Systems thinking and design praxis

systemic design conference
Just looking again at the call for abstracts (due next week) to this fall’s symposium on Emerging Contexts for Systemic Design.

“In re-examining the relationship of systems thinking to design we believe it possible for systems thinking and design praxis to develop the foundations for new, interrelated practices.”

Symposium co-chairs are Birger Sevaldson of the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Peter Jones of Design Dialogues and the Strategic Innovation Lab at Toronto’s OCAD University, and Harold Nelson, coauthor (with Erik Stolterman) of The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World.

Here are the first few lines from the excellent Design Way:

Humans did not discover fire — they designed it. The wheel was not something our ancestors merely stumbled over in a stroke of good luck; it, too, was designed. The habit of labeling significant human achievements as ‘discoveries,’ rather than ‘designs’, discloses a critical bias in our Western tradition whereby observation dominates imagination. Absent from the conflicting descriptions of Leonardo da Vinci, as either a scientist or artist, is the missing insight into his essential nature as a designer. His practical, purpose-driven and integrative approach to the world — an archetypal designer’s approach — is primarily what made him so distinct in his own time, as well as our own. Through his imaginative genius, augmentations to the real world were made manifest. This has been the contribution of all designers throughout human history. Outside of nature, they are the prime creators of our experienced reality.

Carefully designed artifacts accompany the remains of our earliest ancestors. Designed implements have been found which predate the earliest human fossil remains discovered so far. In fact, it is evidence of design ability, and activity, which allows an archeologist to distinguish between a species that is not quite human and one that is. So, it appears that it is our very ability to design which determines our humanness.

Design is a terbium quid — a third way — distinct from the arts and sciences. In support of this argument we make a case for the reconstitution of sophia — the integration of thought and action through design. We make a case for design as its own tradition, one that reintegrates sophia ratter than following the historical Western split between science and craft or, more recently, between science and the humanities.

H/t to my colleagues at the Collaborative Design MFA program, where we hosted Harold Nelson earlier this year.

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