Systemic Design For People Who Fear Systems

Alastair Somerville
2 min readMar 24, 2023

This article was written by ChatGPT as I needed something to react to while thinking about a workshop design problem

If you’re new to the concept of systemic design, it can be overwhelming to wrap your head around the idea of designing for complex systems.

However, don’t worry! Here’s a beginner’s guide to systemic design that will hopefully make the concept more approachable.

What is systemic design?

Systemic design is an approach to design that takes a holistic view of complex problems, understanding that everything is interconnected. It involves designing solutions that address the root causes of problems, rather than just the symptoms. Systemic design recognizes that all parts of a system are interdependent, so changing one part of a system can have impacts on other parts of the system. This means that solutions must be designed with a broad perspective and an understanding of how they fit within the larger system.

Why is systemic design important?

Systemic design is important because many of the problems we face today, such as climate change, poverty, and inequality, are complex and interconnected. Traditional design approaches often focus on designing solutions for individual problems, without considering the broader context. This can lead to unintended consequences and can even exacerbate the problem.

Systemic design helps designers to see the big picture and design solutions that address the root causes of problems, leading to more sustainable and effective solutions.

What are the key principles of systemic design?

Some key principles of systemic design include:

  • Holistic thinking: Looking at the entire system and understanding how different parts are interconnected.
  • Participatory design: Working collaboratively with diverse stakeholders, including community members, policymakers, and industry leaders.
  • Co-creation: Designing solutions with stakeholders rather than for them.
  • Iterative design: Refining solutions through ongoing testing and feedback.
  • Addressing root causes: Designing solutions that address the underlying structures and feedback loops that contribute to problems.

How does systemic design differ from traditional design?

Traditional design approaches often focus on designing products or services for a specific market or user group. These designs may be optimized for a specific set of needs, without considering the broader social or environmental impacts.

In contrast, systemic design takes a broader view of the problem and considers how it fits within the larger system. This can lead to solutions that address multiple needs and create positive social, economic, and environmental outcomes.


Systemic design can seem daunting at first, but it’s an essential approach for designing effective solutions to complex problems.

By taking a holistic view of the problem, involving stakeholders in the design process, and addressing root causes, systemic designers can create solutions that are more sustainable, equitable, and effective.

With a little practice and an open mind, anyone can learn to apply the principles of systemic design to their work.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX