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Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area of Design Practice, Study, and Research


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Fundamental change at every level of our society, and new approaches to problem solving are needed to address twenty-first-century "wicked problems" such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, depletion of natural resources, and the widening gap between rich and poor. Transition Design is a proposition for a new area of design practice, study, and research that advocates design-led societal transition toward more sustainable futures. This reconception of entire lifestyles will involve reimagining infrastructures including energy resources, the economy and food, healthcare, and education. Transition Design focuses on the need for "cosmopolitan localism," a lifestyle that is place-based and regional, yet global in its awareness and exchange of information and technology. Transition Designers would apply a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of social, economic, and natural systems and the Transition Design framework proposes four key areas in which narratives, knowledge, skills, and action can be developed.
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Design and Culture
The Journal of the Design Studies Forum
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Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area of
Design Practice, Study, and Research
Terry Irwin
To cite this article: Terry Irwin (2015) Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area
of Design Practice, Study, and Research, Design and Culture, 7:2, 229-246, DOI:
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229 Design and Culture DOI: 10.1080/17547075.2015.1051829
Transition Design:
A Proposal for a
New Area of Design
Practice, Study, and
Terry Irwin
ABSTRACT Fundamental change at every level of
our society, and new approaches to problem solving
are needed to address twenty-first-century “wicked
problems” such as climate change, loss of biodiver-
sity, depletion of natural resources, and the widen-
ing gap between rich and poor. Transition Design
is a proposition for a new area of design practice,
study, and research that advocates design-led
societal transition toward more sustainable futures.
This reconception of entire lifestyles will involve
reimagining infrastructures including energy
resources, the economy and food, healthcare, and
education. Transition Design focuses on the need
for “cosmopolitan localism,” a lifestyle that is place-
based and regional, yet global in its awareness
Terry Irwin is Head of the School of
Design at Carnegie Mellon
University, where her teaching
includes a recently launched area of
study: Transition Design. She holds
an M.F.A. (The Basel School of
Design) and an M.Sc. in Holistic
Science (University of Plymouth/
Schumacher College, UK). Her long
academic career includes faculty
positions at California College of the
Arts and the University of Dundee,
UK. Terry’s thirty years of practical
in-house experience include being a
founding partner and Creative
Director of the San Francisco
office of international design
firm MetaDesign.
PP 229–246
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and exchange of information and technology. Transition
Designers would apply a deep understanding of the inter-
connectedness of social, economic, and natural systems
and the Transition Design framework proposes four key
areas in which narratives, knowledge, skills, and action can
be developed.
KEYWORDS: Transition Design, sustainable design, social innova-
tion, cosmopolitan localism, transition town movement
The professions and academic disciplines of design have under-
gone tremendous change within the last two decades, prompted
by a number of developments. (a) The tools and methodologies of
design are being adopted by a variety of other fields and disciplines
to find and frame problems as well as visualize scenarios for their
solution. (b) There is a heightened awareness of a myriad of wicked
problems confronting us in the twenty-first century and an increasing
acknowledgment that they are interconnected and interdependent
(Worldwatch Institute 2013; Capra and Luisi 2014). (c) Recognition
is growing that design and designers can contribute meaningful
solutions to these problems.
The Need for a Continuum of Design Approaches
These factors have given rise to two important areas of design
research, practice, and education: Design for Service and Design
for Social Innovation (also known as social impact design or social
design). This article proposes the need for a third approach –
Transition Design – that is based upon longer-term visioning and
recognition of the need for solutions rooted in new, more sustainable
socioeconomic and political paradigms.1
This article proposes that these are three areas of established,
maturing, and emergent sub-disciplines, that they are related and
complementary, and that they can be situated along a continuum
in which spatio-temporal contexts expand and deepen (Figure 1).
Service Design is now well established and takes a systems approach
to solving problems within multi-stakeholder “ecologies.” Shifting
the focus from discreet artifacts and communications to the quality
of interactions and overall experience between service provider
and customers has led to more meaningful, useful, enjoyable,
and profitable solutions (Saco and Goncalves 2008; Forlizzi and
Zimmerman 2013; Service Design Network 2014).
Design for Social Innovation, which can be considered an evolv-
ing discipline (Penin et al. 2012; Sherwin 2012; Rettig and du Plessis
2013; Amatullo 2014), expands problem contexts and objectives to
address problems in social, cultural, and economic domains, often
outside the context of the business and consumer marketplace.
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231 Design and Culture
Like service designers, social innovation practitioners are working
to evolve the discipline through the codification of replicable skillsets
and methodologies (Drenttel and Mossoba 2013; LEAP Symposium
2013; Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt et al. 2013).
Figure 1 shows a continuum in which horizons of time, depth of
engagements, and alternative socioeconomic and political contexts
increase as we move from left to right. Service Design is situated on
the left and involves expert designers working on short-term, multi-
stakeholder projects, primarily within the business and consumer
marketplace. Social Innovation occupies a position further along
the continuum where projects are usually situated within social and
community contexts, engagements are ideally longer, and solutions
begin to challenge existing socioeconomic and political paradigms.
As shown in Figure 1, Transition Design can be positioned at
the end of the continuum, where speculative, long-term visions
of sustainable lifestyles fundamentally challenge existing par-
adigms and serve to inspire and inform the design of short- and
mid-term solutions. Transition Design solutions have their origins
in long-term thinking, are lifestyle-oriented and place-based,2 and
Figure 1
A Continuum of Design Approaches. Terry Irwin.
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always acknowledge the natural world as the greater context for all
design solutions. Transition visions could provide greater leverage for
projects undertaken in the service and social innovation sectors by
networking and linking them together to form more effective transi-
tional steps toward a desired future.
The Transition Design Framework
The Transition Design framework outlines four key mutually reinforcing
and co-evolving3 areas of knowledge, action, and self-reflection –
Figure 2
From Terry Irwin, Cameron Tonkinwise, and Gideon Kossoff, “Transition
Design: Re-conceptualizing Whole Lifestyles.” Head, Heart, Hand: AIGA
Design Conference, October 12, 2013, Minneapolis (
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233 Design and Culture
vision, theories of change, mindset/posture, and new ways of
designing (Figure 2).
1. Vision
Most people would argue that transition toward more sustainable
futures is necessary, but until recently, there have been few
compelling narratives about what those futures might look like. The
environmental movement has long been criticized for its inability or
failure to develop visions that are based upon a high quality of life
rather than impoverishment and abstention.
Transition Design proposes that more compelling future-oriented
visions are needed to inform and inspire projects in the present and
that the tools and methods of design can aid in the development of
these visions. Tonkinwise (2014) argues for “motivating visions as well
as visions that can serve as measures against which to evaluate design
moves, but visions that are also modifiable according to the changing
situation.” Dunne and Raby (2013: 1–2) argue that visioning is crucial;
it creates spaces for discussion and debate about alternative futures
and ways of being and it requires us to suspend disbelief and forget
how things are now and wonder about how things could be.4
Scenario development, future casting, and speculative design
(Knapp 2011; Kolko 2012; Martin and Hanington 2012; Dunne
and Raby 2013) are examples of design approaches to envisioning
future possibilities. These can be leveraged to inform solutions in the
present that “leap frog’” beyond the existing unsustainable socioec-
onomic and political paradigms (which often impede the design and
development of alternative and innovative solutions). Within the past
ten years, visioning approaches have gained traction, and designers
as well as organizations within the profit and not-for-profit sectors are
using visioning to inspire and enliven problem solving in the present
(Manzini and Jégou 2003; Manzini 2007; Rockefeller Foundation
and Global Business Network 2010; World Business Council for
Sustainable Development 2010; Porritt 2013).
Transition visions would propose the reconception of entire
lifestyles where basic needs are met locally5 or regionally and the
economy is designed to meet those needs, rather than grow for
its own sake.6 The exploration and critique of “everyday life” is a
field within social theory (Lefebvre 1991; Gardiner 2000) that has the
potential to become a powerful conceptual locus for the design of
needs satisfaction in place-based ways.7 One lifestyle-based vision is
Cosmopolitan Localism – small, diverse, local, and place-based
communities that are global in their awareness and exchange of
information and technology (Sachs 1999; Manzini 2009, 2012).
Transition visions are not conceived as blueprints for design –
rather they remain open-ended and speculative. Future visions
would continually change and evolve based upon knowledge gained
from projects and initiatives in the present. Transition visioning is
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conceived as a circular, iterative, and error-friendly process that
could be used to envision radically new ideas for the future that
serve to inform even small, modest designs in the present.
2. Theories of Change
The concept of change is central to a Transition Design framework
for the following reasons: (a) A theory of change is always present
within a planned course of action (design), whether it is explicitly
acknowledged or not. (b) Transition to sustainable futures will require
sweeping change at every level of our society. (c) Our conventional
and outmoded ideas about change lie at the root of many wicked
problems (Escobar 1995; Scott 1999; Irwin 2011b). Transformational
|societal change will depend upon our ability to change our ideas
about change itself – how it manifests and how it can be initiated
and directed. Transition Design proposes that in order for designers
to act as agents for change, new approaches to design and problem
solving must be based upon a deep understanding of the dynamics
of change within complex social and natural systems.
Any planned course of action (design) is based upon a theory
of change: a hypothesis is formulated about what type of change
is needed and an assumption is made about the correct approach
for intervention, based upon a predicted outcome.8 Often, the
assumptions and predictions that form the basis of this action are
unconscious or go unnoticed, therefore change itself has not been
adequately understood by designers, nor has it been viewed as an
important area for study and research.
Historically, change has been viewed as something that can be
“managed” through centralized, top-down design processes that
produce clear, predictable outcomes. This type of linear, cause-and-
effect thinking has influenced the design and development of societal
infrastructures and policies in the developed world and has contrib-
uted to many of the global wicked problems previously mentioned.
However, a new transdisciplinary body of knowledge related to
the dynamics of change within complex systems is emerging that
challenges these assumptions and has the potential to inform new
approaches to design and problem solving. Ideas and discover-
ies from a diversity of fields such as physics, biology, sociology, and
organizational development have revealed that change within open,
complex systems such as social organizations and ecosystems man-
ifests in counterintuitive ways. And, although change within such sys-
tems can be catalyzed and even gently directed, it cannot be managed
or controlled, nor can outcomes be accurately predicted (Briggs and
Peat 1990; Prigogine and Stengers 1994; Wheatley and Kellner-Rog-
ers 1996; Wheatley 2006; Meadows 2008; Capra and Luisi 2014).9
Theories of Change within a Transition Design framework are
proposed as a continually co-evolving body of knowledge10 that
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235 Design and Culture
challenges designers to become lifelong learners who look outside
the disciplines of design for new knowledge.
3. Mindset and Posture
Transition Design argues that living in and through transitional times
calls for self-reflection and a new way of “being” in the world. This
change must be based upon a new mindset or worldview and
posture (internal) that lead to different ways of interacting with others
(external) that informs problem solving and design. All of these are
mutually influencing.
Our individual and collective mindsets represent the beliefs,
values, assumptions, and expectations that are formed by our
individual experiences, cultural norms, religious/spiritual beliefs,
and the socioeconomic and political paradigms to which we
subscribe (Capra 1983, 1997; Kearney 1984; Clarke 2002).
Designers’ mindsets and postures often go unnoticed and
unacknowledged but they profoundly influence what is identi-
fied as a problem and how it is framed and solved within a given
context. Yet, design methodologies and process rarely take these
important factors into account.
Design for social innovation has evolved new skill sets and
approaches (Penin et al. 2012; Rettig and du Plessis 2013) that can
leverage the dynamics found within social systems to develop more
effective solutions. Transition Design proposes going one step further
in asking designers to examine their own value system and the role it
plays in the design process. It argues that transition solutions will be
best conceived within a more holistic worldview that can inform new,
more collaborative, and responsible postures for interaction.
There is an emerging body of transdisciplinary knowledge that
examines the phenomenon of mindset or worldview and its role in
wicked problems and their solution. In their The Systems View of
Life: A Unifying Vision (2014: xi), Capra and Luisi propose that these
problems must be seen as just different facets of one single crisis,
which is largely a crisis of perception. It derives from the fact that
most people in our modern society, and especially our large social
institutions, subscribe to the concepts of an outdated worldview, a
perception of reality inadequate for dealing with our overpopulated,
globally interconnected world.
Du Plessis (2014) argues that a practical understanding of
the process of individual change is fundamental to work in social
system change. An individual can change their beliefs by engaging in a
process of personal transformation and that process can be learned,
and incorporated into design practice. If we are going to educate de-
signers who will facilitate social system change, we also need to teach
them to work with the interior, invisible dimension of human experience.
The characteristics of a new, more holistic mindset and the
attitudes and postures that it might inform are shown in Figure 3.11
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4. New Ways of Designing
The transition to a sustainable society will require new design
approaches informed by different value sets and knowledge.
Transition Designers see themselves as agents of change and are
ambitious in their desire to transform systems. They also understand
that transition calls for a commitment to work iteratively, at
Figure 3
Characteristics of a new, more holistic mindset and the attitudes and postures
that it might feed into. Terry Irwin.
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237 Design and Culture
multiple levels of scale, over longer horizons of time. Because Transition
Designers develop visions of the “long now” (Brand 1999: 2),
they take a decidedly different approach to problem solving in the
Transition Designers learn to see and solve for wicked problems12
and view a single design or solution as a single step in a longer
transition toward a future-based vision. Transition solutions might
have intentionally short lifespans where obsolescence is a given
because it is a step toward a longer-term goal. Or, a solution might
be designed to change and evolve over long periods of time.
Transition Design is also a process and methodology for making
connections. Transition Designers have the skill, foresight, and ability
to connect different types of solutions (service design or social
innovation solutions) together for greater leverage (solutions’ ability
to co-evolve) and impact because they are connected to, and
guided by, a longer-term objective or vision.
Transition Designers look for “emergent possibilities” within
problem contexts, as opposed to imposing preplanned and resolved
solutions upon a situation. This approach is highly transdisciplinary,
collaborative, and rooted in an understanding of how change within
complex systems manifests. The amplification of the “buds and
shoots of new potentialities”13 within a given context is a social
innovation approach advocated by Manzini and Jégou (2003) and
Penin et al. (2012). Visions of a sustainable future enlarge the problem
frame to include social and environmental concerns and compel
designers to design within long horizons of time.
Transition Design is distinct from service design or social
innovation design in: (a) its deep grounding in future-oriented visions;
(b) its transdisciplinary imperative; (c) its understanding of how to
initiate and direct change within social and natural systems; and (d)
its emphasis on the temporality of solutions – they have intentionally
short or long lifespans.
Designers working within the social innovation space have
developed important new approaches drawn from sociology,
organizational science, and business (to name a few) and these
can and should be expanded and deepened in the emerging area
of Transition Design. This type of work requires a commitment to
ongoing learning and personal change as well as a kind of “stick-
to-itiveness”; a commitment to change the system through multiple,
iterative interventions and the tenacity to stay with it and change with
it, over time.
The four areas represented in the Transition Design framework
(vision, theories of change, mindset/posture, and new ways of
designing) mutually reinforce each other and co-evolve. Transition
visions stimulate new thinking and cause designers to look for
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knowledge in new places that, in turn, leads to shifts in their mindset
and posture. All of these will give rise to new ways of designing.
Transition Design is conceived as a new area of design method-
ology, practice, and research and is presented here as a proposal
and invitation for further discussion and debate among educators,
practitioners, and researchers. In the fall of 2014, The School of
Design at Carnegie Mellon University began offering Ph.D.s and
professional doctorates (D.Des.) in Transition Design.
1. Transition Design draws part of its inspiration from the Transition
Town Movement started by activist, author, and environmentalist
Rob Hopkins (2008) ( The
transition movement is a grassroots, community-led movement
that seeks to build resilient local communities in response to peak
oil, climate change, and economic instability. The Transition Town
movement began in Totnes, Devon, UK, in 2004 and was inspired
by permaculture activists and designers (Mollison 1988; Fleming
2011; Holmgren 2011). Transition Design is a concept originally
proposed by Gideon Kossoff (2011: 5–24), who argued that the
transition to sustainable futures is a design process that requires
a vision, the integration of knowledge, and the need to think and
act at different levels of scale, and that is also highly contextual
(relationships, connections, and place). The Transition
Design framework was first introduced in a lecture given by Terry
Irwin, Cameron Tonkinwise, and Kossoff at the AIGA National
Conference in Minneapolis, October 2013 (Terry et al. 2013). In
September 2014, the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon
University introduced Transition Design as an area of design
studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels and offers a
Ph.D. and professional doctorate (D.Des.) in the subject.
2. The importance of thinking in long horizons of time is
discussed in The Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand (1999:
2). Brand asks “How do we make long-term thinking automatic
and common instead of difficult and rare?” He argues that
“society is revving itself into a pathologically short attention
span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of
technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven
economies, the next-election perspective of democracies, or
the distractions of personal multitasking. All are on the increase.
Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is
needed – some mechanism or myth that encourages the long
view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘the long
term’ is measure at least in centuries.” The seventh-generation
principle from the Great Law of Iroquois Confederacy instructed
that decisions made in the present should result in a sustaina-
ble world seven generations into the future. An important ability
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239 Design and Culture
of the Transition Designer will be to think in a similar way about
designs in the present and their potential to affect future gener-
ations in the social and environmental spheres.
3. Co-evolution is an important aspect of Transition Design. It is a
biological concept that refers to a relationship (that can occur
at multiple levels of scale, from the microscopic to the level of
organisms and communities of organisms) between entities in
which each party exerts selective pressures on the other which
affects each other’s evolution. Transition Designers would be
aware of the potential to leverage this principle in the formulation
of solutions (Briggs and Peat 1990: 160–1).
4. The value of future casting and envisioning alternative futures
is underscored by Boaventura de Sousa Santos in The Rise of
the Global Left: The World Social Forum and Beyond (2006). In
it he discusses the concept of “the sociology of emergences”
that aims to identify and amplify the signs of possible future
experiences that reveal themselves as tendencies and
latencies that often go ignored. The philosopher Ernst Bloch
introduced the concepts of “The Not Yet” (Noch Nicht)
and “The Possible” in The Principle of Hope (1995: 241),
which explores the idea that the future is inscribed, or
latent in the present. Moreover, Bloch views “The Not Yet”
as a type of anticipatory consciousness that has been
neglected in our lives. Transition Design places importance
on the possibilities represented in “The Not Yet” and advo-
cates developing the skill to look for what Bloch called
“the tendencies of the future in the latency of the present.”
In other words, looking for clues to solutions for sustaina-
ble futures in the context of the present and developing
the ability to anticipate over long horizons of time.
5. Localism is a political philosophy that prioritizes local produc-
tion and consumption of goods and local government and
culture. It is seen as a strategy for the development of
sustainable communities because it reduces carbon emis-
sions, revitalizes local economies, empowers communities,
and strengthens the bonds of relationships, creating a higher
degree of resilience through their independence from
centralized, monolithic corporations in the satisfaction of
needs (Douthwaite 1996; Shuman 2000).
6. The concept of needs and the way in which people go about
satisfying them is central to the idea of Transition Design.
Chilean economist and environmentalist Manfred Max-Neef
(1992) has developed a theory of needs that proposes that
human needs are universal and finite (regardless of culture, era,
age, geographic location, belief system, etc.), but the ways
in which humans satisfy their needs is infinite (and specific to
culture, era, age, geographic local, belief system, etc.).
Max-Neef argues that unmet needs can give rise to
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“pathologies” and proposes “integrated or synergistic
satisfiers” (34) as a way to meet several needs simultane-
ously and address these pathologies. In The Business of
Sustainability, Irwin (2011a) argues that these pathologies
of unmet needs are at the root of many wicked problems.
7. Everyday life, a concept within the social sciences and
humanities, is a central theme in Transition Design. Gardiner
(2000) argues that an alternative, multidisciplinary everyday
life paradigm could offer a myriad of new possibilities for the-
ory and research. French sociologist and philosopher Henri
Lefebvre (1984, 1991), among other critics, developed the
idea of the “critique of everyday life” and argued that it is an
important and often overlooked and undervalued space. He
wrote: “Everyday life, in a sense residual, defined by ‘what
is left over’ after all distinct, superior, specialized, structured
activities have been singled out by analysis, must be defined as a
totality. … Everyday life is profoundly related to all activities, and
encompasses them with all their differences and their conflicts;
it is their meeting place, their bond, their common ground”
(Gardiner 2000: 79). Transition Design emphasizes the need
to reconceptualize whole lifestyles within sustainable futures
and argues after Lefebvre that everyday life is a powerful locus
for developing transition visions, applying theories of change,
and formulating design solutions. Situating visions and solu-
tions within the context of everyday life, shifts the emphasis
from solutions rooted in the consumer-led marketplace to
quality-of-life scenarios based in the everyday.
8. From unpublished notes on Transition Design by Tonkinwise,
School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University, June 19,
2014: “A theory of change is a model of the system in which
design interventions are taking place. It identifies key compo-
nents and the relations between those components, as well
as other systems that may lie alongside the focus system, or
systems within which the focus system resides. The model
allows responsible predictions about how interventions will
change that system – and those changes could involve the
emergence of new components, relations, and contiguous or
nested systems. A Theory of Change is never fixed or com-
plete, but always being modified by what is learned about the
system being modeled by error-friendly, more-or-less-revers-
ible interventions into that system.”
9. These concepts and theories show that nonlinear, complex
systems such as social organizations and ecosystems are:
(a) self-organizing and that their responses to perturbations
from outside the system are self-directed and unpredictable;
(b) comprised of mutually influencing, interdependent parts;
(c) display emergent properties: new forms of order and
behavior arise spontaneously and unpredictably out of
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241 Design and Culture
seeming chaos/disorder; and (d) small changes within one
part of the system can ramify throughout, creating sweeping
change in another location.
10. Theories of Change within the Transition Design framework
conceive of change as a continually evolving body of trans-
disciplinary knowledge about the anatomy and dynamics of
change within complex systems. Theories of change can
include alternative and accepted bodies of knowledge as well
as new concepts and ideas that are in the process of gaining
momentum. Some of these include: (a) Living systems theory
refers to a transdisciplinary body of thought that explains the
dynamics of self-organization, emergence, and resilience within
complex social and natural systems (Briggs and Peat 1990;
Prigogine and Stengers 1994; Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers
1996; Capra 1997; Wheatley 2006; Meadows 2008); (b) Post
Normal Science is a method of inquiry applied within the
context of long-term issues when relatively little information is
available, facts are uncertain, values are in dispute, outcomes are
critical, and decisions are urgent (Funtowicz and Ravetz 2003);
(c) Paradigm Shift, a concept developed by Thomas Kuhn
in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2012), challenged
the accepted view of the progress of scientific knowledge as
“development by accumulation,” arguing that periods of con-
ceptual continuity are interrupted by periods of revolutionary
discovery and insight that lead to new paradigms; (d) Alter-
native Economics is an emerging body of thought that views
the dominant economic paradigm and the consumer-based
marketplace (capitalism) as one of the root causes of the
complex problems of the late twentieth and twenty-first centu-
ries. The authors identify the inherent, unsustainable problems
in this paradigm and offer myriad alternatives and solutions
(Schumacher 1973; Max-Neef 1992; Hawken et al. 1999;
Korten 1999; Ritzer 2011); (e) Sociotechnical Regime theory
looks at the process of change and transformation in socio-
technical regimes (patterns of artifacts, institutions, rules, and
norms) and the role of technological “niches” as the principal
locus for change. Change begins when practices and norms
developed in the niche become widely adopted and gather
momentum until the wider technological regime is transformed
by the concepts and configurations nurtured in the niche
(Berkhout et al. 2003: 1; Geels 2010; Pettersen et al. 2013);
(f) Metamorphosis and theories of wholeness and holism
(also “applied phenomenology”) focus on the transforma-
tion of form in natural organisms. This dynamic and temporal
process of change has strong relevance for both the design of
artifacts (materiality) and the initiation and direction of change
within social organizations (Bortoft 1996, 2012; Schad 1997;
Seamon 1998; Holdrege 2005; Kossoff 2011: 73–96). These
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are just a few of the ideas and theories from diverse fields and
disciplines that can serve to deepen designers’ understanding
of the dynamics of change within complex systems and inform
new approaches to transition visions and solutions.
11. There is a substantial body of thought that has emerged since
the late twentieth century that views mindset or worldview as
a powerful leverage point for change (Meadows 2008) and
argues that our historic/dominant worldview is inadequate for
understanding complex, interdependent, and interconnected
problems. The dominant worldview derives from the scientific
revolution of the seventeenth century; developments in math-
ematics, philosophy, physics, astronomy, biology, and chem-
istry transformed society’s views about nature and humanity’s
place in the cosmos. This style of thinking has predominated
since that time and is characterized in the first column (dom-
inant) of Figure 3. Transition Design argues for an intentional
shift from reductionist thinking with its emphasis on quanti-
ties and short horizons of time, to a more holistic view of the
world characterized by the second column (holistic) of Figure
3. Theorists and practitioners from diverse disciplines increas-
ingly view mindset as the basis for deep and lasting change
and argue that a more holistic worldview must be the basis for
the transition to a sustainable society (Briggs and Peat 1990;
Prigogine and Stengers 1994; Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers
1996; Capra 1997; Wheatley 2006; Meadows 2008; Ritzer
12. Although designers have long been familiar with the concept
and characteristics of wicked problems, not much energy has
been directed toward understanding their dynamics and anat-
omy (Irwin 2011b). Transition Design proposes that design-
ers can learn to solve for wicked problems more effectively
if they acquire a better understanding of complex systems
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... At the same time transition design (TD) is a framework offering a broad perspective of transition, that potentially can be interesting to combine with SD. Transition design is based upon longer-term visioning and recognition of the need for solutions rooted in new, more sustainable socioeconomic and political paradigms (Irwin 2015). Irwin's approach to TD refers to a number of theories of change, that focus on large paradigm shifts, in the ways in which such changes have been envisaged in living systems (Prigogine and Stengers 1984), in socio-technical systems (Kuhn 1962, Dosi 1982 in business (Freeman and Perez, 1988) and in the studies of socio-technical transitions to sustainability (Geels et al 2010) The common traits of such studies consist in analysing the links between change at different scales, from niches to socio-technical regimes and to socio-technical landscapes (Geels et al 2010). ...
... The approach proposed by TD aims at generating systemic changes that involve all the scales of such change, thus defining new paradigmatic vision of systemic change. This approach is therefore challenging the existing paradigms, by applying speculative, long-term visions of sustainable lifestyles, in the perspective of inspiring and informing the design of short-and mid-term solutions (Irwin 2015(Irwin , 2018. We think that TD framework can inspire SD and offer long term perspective. ...
... In her publication Irwin (2015) proposed The Transition Design Framework with four mutually reinforcing areas: (1) vision for transition (the vision towards more sustainable future requires new knowledge about natural, societal and designs systems), (2) theories of change (ideas, theories and methodologies from different fields and disciplines and deep understanding of dynamics of change, that will influence mindset and postures), (3) mindset and posture (living in transitional time requires a mindset and posture of openness and willingness to collaborate), and (4) new ways of designing (the transition requires new ways of designing, that will help realise new visions for the future). The four areas in Irwin's model are mutually reinforcing each other and co-evolving. ...
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Using a wider context of a growing role of service design (SD) in different change processes, the aim of this article is to explore the transformative role of service design on two levels: organizational and societal. We investigated a transformation process of a public sector organization – a public library, showing how service design can be a vehicle of organizational and societal changes. We were able to map 3 cycles of transition that have been gradually expanding the visions, theories of change, mindsets, and new ways of designing in the organization, helping to achieve more and more agency in transforming, first the organization, and then local community. The article contributes to the growing body of knowledge connecting design with change. It also creates a more in-depth understanding of how SD can become a vehicle for transformation in a public sector organization.
... According to Irwin et al. (2015), the root causes of complex problems often involve the social dynamics that permeate them; and it is precisely from the different stakeholders connected with the problem that one has the potential to harness the relationships and design interventions to solve it. ...
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The technological revolution and the current desire to reconnect with the land provide opportunities to design innovative relationships between citizens and communities for the development of regenerative activities and practices that lead to the creation of common welfare. The rural context is inclined to design strategies that involve significant changes in lifestyle by intervening in various fields with practices and activities aimed at territorial regeneration. Through different approaches, value and trust are created to co-design possible futures and transitional pathways to them. The aim of the paper is to propose a theoretical framework that considers the methodologies and activities typical of design discipline, creating guidelines for the application of innovative processes, with the intention of regenerating a place undergoing social abandonment and environmental deterioration.
... It seems that the lexicon or the synonymous wording brings a myriad of concepts that put "nature" and all its connotations at the centre of study. Notions such as design for sustainability (Birkeland, 2002), ecological design (Ryn & Cowan, 2007), biophilic design (Beatley, 2010), biomimicry (Mathews, 2011), cradle to cradle (McDonough & Braungart, 2013), transition design (Irwin, 2015), regenerative design (Wahl, 2016) have influenced the ontology of design, and most importantly the human-centered design culture. ...
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The article discusses a workshop on nature-centered design aimed to identify the convergence of theories and pedagogical tools to achieve societal balance with the natural world. The workshop explored the path towards designing as nature and focused on regenerative cultures and more-than-human considerations. A mixed methods technique to analyze and integrate information was used. This activity was divided into two parts: exploring the ways of nature-centered design and learning to co-design with nature. Attendees from different universities worldwide participated. The main activities were mapping nature-based concepts, exploring a syllabus, and structuring nature-centered design definitions. A detailed description of the workshop outcomes is provided. The article concludes by highlighting the need for responsible innovations, advocacy for non-human stakeholders and interbeing practices through design.
... In the past decade, design studies that focus on the broader design object of social transformation instead of services or products have been attracting much attention. Irwin (2015) proposes the Transition Design as a design approach to tackle the so-Fumiya Akasaka, Yuya Mitake, Kentaro Watanabe, Yuri Nishikawa, Jun Ozawa Digital Future Design: Designing Digital Service Systems based on Future Visions Linköping University Electronic Press called "wicked problems" (Rittel & Webber, 1973) and achieve social transformation toward a more desirable future. Transition design is characterized by the involvement of various stakeholders, the creation of a future vision together, and the implementation of long-term interventions and actions for addressing complex social issues, instead of creating short-term and one-shot solutions (Irwin, 2018). ...
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Recently, initiatives that use advanced digital technologies to address social issues and drive social innovation, such as the “smart city”, have been attracting attention. While public expectations for smart city projects are high, they are often executed from a technocentric approach that lacks a human-centered perspective, which leads to various criticisms and opposition from residents. This necessitates a method for envisioning a desirable future society and designing the entire service system, including digital technologies (i.e., digital service system), from a human-centered perspective. Therefore, we have developed a novel design method, called Digital Future Design Method, that supports the designing of digital service systems for realizing the social transformation to a desirable future vision, and conducted a case study to demonstrate its usefulness. The results demonstrated its effectiveness in enabling us to have a future vision-based thinking in design from the comprehensive perspectives of the social, digital, and physical domains.
... Despite its importance, there have been few previous studies on the creative ways that metaphors have incorporated elements of culture art into novel product designs to communicate to consumers who pay special attention to the aesthetic of cultural products (Moalosi, Popovic and Hickling-Hudson, 2008;Irwin, 2015). Additionally, developing products that highlight regionally specific cultural features has the ability to satisfy the cultural preferences of individual customers (Twigger Holroyd et al., 2017). ...
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Metaphor is a valuable tool for facilitating innovative product design. Metaphor facilitates designers' comprehension of design concepts by illustrating comparisons with their existing knowledge. Limited research exists on how metaphors transform cultural art characteristics into product designs to convey consumers' understanding of value meanings from cultural art features in modern products. To address this, a conceptual framework was developed as a diagrammatic tool for design strategy, based on the concept of metaphor. The framework assists designers in interpreting the appearance, behavior, and meanings of cultural art features, enabling their incorporation into contemporary products. The translation, transformation, and design activity processes were used to demonstrate how this framework could embed new meanings into modern products. From different perspectives, the use of metaphors to bring cultural art features into modern products is beneficial for enhancing creativity in product design and enabling consumers to better understand the product's values.
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Service design is a pivotal component of innovation, which intersects resources, people, and processes in its practices. It has provided valuable improvement to companies' business but has also delivered some divergences because some business models are only sometimes aligned with the company's service. Functional and Cooperative Economy (FCE) is an economic model in which its approach can offer service design a new frame for action-oriented activity, promoting spaces to explore creativity, value cocreation and reflexivity. Creativity helps people materialize ideas to create new goods or services. Value cocreation is a dialogic process to create shared value, reinforcing collective resources. Moreover, reflexivity allows people to modify their thoughts, feelings and actions based on their experiences. In the spirit of the innovation service, we address these three dimensions by linking an economic benchmark and promoting an enhanced service design through personal and professional development in the face of work experiences.
Background: A huge amount of ergonomic research has been carried out in companies. However, territory is now becoming a new frontier for decision-making during design. Objective: This article aims to examine how territorial scale impacts the design process of a work system. Methods: Two types of methods were used. First, we analyzed and defined what constitutes a territorialized work system. On this basis we conducted a design project for the re-conception of a territorialized work system with the linden tree. Results: It is argued that a "territorialized work system" is not limited to its productive dimensions; it engages in a "making of a milieu" which consists in matching the work system with a range of dimensions that make life possible within the territory. Conclusion: The territorial aspect of running a design project thus relates to three dimensions: the systemic dimension of the system to be designed, the organization of the design project itself, and the nature of the object to be designed: the possibility of making a milieu, i.e. of being able to live in the territory.
The systemic nature of the ecological crisis has prompted a wide range of research into transformative social change. Education, however, is largely absent from that literature, despite clear evidence of its role in contributing to the crisis. Following a review of a few of the main approaches to theorizing change, notably the literature on social-ecological resilience, this chapter focuses on the field of transformative or systemic design as the most promising framework for catalyzing radical educational reform. We draw on the Multi-Level Perspective on sustainability transitions to visualize such local “niche-innovations” as emerging in the context of the end of the Capitalocene, the socio-economic-political landscape sustaining the current educational regime. In order to create the conditions for systemic change, education for living within the Earth’s carrying capacity needs to incorporate principles that disrupt core assumptions of the Capitalocene. We propose six such principles to guide the work of transformational educational design.
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In this article, I argue that Goethe's way of science, understood as a phenomenology of nature, might be one valuable means for fostering a deeper sense of responsibility and care for the natural world. By providing a conceptual and lived means to allow the natural world to present itself in a way by which it might speak if it were able, Goethe's method offers one conceptual and applied means to bypass the reductive accounts of nature typically produced by standard scientific and humanist perspectives. I illustrate this possibility largely through examples from Goethe's Theory of Color (1810).
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In this paper, a framework to assist transition to a sustainable society, incorporating the insights of whole systems science and philosophical holism, is proposed. It is argued this framework needs to be embedded in everyday life, and that everyday life is more likely to be sustainable when communities control the satisfaction of their needs at all levels of scale — households, neighborhoods, villages, cities, regions — 'The Domains of Everyday Life'. When everyday life is sustainable, these Domains arise as people strive to satisfy their needs in place-based ways. They are emergent, self-organizing, participatory, networked, nested and semi-autonomous forms, characteristics they share with living, whole systems. In modernity, however, control of need satisfaction has largely been ceded to centralized institutions and the Domains have consequently been hollowed out and gone into decline, leading to everyday life's unsustainability. Transitioning to a sustainable society requires the reconstitution and reinvention of the Domains. An additional Domain, that of the Planet, has emerged in modernity and its development could give everyday life a cosmopolitanism it lacked in pre-industrial societies.
Irreversible processes are the source of order: hence 'order out of chaos.' Processes associated with randomness (openness) lead to higher levels of organisation. Under certain conditions, entropy may thus become the progenitor of order. The authors propose a vast synthesis that embraces both reversible and irreversible time, and show how they relate to one another at both macroscopic and minute levels of examination.-A.Toffler
Today designers often focus on making technology easy to use, sexy, and consumable. In "Speculative Everything," Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby propose a kind of design that is used as a tool to create not only things but ideas. For them, design is a means of speculating about how things could be -- to imagine possible futures. This is not the usual sort of predicting or forecasting, spotting trends and extrapolating; these kinds of predictions have been proven wrong, again and again. Instead, Dunne and Raby pose "what if" questions that are intended to open debate and discussion about the kind of future people want (and do not want). "Speculative Everything" offers a tour through an emerging cultural landscape of design ideas, ideals, and approaches. Dunne and Raby cite examples from their own design and teaching and from other projects from fine art, design, architecture, cinema, and photography. They also draw on futurology, political theory, the philosophy of technology, and literary fiction. They show us, for example, ideas for a solar kitchen restaurant; a flypaper robotic clock; a menstruation machine; a cloud-seeding truck; a phantom-limb sensation recorder; and devices for food foraging that use the tools of synthetic biology. Dunne and Raby contend that if we speculate more -- about everything -- reality will become more malleable. The ideas freed by speculative design increase the odds of achieving desirable futures. © 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.
Over the past thirty years, a new systemic conception of life has emerged at the forefront of science. New emphasis has been given to complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation leading to a novel kind of 'systemic' thinking. This volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Taking a broad sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, the authors examine the appearance of key concepts such as autopoiesis, dissipative structures, social networks, and a systemic understanding of evolution. The implications of the systems view of life for health care, management, and our global ecological and economic crises are also discussed. Written primarily for undergraduates, it is also essential reading for graduate students and researchers interested in understanding the new systemic conception of life and its implications for a broad range of professions - from economics and politics to medicine, psychology and law.
Practicing the Goethean approach to science involves heightened methodological awareness and sensitivity to the way we engage in the phenomenal worlds. We need to overcome our habit of viewing the world in terms of objects and leave behind the scientific propensity to explain via reification and reductive models. I describe science as a conversation with nature and how this perspective can inform a new scientific frame of mind. I then present the Goethean approach via a practical example (a study of a plant, skunk cabbage) and discuss some of the essential features of Goethean methodology and insight: the riddle; into the phenomenon; exact picture building; and seeing the whole.