I have lifted (sampled) this from the Design Accord Link I posted. In the section titled

How can we turn abstract  ideas into concrete actions?

Big-picture thinking

Systems design can avoid a slippery slope

Infuse systems thinking into the iterative process. Sustainable design addresses problems that are not only complex, but also contradictory
with elusive and changing requirements. Understanding and actively
registering the context in which objects, services, artifacts, and
people interact promotes empathy and more well-developed perspectives.

Systems are based on collaboration, reciprocity, and a primary concern
for the community. Students learn the art of concession and compromise,
in order to work collectively towards a shared goal. Their active
involvement in the design process creates an emotional connection, which
in turn produces a greater investment in the process. As new ideas
emerge, new patterns of behavior develop which can lead to change and
the development of new theories.

What are your thoughts?

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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Mark,

Just some thoughts... Do you think our growing individualism is a problem for our ability to collaborate, make (like you said) concessions and compromise, in order to work collectively towards a shared goal. Are free thinkers, the way we are raising our children, less capable of working together like we need them to, in order to solve the major problems people will be facing? Or is it actually our individualism that will enable us to come up with novel solutions and offer an opportunity to escape from the vicious circle we seem to be in. How do we make sure these to opposites "free individual" and "the collective" will strengthen each other? Or is this a natural balance that will fix itself?

Will take this on board for this thread. A bit askew for Service / Systems Design as Process but digs at the foundation of the value systems supporting it.

First reaction would be to look at societal drivers in 'Statism' and 'Liberalism', with Statism or the collective in ascendancy for the moment post GFC it is a strong position to drive education change that are more civics oriented. The 'soft skills' are coming to the forefront, which is why Service Design is receiving such a good hearing in open societies.

I will take it on notice, as they say.
The world of celebrity makes us think there is power in individualism, turning the academies into colusseums and academics into gladiators. But the truth of it is that all research is for the common good, if it were the opposite the ethics committee will eat them.

Teaching in design it always amazes how a common project brief results in such a wide variety of solutions, so individuality is virtually assured. In Architecture or most design disciplines for that matter, it is always a collaboration; that of client, supplier, engineer and planner it is the team that ensures the result, and politics that turns the limelight on the individual.

It is the collective of inputs that produces the the outcome, we take away from it our own accolades.

There is a movement in early childhood education through into secondary towards the teaching of civics and a higher purpose or altruism, which until recently been jettisoned in the hunt for grades for university entry. None the less, students in social science still find their way, even the most sought after medical school places are being offered to candidates more psychologically suited to the vocation than simply on a numeric value.

Most nations allow free thought, it is more the competition of individualism that is the contest, that is, the need to be different or unique (when ultimately we are largely the same). When there is a need for difference civil societies have their processes for improvement and action. Like the inclusion of civics in education, we have realised the need for humanism over individualism and the cult of celebrity.

This need for celebration of the champion, the break through thinker is endemic in Western society and their messianic culture, but it takes more than one person to make a movement, and it is these collectives which break the cycle.

So I come back to process, design as a process allows for the individual as well as the collective, by ethical adherence to inclusive process. No designer, service, system or other has 'carte blanc' when approaching their brief, and society will create its own balance over time.

Hi Mark

Would you include in your definition of Systems Design to be in line with 'systems thinking' and or 'complexity science'? I've been studying this area and looking at its part within analysis and design.

I came across an article from Gary VanPatter (think that is his name) from Humantific who has come up with an idea around 'Design 4.0' - it doesn't appear to be in any other literature on this...that I can see. However, from what I can tell, he describes the movement of design from product, to service, to business organisational, to social relational industrial levels. I wonder if this is a step toward using systems thinking principles in dealing with topics such as wicked problems or social innovation etc.

Either way, I've thought, how can you get people to frame problems in shorter times that embrace this view? Hard but possible. I've found that framing a problem within a 'purposeful system' statement, surrounded by what we can discern to be the first level problems, stakeholders and contextual parameters (against an outcome) gives us a means to start breaking a complex problem into manageable components. Whilst I completely acknowledge this is not in line with the practices of complexity science, the use of this approach combined with rich pictures gives analysts in trades such as service design and business analysis some perspective and a way to approach the task.

Do you have any methods for dealing with complexity?

The old art versus science debate ;-)

I was suggesting that System Design (Engineering) had a deal of similarity in process, as to science, I have seen some reference to Design Science but we move in different circles, so the conversation has just begun.

The 'double diamond' process model is the 'divergent - convergent' mode of thinking, I have long embraced the difference of art & science to the 'inductive - deductive' logic principle. With Design aligning with Inductive reasoning, [Observation > Pattern > Tentative Hypothesis > Theory] model while Science ascribes to Deductive reasoning, [Theory > Hypothesis > Observation > Confirmation] model.

Design's attraction to business architecture (among others) is its disruptive approach pushing beyond incremental innovation to design-driven innovation.


My current joy is to create a view of the organisation I am in, as part of a business architecture capability. What will ensue is the use of these views (not processes, I like patterns) to help align investment, decisions and other application architectural designs of enabling technology.

However as you've pointed out - nearly all methods are basically incremental and current faddish sorts are painfully incremental - almost by the millimetre to find supposed business improvements! Yet, to deal with complexity, a break-through or disruptive approach is needed as you say to push beyond this.

My interest is in better understanding this within an organisational context as a capability as well as better supporting the worker or practitioner design more functionally purposeful things for our business users. Ultimately it would be good if all and sundry were fulfilled and contributed to mutual benefits.

An issue that I've come across so far is the temptation to live in 'method-technique' land and overlook thinking and soft skills required to engage, perceive, make sense and design new possibilities. What I've personally seen (and supported by many others) is the use of templates or process almost creates a type of rigidity to these artefacts and concepts.

In your VCE work - what was your approach in creating a syllabus that balanced development of thinking, practice, creativity and knowledge of process?


Just like you Nat, ask the big questions!

Let's dissect.

The VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education Y12) discussion needs to reflect the macro and the micro, which may be pertinent to the incremental.

With Macro, the Victorian Curriculum with its underpinning in what is known as the VELS, or the Victorian Essential Learning Standards puts 'problem based learning' at its core. With the heart of design aimed at solving problems, it is recognised as the skill missing from managerial competency.

The Victorian curriculum especially the VELS is viewed by the informed as the Australian education benchmark, so it will be interesting to see what happens with the new National (Primary / Secondary) Education Curriculum in this light.

With the Micro, a curriculum review is a committee process, and we had to carry an experienced group of content deliverers (only 2 with design qualifications) to a new place, so the result while incremental, was a step in the right direction. (The project manager [who is also looking at systems engineering curriculum] is now attending service design forums).

My previous blogs have shown I lean towards Verganti's view of 'Design Driven Innovation' where break through innovation is sought through a design elite, these are 'design thinking' Olympians, those who's typology has lead them through the creative pathway. 

The current interest in 'design thinking' capabilities, in an 'open innovation' environment sees creatives willing to share with our more empowered Science / Commerce colleagues in a collaborative spirit. But the question again is where is the opportunity for the break through thinking with creatives largely excluded from management decision making. 

So we return to the macro / micro mix with Government services needing a lot of incremental innovation but the 'standing orders' environment of policy in desperate need of a break through.

Hi Mark,

Thanks so much for this - gives me a perspective to think about. In regards to the bit:

where is the opportunity for breakthrough thinking with creatives largely excluded from management decision making

...I'm working to close this gap a little. For a long time, major programs of work in the ICT space are often planned, designed and decided upon by technocrats often with poor outcomes that do not provide the expected benefits business stakeholders were anticipating. One of the expressions we tend to hear that is symptomatic of this is "the IT tail wagging the business dog."

Its taken about 3 years but our team was formed with the intent of first representing business outside of programs and projects - to be advocates and try and partner them. They lacked the voice and experience to define or articulate their own needs clearly and unambiguously. This had evolved into taking an active role in shaping business cases and program plans. Recently our team has emerged as an architecture unit with the purpose of being the owners of the 'business' slice of any program roadmap.

Whilst it doesn't sound like a big deal, in our organisation it is a massive leap and a changing paradigm. But this doesn't go far enough for me. I've always been interested in design (wanted to do industrial design at RMIT but couldn't) but for some reason drifted into the ICT space. I encountered a design view whilst in the Tax Office and immediately gravitated towards this. I was also drawn to complexity science and systems thinking at the time. I found standard or structured analysis and design in IT really boring, limiting and at times illogical.

I continued with background study and practice in my own time until about three years ago I realised there was an opportunity staring me in the eyes - that our organisation actually needed a design practice which would be an amalgam of design thinking, design research and structured systems analysis/design. In introducing these ideas it has taken a long time to make headway. I recognised that there are some overlaps between the fields, however one large obstacle is that design practices tend to compete against other IT architectural engagement / design / decision bodies.

Moving along to current day and many years later - an architectural practice within the program office, enterprise architecture function and strong links to most parts of the business, we have slowly introduced a new culture that majority have accepted. This itself will pave the way for creatives to step forward. This is what we as a team have achieved or achieving:

  • Seen as the business analysis and design authority
  • Regarded and trusted practice to represent business needs and program roadmaps
  • Engage executive level stakeholders
  • Piloting a 'business design thinking' program (course and tutorials)
  • Constructing the basis of an analysis and design capability framework
  • Piloting with our client strategy area a first formal jam for innovation
  • Reshaped all of our documents to represent briefs and workbooks and blueprints

The pilot may be of interest to you Mark. We have a good relationship with a business area that is willing to trial a jam format (initially a one day facilitated workshop) to improve a client focused business process, generate new ideas and explore the 'service design' format and expose it to executives.

We are engaging an experienced commercial service design firm, a graphic facilitator, and use of Inspire Centre. The professors at the university are interested in observing and researching the day and dynamic, I will take a back seat from the workshop and conduct a photo/video essay as well as write a joint case study with our business colleagues.

This case study will be pushed up the line to advocates and keen watchers. The workshop will be attended by receptive senior executives, business groups and as a sign of commitment, several of my own experienced practitioners. I intend on bringing seasoned service and co-designers from ATO and DHS along to assist. In other words, I don't want the day to fail - the use of experienced designers is crucial to help drive the point.

Already our engagement and this process has given the business area confidence in us and we are talking already about further use of this format and even collaborating between our teams - in both of our words (and like WorkPlayExperience) 'doing not talking'.

Again whilst it sounds not much, this is a significant 'step' in introducing design and creativity into rather traditional organisations. I'm not an expert in the field by any stretch, but I can recognise the need to develop this capability and the limitations of our current mindset. This has to shift. In building my team up, I've brought in an experienced UCD / Human Factors / User Experience fellow into the team as a complete new role: "business design researcher" to help build us capability, improve our methods, tools and develop a design mindset. Five of us attended both service and govjams recently.

What is significant about this is that we are close to contributing to the decision making process in several ways:

  • Shaping and developing business cases
  • Working closely with policy and program to develop whole of enterprise view
  • Bridging gap between business, policy and ICT
  • Influencing mindsets and approaches through training
  • standup of communities of practice
  • establishing a business design lab for innovation and learning
  • Use of workbooks / blueprints
  • Promotion of design and public sector innovation internally to our execs
  • Championing 'co-design' as an accepted and feasible approach
  • Embedding ourselves in early engagement in the new change mgmt process
  • Inter-agency sharing and collaboration of ideas and methods

Its not everything, we have a long way to go - but people are talking at least in our organisation and we are progressing along to a design culture. We have a lot of support and recognition which is a good start. I also have a strong team of a dozen who also now believe in this approach as the way to go. If the executives demand this as a way to make sense, gain a benefit and mitigate poor outcomes - then our place will move closer again to where the decisions are made. It helps that I am an executive level director, my immediate manager supports this, and our senior executive supports this and our CIO is supportive too as well as the business groups. I still optimistically think it will take another 18 months at this rate.

On another note, our senior Policy innovation unit is sponsoring the APS Design Centre -we have build a connection with them and offered to give our resources to also support any initiative that will come through the centre. To this she is sounding interested considering we are pursuing APS Public Sector innovation from different ends.

Wowsers, didn't think I'd write this much - Any thoughts Mark on how creatives can realistically get a foot in without making baby-steps first?



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