Wk 9- Systems thinking + designing with (eco)systems

In the ‘Art of Systems Thinking’ O’Connor and McDermott articulate the need and importance of transdisciplinarity in the context of systems thinking as “instead of seeing separate fields of knowledge all needing years of study to understand, systems thinking lets you see the connection between different disciplines.” (pg. 4) This enables a prediction of systems behaviours, regardless of the scale or complexity of the system. On a similar note, the case study of Transition Design also emphasises the need for transition solutions that draws from many approaches to act as an “integrative agent” qualifying designers to work in trandsciplinary teams to catalyse change in complex systems. This extends the discussion of interdisciplinary thinking we have had over the weeks, and really places this methodology, and the role of designers at the crux of many contemporary discourses concerned with manifested change to develop transition solutions for a sustainable future.

“Change can be surprisingly easy if you identify the right connections.” (O’Connor, McDermott, pg.21) In every system, especially social and political, change and inertia have been seen as drastic hurdles to overcome through individualistic efforts and a change in universal mindset. O’Connor and McDermott pose a new window to perceive change as a systematic intervention through synthesising the interdependencies and dynamic relationships between elements in systems. This challenged me to think differently because as a designer, I realised that our role is to help find those critical points of intervention, that are very often than not the “beliefs of the people in it, because it is the beliefs that sustain the system as it is.” (pg. 24) It is a question then, how are designers to help facilitate sustainable change through “human-centred” mindsets, but ensure that this does not continue Anthropocentric dynamics, but instead develop a more holistic approach to the betterment and mutually positive dynamics of the human and natural systems for a sustainable future.



Ball in Basin model illustrating the Earth System of the Anthropocene, where the Holocene sits in the natural variability and basin of attraction. Source: Research Gate, 2016


We are a system operating with systems of other living and non-human organisms and their environments. The principles that stem from Living Systems theory, such as self-organisation, emergence, resilience and interdependence can serve as leverage points for initiating change within complex systems. (O’Conner and McDermott) The rapidly changing nature of human systems such as cities has fostered a positive change for humans as self-organising beings. But this has created a butterfly effect across its interdependent systems such as the natural environment which undergoes self-organisation of its own as organisms become resilient to the changing urban and natural landscape as a result of human and technological interventions. The image above illustrates the Holocene (current geological period) as it sits in the basin of attraction. If this chain of effects continues in the complex web of interdependencies, there is a definite limit to the continuation of such negative feedback loops, and we may spiral further from the complex system of human – non-human interaction into a state of chaos without redirective practice. This poses an urgency to shift the Anthropocentric view, and develop “holistic and ecological worldviews” as Fritjoj Capra highlights is the most powerful leverage point for sustainable future. There is a bigger concern to respond to this “crisis in perception” and designers have much to contribute through interdisciplinary modes of problem solving to help transition into a “new way of being in the world.”



Manzini, E. 2010, ‘Small, local, open and connected: Design for social innovation and sustainability’, The Journal of Design Strategies: Change Design, vol. 4, pp. 8-11.


Kagan, S. 2010, ‘Cultures of sustainability and the aesthetics of the pattern that connects’, Futures, vol. 42, pp. 1094-1101.


Research Gate, 2016, < https://www.researchgate.net/figure/A-ball-and-cup-depiction-of-the-Earth-System-definition-of-the-Anthropocene-showing-the_fig4_305471690> accessed May 15 2018





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s