The Mind Shifts of SOD

By Birger Sevaldson

Many people in general, and designers specifically, do not know about, or relateto systems thinking or systems approaches, which are too often seen as difficult, cumbersome and alien. Therefore, we need to address the mindset needed to appreciate Systems Oriented Design.

When talking about systems, people often think that systems are something specific, something not related to them directly. We use the term systems in everyday language, for example, ‘The system does not work’, or ‘I don’t understand the system’, for addressing large, opaque and often public or organisational problems. One can also use the term system for something smaller, such as ‘I made myself this system for controlling my economy, and it works wonderfully’.

All those uses of the term system are indeed correct. Nobody has a copyright for the term system. The everyday use of the term is as correct as any other more specific use. In fact, the everyday meaning of the term is a good starting point for understanding systems. However, we need to make several small shifts in our understanding to truly grasp systems thinking in general and to start to become a systemic designer.

  • Systems are everywhere
    Systems are everywhere, everything is part of a system and everything is a system.
  • Look beyond the object
    Look beyond the object, and move attention from the object to relations (ref. Thackara 1988).
  • Systems are dynamic
    Everything is dynamic: What seems stable just moves very slowly.
  • The “Gestalt” of the system
    Look for the apparel of the system rather than understanding the sum of its fragments.
  • Designing means working with systems
    Designing is potentially a very powerful way to deal with systems change, but not any design will do.
  • Systemics is the logic of design 
    Harold Nelson claims that the inner nature of design is systemic (in the book The Design Way)
  • Design is the means
    Design is a means that can be used to understand and resolve systems.

Revision November 2017