What is the discipline of designing in complex systems?
Designing in complex systems is an emerging discipline that is part art and part science. It is as creative as it is disciplined. It requires the designer to consider simultaneously the depth of human experience, the breadth of all stakeholders, and extrapolate time from current to future.
Immersion in the human experience through ethnographic research and human-centred design gives depth through empathy. Complexity and chaos theory plus big data provide breadth of understanding. Scenario planning imagines possible futures over time. Strategy, behavioural insights, gamification and sociology exert intentionality through motivations on the system. Finally and importantly, the field is deeply ethical, always questioning what is the right thing to do and what is the real impact on people.
The methodology diverges to understand and converges to iterate towards preferred futures. Within that methodology, tools from all the fields are drawn on as needed to give insight and generate options. The design process relies on wide and diverse engagement. Expert and values driven facilitation is a pre-requisite to broker diverse voices, create new ways of seeing the system and to ensure we generate ethical futures.
The discipline transforms big systems by understanding the deep experiences within them. Projects continually zoom between the big complex system and empathy for the individuals that make up the system. It does not “do” things to people, but rather designs “with” people.