Peter Jones and Kristel van Ael, "Design Journeys Through Complex Systems" (Bis Publishers, 2022)


As I slowly settle into 2023 — reflecting on the blur that was 2022 — I can’t help but think about the complex problems (aka big messes!) we face at every turn: from increasingly devastating manifestations of the climate emergency, to the ubiquitous homelessness crisis, to the perplexing challenge of accessing a family physician in prosperous regions such as British Columbia, Canada. At the same time I am buoyed by the promise of Systems Thinking. Systems practices can take many forms and have the potential to inform — and guide us through — sensible, comprehensive and creative problem-solving.

Here on this channel, we have explored some of the origins of systems and cybernetics by talking to knowledgeable experts from across the globe. Today’s systems thinkers and practitioners are building upon a rich tradition, and are activating systems lineages in incredibly interesting ways. I’ve recently been drawn to works that highlight the application of systems — especially those with intriguing connections to other disciplines. The book that is the subject of this episode does just that by exploring the intersection of systems and design thinking. Design Journeys for Complex Systems: Practice Tools for Systemic Design (Bis Publishers, 2022) is a designer's handbook to learn systemic design tools to engage stakeholder groups in collaborative design to address complex societal systems.

Authors Peter Jones and Kristel Van Ael describe how systemic design uses systems thinking and service design to address large-scale societal contexts and complex socio-technical systems. These are contexts characterized by social and technological complexity, high uncertainty, and often problematic outcomes. They describe the function of design as “system sensemaking” and using a tour guide metaphor, the book trains people's mindsets and provides tools for dealing with hyper complexity, to enable understanding of systemic problems, and to build capacity to collaborate in teams to produce action proposals.

A little bit about the authors of Design Journeys for Complex Systems:

Dr. Peter Jones teaches systemic design and health service design in the MDes programs at Toronto’s OCAD University, is a co-founder of the Systemic Design Association. Kristel Van Ael is a business partner at Namahn, a humanity-centered design agency based in Brussels, and is lead author of the Service Design and Systemic Design toolkits.

It was a pleasure to talk to Peter and Kristel. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did.

Your Host

Kevin Lindsay

"What is the pattern that connects the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of them to me, and me to you?" - Gregory Bateson
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