professionals at the service interface. This view undermines the intrinsic motivation, expertise, and creativity of service professionals. This article presents a different perspective on service design. Using theories of social systems and complex responsive processes, I define service organizations as ongoing iterated patterns of relationships between people, and identify them as complex social service systems. I go on to show how the human-centeredness of design practices contributes to designing for such service systems. In particular, I show how a deep understanding of the needs and aspirations of service professionals through phenomenological themes contributes to designing for social infrastructures that support continuous improvement and adaptation of the practices executed by service professionals at the service interface.
Static approaches for business modelling cannot cope with the increased complexity commonly linked to Circular Business Model (CBM) innovation. In this research, we aim to investigate whether System Dynamics (SD) modelling is suitable to verify the long-term behaviour and impacts of CBMs by applying it to a particular case study. The dynamics of a closed sharing platform for healthcare institutions are modelled and simulated. The dynamics of sharing durables and consumables is represented through (1.) a causal explanation of the behaviour, (2.) the structure of stock and flows and (3.) verification through simulation. Results indicate substantial potential impacts for durable products. Products lifecycle time and the number of use cycles determine this behaviour. The use of SD enables experimenting with CBM in this case by connecting the dynamics of sharing to the use of resources and its impacts. Further research should verify the possibilities to design enhanced CBMs from interventions evidenced by modelling.
This paper aims to understand the value of synergy between the field of design and that of transition management
for sustainability. Six potential values of synergy are identified: (1) enriched methods of retrieving knowledge of
current objects and current systems; (2) providing boundary objects in transition arenas beyond language games;
(3) actively envisioning the effect of design things during and beyond their lifetime; (4) intensified reflexivity in design practices and projects; (5) more prototyping activities to leave traces of transition activities in everyday life; (6)
greater focus on building interactions through a broader range of co-creation activities. The paper also identifies
four possible pitfalls of synergy between the two practices. The paper is grounded in literature but is meant to be
a stepping stone towards experimentation in practice; where knowledge, approaches, methods and experience of
both fields are combined to intensify the impact on sustainability.
This article aims to unravel the tensions that obstruct participatory city making: the processes in which government, entrepreneurs and citizens co-create new solutions for urban challenges. Participatory city making is explored and conceptualized through an empirical grounded study of local civil servants and citizen initiatives in Rotterdam. Through interviews and a set of three workshops the practices of these city makers are studied. A need for more transparency, influence and exchange was identified. The value of design is explored in general, and specifically the design of possible tools and interventions, to address the identified issues and tensions. This exploration shows that design-enabled interventions could, on the one hand, by `infrastructuring', anticipate on the diffused design activities of individual actors in the urban context, and on the other hand, the use of these tools and interventions could promote participatory approaches among the different city makers towards urban sustainability transitions.
Our globalised world is encountering problems on an unprecedented scale. Many of the issues we face as societies extend beyond the borders of our nations. Phenomena such as terrorism, climate change, immigration, cybercrime and poverty can no longer be understood without considering the complex socio-technical systems that support our way of living. It is widely acknowledged that to contend with any of the pressing issues of our time, we have to substantially adapt our lifestyles. To adequately counteract the problems of our time, we need interventions that help us actually adopt the behaviours that lead us toward a more sustainable and ethically just future. In Designing for Society, Nynke Tromp and Paul Hekkert provide a hands-on tool for design professionals and students who wish to use design to counteract social issues. Viewing the artefact as a unique means of facilitating behavioural change to realise social impact, this book goes beyond the current trend of applying design thinking to enhancing public services, and beyond the idea of the designer as a facilitator of localised social change.