TALKS | Methodology, philosophy and theory of systemic design

Nasdesign’s Systemic Approach to Design Management

Larissa Berlato & Luiz Fernando Gonçalves de Figueiredo, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina Brazil

Read the working paper ⇒

The most significant problems faced in the globalized world are complex problems that cannot be solved in a fragmented way. In the biological, social and behavioural sciences, problems are essentially of multiple variables, for which new conceptual instruments are required that seek to see the whole, relationships and the context, surpassing the reductionist view of classical science (BERTALANFFY, 1977). Classical science is based on analytical thinking, in which all phenomena can be understood by breaking them down into smaller parts and from linear, cause and effect relationships. This method is restricted to situations with a reasonable degree of the structuring of the problems, reasonable stability of the environment, low degree of dynamic complexity and low degree of influence of the perceptions of different actors from different interests (ANDRADE et al. 2006).

In the General System Theory, developed by Bertalanffy, the organism is considered a whole greater than the sum of its parts, being necessary to study not only parts and processes in isolation but also “to solve the problems found in the organization and in the order that unifies them, resulting from the dynamic interaction of the parts, making the behaviour of the parts different when studied in isolation and when treated as a whole”. (BERTALANFFY, 1977, p.53). Thus, the systemic approach considers the context broader whole, establishing the nature of their relationships and considering their environment (CAPRA, 1998), assuming procedural activities, flows of matter, energy and information (ANDRADE et al., 2006).

Design is characterized by a projective perspective. The “result” of a design project can be seen in the products and services and the design “activity” consists of a user-centred problem-solving process. In both activity and results, design needs to be managed in order to ensure that the desired objectives are effectively achieved (BEST, 2012). Design management is the effective management of design resources available in organizations – people, projects, processes and procedures, which help companies achieve their goals (MOZOTA, 2011; BEST, 2012) and can be present at three different levels: strategic, tactical and operational as shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1 – Levels of design management.
(Figure attached in files)
Source – NASDesign Collection (2020).

In the design area, the linear approach emerges from limited design attention to the construction of products and services that, in a timely manner, solve a specific problem and respond to market demands. This approach does not consider the wider impacts that the solution may have on the system as a whole and does not allow considering the systems of social, cultural and ethical values that constitute the true essence of the product or service and that reconstitute dignity to the design of goods (BISTAGNINO, 2009). It is necessary to look at problems in a systemic way, working closely with local people (listening and learning) “in pairs” instead of responding with solutions “from the top down” (HOWALDT et al., 2018). A systemic approach to design management has the potential to identify all possible implications and impacts that design solutions can generate as shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2 – Factors considered in the systemic approach to design management.
(Figure attached in files)
Source – Adapted from Kuosa et al (2012, p.113).

Given the increasing complexity of current problems and the scope of the role of contemporary design, the main challenge of design today is to develop or support the development of solutions for highly complex issues, which require a comprehensive view of the project, involving products, services and communication in a joint and sustainable way (KRUCKEN, 2000). The adoption of a broader and more dynamic perspective comes to enhance the design management, developing projects in a collaborative and transdisciplinary way, expanding the relationships between the actors, the capacities and the knowledge.

The systemic approach to design management allows expanding the focus of the project to the set of relationships generated and to identify the flows of matter and energy, which constitute the input and output of the process as a productive, communicative and social whole. Today, more than ever, it is necessary to consider the efficiency of materials in processes and the complexity and necessity of relationships.
From electrons to cells, from living species to social communities and ecosystems, each is a complex system that exists through the relationships with its components, lives on the basis of connections with other systems and establishes reciprocity relationships, according to non-linear dynamics and processes of evolution (BISTAGNINO, 2009).

The Systemic Approach Nucleus of Design (NASDesign) of the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) conducts theoretical-practical research in the field of design related to sustainability through a systemic approach, in which design is understood as a holistic process, with the focus shifted from the final product to the production system and its complex interactions (MARTORANO, 2012; JOLY; STRAIOTO; FIGUEIREDO, 2014) as shown in Figure 3:

Figure 3 – Systemic approach to NASDesign design management.
(Figure attached in files)
Source – NASDesign Collection (2020).

Thus, this study aims to analyze the potential of the systemic approach in design management from the perspective of NASDesign. To this end, this article analyzes the concepts of systemic theory, systemic approach, design and design management. Finally, it presents the perspective of a systemic approach to NASDesign design management. According to the methodological procedures, this research is characterized as qualitative, exploratory, descriptive and analytical.

As a final result, it was identified that the holistic view of the systemic approach to design management allows the identification of a broader panorama, facilitates the ability to deal with large amounts of information, the introduction of new technologies and the performance in environments of continuous evolution. As well as, it understands the organization as an open system, in which the interferences or problems detected can be of an environmental, social or economic nature, related to interference and internal and external relations to the organization and the design management system (SILVA; FIGUEIREDO, 2010), having social actors as their greatest source of information and connecting all the actors involved through a network of interconnections.