The Systemic Design Association

For readers who want to learn more about how complex systems interact with human activities, the systemic Design Association (SDA) is an excellent source of information. Become a member. Go to their conference. Read their journal.

The Society:

The Conferences:, including all past proceedings and keynotes..

(My hour-long keynote is at This was in 2015, when I was just starting my exploration of systems science.)

The journal, Contexts:

SDA brings human-centered design to complex, multi-stakeholder service systems by integrating systems thinking and its methods. It adapts from known design competencies – form and process reasoning, social and generative research methods, and sketching and visualization practices – to describe, map, propose and reconfigure complex social systems.

(I’ll try to convince them to transition from Human-Centered to Humanity-Centered, because in fact, their systems approach is already doing just that. They simply have to change that one word!)

The SDA is committed to the co-evolution of systemic design, adapting each field’s preferred core disciplinary methods and mobilizing knowledge across practitioners and scholars. The SDA supports the efforts of advanced design practice to lead programs of strategic scale and higher complexity (e.g., social policy, healthcare, education, urbanization), adapt systems thinking methods, and creatively push the boundaries beyond the popular modes of systems dynamics and soft systems.

My Keynote at the 2015 meeting

(! hour long. The URL takes you to a You Tube channel)

This paper is a follow up to DesignX, a position paper written in 2014, which introduced the design challenges of complex sociotechnical systems such as healthcare, transportation, governmental policy, and environmental protection.

We conclude that the major challenges presented by DesignX problems stem not from trying to understand or address the issues, but rather arise during implementation, when political, economic, cultural, organizational, and structural problems overwhelm all else.

We suggest that designers cannot stop at the design stage: they must play an active role in implementation, and develop solutions through small, incremental steps—minimizing budgets and the resources required for each step— to reduce political, social, and cultural disruptions.

This approach requires tolerance for existing constraints and trade-offs, and a modularity that allows for measures that do not compromise the whole. These designs satisfice rather than optimize and are related to the technique of making progress by “muddling through,” a form of incrementalism championed by Lindblom.

The DesignX paper

Norman, D., & Stappers, P. J. (2016). Designx: Complex sociotechnical systems. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 1, 83-106.


See the References for incrementalism at