OCEAN Design Research Association

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Systems-oriented Design

Research Area: Systems-oriented Design / Systemic Design 
Research Director: Prof. Dr. Birger Sevaldson
Currently collaborating OCEAN members: Prof. Dr. Peter Jones, Prof. Dr. Harold Nelson, Dr. Alex Ryan, Christina Doumpioti, Hulya Ertas
This research commenced in 2005 and was ratified in 2008.


The main mission of Systems Oriented Design is to develop a designerly interpretation and implementation of systems thinking so that systems thinking can fully benefit from design thinking and practice and so that design thinking and practice can fully benefit from systems thinking. 

The field of systems thinking is populated with a myriad of theories and applications. Most scientific realms and knowledge based professions have managed to situate themselves within this landscape, to relate to the more or less generic theories and to develop specialized applications of those theories to suit their field. Examples are found in creativity research, systems engineering and management.  Some fields have not succeeded in such adaptation processes, one is the realm of design. Though there are a number of people referring to and applying systems theories and practices in design, these approaches are almost with no exception about importing systems thinking from other fields, either those that claim to be generic, like e.g. systems dynamics, or from adjacent fields like systems engineering.

These attempts have been not very successful. Though the need for being able to address greater levels of complexity is pressing, the spread of systems thinking in design has been limited. The reason must be that these imported concepts and methods are not easily combined with the main characteristics of design thinking and design practice. Typically the approaches are too technical and “mechanistic” or too “anthropological” leaving little space for design thinking, design practice and design creativity.

Design thinking and design practice are potentially very powerful approaches to dealing with super complexity.

The realisation of SOD that we need to develop designerly ways of systems thinking has crystallized in a wider context and dialogue framed though and initiated by the Systemic Design Research Network.

The SDRN was founded in 2013 by four OCEAN members following the Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design in 2013. The creation of the network was a strategic move also for SOD which now finds itself in a bigger landscape of several designerly approaches.

The SOD research area includes today several doctoral students at different institutions and it draws from the growing international network of people interested in systemic design. It had already relatively big impact on the professional design scene in Norway where several companies have adopted the method of SOD.

Currently in production:


- RSD3 - Relating Systems Thinking to Design 3 Symposium, AHO Oslo School of Architecture and Design 15-17 October 2014;

Planned Milestones:
- Formakademisk Special Issue on SOD / Systemic Design;




2013 - RSD2 - Relating Systems Thinking to Design 3 Symposium, AHO Oslo School of Architecture and Design 09-11 October 2013;

2012 - RSD1 - Relating Systems Thinking to Design 3 Symposium, AHO Oslo School of Architecture and Design 09-11 October 2012;

Articles and Papers:

Sevaldson, B. (2004a). Designing Time: A Laboratory for Time Based Design. Future Ground. 17-21 November, Melbourne: DRS http://www.futureground.monash.edu.au/. Retrieved from http://www.birger-sevaldson.no/phd/Designing Time final.pdf

Sevaldson, B. (2004b). Ways of Working. In T. R. Ebbesen (Ed.), Digitale Designprodukter - vision og virkelighed. Kolding, Denmark: Kolding School of Arts and Design. Retrieved from http://www.digitaledesignprodukter.dk/

Sevaldson, B. (2008a). A System Approach to Design Learning. In A. Menges (Ed.), Systemisches Denken und Integrales Entwerfen / System thinking and Integral Design (pp. 22–33). Offenbach: Präsident der Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach am Main.

Sevaldson, B. (2008b). Rich Research Space. FORMakademisk, 1(1). Retrieved from http://www.formakademisk.org

Sevaldson, B. (2009a). Why should we and how can we make the design process more complex? In M. L. Berg (Ed.), Fremtid Formes / Shaping Futures (pp. 274–281). Oslo: Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

Sevaldson, B. (2009b). Deichmannske Media Pods: Realisation of a student project with research content. In M. L. Berg (Ed.), Fremtid Formes / Shaping Futures. Oslo: Oslo School of Architecture.

Sevaldson, B. (2009c). Systems Oriented Design. Retrieved from http://www.systemsorienteddesign.net

Sevaldson, B. (2012). Systems Oriented Design for the Built Environment. In M. Hensel (Ed.), Design Innovation for the Built Environment - Research by Design and the Renovation of Practice (pp. 107–120). Oxon: Routledge.

Sevaldson, B., Hensel, M., & Frostell, B. (2010). Systems-oriented Design and Sustainability. In F. Ceschin, C. Vezzoli, & J. Zhang (Eds.), Sustainability in Design: NOW! (Vol. 1, pp. 465–474). Bangalore: Greenleave Publishers. Retrieved from http://www.lensconference.polimi.it/

Sevaldson, B., Paulsen, A., Stokke, M. M., Magnus, K., & Strømsnes, J. K. (2011). Systems Oriented Design in Maritime Design. In RINA (Ed.), Systems Engineering in Ship and Offshore Design Conference. 2012 (pp. 13–26). London.

Sevaldson,  (2013). Can Designers Design Anything? Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

Sevaldson, B. R., Paulsen, A., Stokke, M. M., Magnus, K., & Strømsnes, J. K. (2012). Systems Oriented Design in Maritime Design.

Sevaldson, B. R., & Sørensen, S. S. (2013). Strategies for Small Scale Urban Habitat Design.


1 Making the process more complex
2 A system approach to design learning.
3 The Integrated Conglomerate Approach
4 Designing Time