Systems Oriented Design

The designerly way to work with systems

The main mission of Systems Oriented Design is to build the designers own interpretation and implementation of systems thinking so that systems thinking can fully benefit from design thinking and practice and so that design thinking and practice can fully benefit from systems thinking.

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Transforming Public Organizations

  Manuela Aguirre PhD Thesis 2020 for web view 55

 New doctoral thesis by Manuela Aguirre Ulloa


This thesis explores how public sec​tor organizations introduce new ways of working, such as co-design methods and mindsets, and examines the interactions between emerging co-designing cultures and dominant public sector cultures. This research contributes to the field of design, with a focus on culture change in public sector organizations.

When designers try to create lasting change in the public sector, their aim is not only to co-design meaningful new or improved services, but also to embed the capacity – rather than dependency – of co-design into the organization. Current research suggests that this embedded co-design capacity allows for ongoing transformation.

Organizational change can be achieved in various ways, one of which is by facilitating experiential capacity-building programs that immerse public employees in co- designing methods and approaches over the course of several months. In this context, designers often experience that the existing organizational culture strongly constrains the adoption and application of new ways of working. However, many designers are not trained to address this cultural phenomenon.

Through a systems oriented design (SOD) approach, two cases of capacity building programs from different countries were analyzed, Fifth Space in Canada and Experimenta in Chile. An integrated research approach combining methods, such as research by design, gigamapping, interviews, and literature mapping was used to get new insights into the complex, contemporary design practice of nurturing and spreading organizational co-design capacities. The analysis of both programs drew my attention to the liminal space between the pre-existing culture in the organization and the emerging culture related to the introduction of new methods and ways of working. While it seemed like these conflicting cultures prohibited lasting innovation, there was also a lack of models and reflective tools to examine these intercultural dynamics.

This thesis presents analytical and conceptual models that help to make interactions between the emerging and existing organizational culture more explicit and actionable. First, the Ripppling model provides three analytical dimensions – paradigm, practices, and the physical dimension – to analyze the interactions between the emerging and dominant organizational cultures. This analysis can help to position the emerging culture in a constructive way without alienating the dominant culture, and to enable the co-existence of both for long-lasting transformational change. The Ripppling ecosystem model builds on the micro-interactions analyzed with the Ripppling model and proposes a system of embedded layers for large-scale cultural change processes that can have effects beyond the organization that participates in the capacity-building program.

Taken together, the results of this thesis help to explain the difficulties public organizations face when introducing new capacities, such as co- design. My work suggests that these new capacities function as carriers or vehicles of cultural meaning that will inherently generate productive or unproductive tensions with the pre-existing culture. Therefore, one has to carefully recognize and address the underlying interactions across cultures to build organizational transformation strategically and to leverage the full potential of co-designing approaches. This work gives new insights into how to create continuous change in the public sector and has implications for future design practice, research, and education.


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Or download the high res thesis verison here


Here is the video recording from the dissertation lecture



When is Systemic Design regenerative


Here is a video priduced by Justyna Swat from our fishbowl workshop at RSD8 at IIT in Chicago. We discussed how systemic design can become a regenerative practice. 

A fishbowl is a particular discussion format that allows all people both to listen and to engage in a concentrate manner. Five chairs are in the center. Sitting on a chair gives you the right to speak. When you have nothing to say leave the chair and let others occupy it.

The working paper from this session is here

The working paper gives you in-depth information about the workshop



RSD8 proceedings

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The proceedings from RSD8 at IIT Chicago are online. There is a lot of exciting content to read and videos to watch.

Access the proceedings here






Post SOD is a project report designed as a newspaper and is the result of the basic course in System Oriented Design (SOD), 3rd year design (GK6) at The Oslo School of Design and Architecture (AHO). The project lasted half semester, and divided 30 students into 6 groups with 6 themes.

This first, and possibly the only issue of Post SOD, is about mapping of systems dealing with Norway's rural areas, rural areas and jagricultural industries. The project addresses possible developments that are being addressed towards a more viable and attractive alternative to the move to cities throughout
a span of 20 years (2020 - 2040).

The paper is in Norwegian but we are working with an English version. It is printed in 1000 copies and distributed to important actors in Norway.

You can zoom in with ctrl + mouse wheel.

Second SDA Norway gathering


After a successful first SDA Norway gathering we will have our second gathering 10th June 14:00-16:00

Tentative Agenda

14:00 Welcome

14:10 Birger Sevaldson presents a questionaire to measure impact of SOD in Norway

14:15 Manuela Aguirre presents popular version of her PhD thesis 

14:30 Intro to breakout discussions

14:45 Andres Wettre presents connections between previous discussion & topics

14:50 Break out groups – 1) boundary critique, 2) power dynamics, 3) what is a system?, 4) generative emergence

15:30 Share back & discussion in main room

15:50 Rounding up, including poll about topics for next sessions

Welcome to all who are interested. Though the context of this gathering is Norway it is open for anybody.

Earlier this year we announced the first gathering for a Norwegian chapter of the Systemic Design Association (SDA). We were planning it to be held at DOGA, the Norway center for design and architecture. We limited the meeting to 90 participants. 

The interest exceeded our imaginations with over 400 stating their interest. 

Sadly, we had to cancel the gathering because of the corona virus. However, we wanted to carry it through anyway in digital format and we changed the invitation to a zoom meeting. Over 130 people joined the meeting and it was a great experience.

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