Systemic Designability

Creating consciousness for the possibilities to redesign established systems.


Law Faculty
Law Faculty of the Humboldt University Berlin

In her book "Doughnut Economics" the author and economist Kate Raworth writes that "the most powerful tool in economics is not money, nor even algebra. It is a pencil. Because with a pencil you can redraw the world."

Most of the realities in which we live today, were envisioned and designed by our ancestors. From economy, finance, religion, education, states, to policy. All these systems are intentional human-made realities that shape life on earth, both, in good and bad ways. Most of us either believe in these realities or criticise them, but very few seem to have the consciousness and believe that everything that is designed, can always be redesigned.

Visions of a few

If the systems that surround us were designed by our ancestors, then what were the conditions, purposes, and goals with which they were designed? Maybe economic, political, functional, ecological, or aesthetic? And even more important, with which ideologies, worldviews, values, perspectives, and influences? By looking at the most influential systems it becomes clear that the design of a lot of them was driven by the visions of a few. Can this be inclusive, fair, or diverse?

The obsession for infinite growth for example was fundamentally shaped by a handful of people. From today's point of view their theories are very questionable and one could probably argue that these contributed to the current environmental and inequality problems worldwide. The scientist Donella Meadows already declared in the late 1990s that "growth is one of the stupidest purposes ever invented by any culture". Why do three decades later most of the economists, politicians, and citizens still believe in the designed fiction of infinite and inevitable growth?

Collective consciousness

There is not one future, rather a multitude of possible futures that can be collectively envisioned and designed. And this with different purposes and different conditions. There is an urgent need that we move from being the consumers of designed systems to become the designers of alternative systems. And this could even mean that a system that seems unchangeable to us might become obsolete.

Unfortunately it is not that easy. These systems are very complex, fragile, and unpredictable. But when everyone becomes conscious about the individual power to redesign little aspects of it, then bigger shifts might be possible.

Design that enables

If we are interested in participatory futures the role of designers, as people that envision possible futures and then design a part of these, has to change. Instead, design could be an enabler to connect knowledge, visions, people, and ideas. Designers could design environments, organisations, and systems that create consciousness and enable people to become visionaries, organise themselves, and drive systemic redesign.

Just because some people share their vision of, for example, the colonization of mars in exciting and inspiring ways, it doesn't mean that this is how the future has to be like. This is only one individual vision and we all have our own that reflects our deepest dreams, wishes, and values. All these visions need to be boldly shared with the world.