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Introduction to Design with Systems Online Short Course

Course description

Design, as a creative, practical and relational discipline, has the potential to address complex challenges. Much of the complexity comes from the systemic nature of many current and emerging societal and environmental problems, involving more than one actor and multiple connections and interdependencies. Anyone looking to work with complex problems inevitably can benefit from improving their ‘systems literacy’, by gaining a better understanding of how systems can be conceptualised, represented and engaged with, and the tensions and dichotomies of the different approaches. Systems literacy means adopting a systems mindset to the design process, developing an understanding of, and capturing, different perspectives or ‘readings’ of the system. Co-designed system representations can provide insights for the design process, can aid communication and can help seed new conversations or ways of seeing the problem space, and can give agency to participants, communities and organisations.This course comprises six 2-hour sessions over a period of 6 weeks which will aim to introduce students to basic systems theory essential for understanding and working with systems. Practical tasks will explore how to map and engage with systems and their varied elements, touching on participatory design practices, co-design methods, inclusivity and ethics.
In between each session there will be practical tasks for students to complete in their own time (around 1 hour per week), which will build incrementally as they apply what they have learnt each week. Students will leave with an understanding of the role of systems thinking within design practice and an action plan for how to apply ‘design with systems’ within your own projects. The course will touch upon a number of topics that students can choose to follow up in more depth independently. These will be signposted along the way.

Course outcomes

By the end of this course you should be able to:

  • Approach a given problem or situation from a systems perspective
  • Be able to plan a systems mapping exercise to include elements from multiple perspectives
  • Plan and carry out engagement with system elements and actors with an awareness of the ethical considerations, constraints, and framing

Who should attendThis course is aimed at:

  • Designers, creatives, managers and entrepreneurs in the creative industries interested in pursuing a systems-based approach in their work, and particularly those who are interested in supporting change and transition in their field of work and beyond.
  • Civil servants (or other professionals working at a systems level) interested in bringing design approaches into their work

The course is for beginners, students need no prior knowledge of systems thinking but a basic understanding of design is recommended.

Available dates

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Topics to be covered:

  • Basic systems theories and histories
  • Various stances and critical approaches to systemic thinking in design
  • Systems mapping: theory and application
  • Co-design and participatory methodologies
  • Stakeholder engagement practices and ethics
  • Design with systems in practice
  • Materials

    Online short course materials

    To take part in the Online sessions you will need:

    • An up-to-date web browser (we recommend Chrome)
    • Microphone and headphones (a headset with a microphone function is recommended. The built-in microphone in your device would also be fine).
    • Webcam
    • Strong Internet connection - we recommend a minimum of 2 Mbps download, and 1 Mbps upload, faster if possible. You can test your network speed here -

    Please bring for the first session:

    • notebook and pen
    • A mobile phone with camera is useful to share and upload your ‘homework’ tasks
    Meet the Tutor:

    This short course will introduce the notion of systems in relation to design and encourage students to develop a systems mindset in their own work, where they can identify, represent and critically engage with system elements and actors impacted by their work.

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