what is systems design?

Systems design is holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over timeand within the context of larger systems. For the last few years I have been applying systems thinking to all sorts of challenges, I have also been teaching others about it too. You can read some more about it here.
Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.
– Steve Jobs
Wicked problems, as defined by design theorist Horst Rittel and city planning professor Melvin Webber in the 1970s, are complex social or cultural problems with an unknown number of potential solutions.

On a global scale, one can see thorny, seemingly intractable issues like poverty, education equality and sustainability as wicked problems. However these also happen in various different organisations and contexts.

Systems thinking & systems design is pivotal in starting to grapple with these wicked problems
A system is a set of elements that someone sees as related, organized in some way, often with a purpose and perhaps with unpredictable results
All systems have three parts and must consist of elements, interconnections and purpose
Elements: different forces, parts or components, also nodes or nouns that comprise the system

Interconnections: relationships or stories that hold all of the elements of a system together

Purpose: overall system goal, sometimes produces unintended consequences
Systems thinking & design has been gaining popularity in the product and digital design space. It's not surprising as the roots of systems design lie in engineering. It asks us to look at the bigger picture and potential unintended consequences while keeping our goal front and centre, a zoom-in zoom-out approach. Systems design allows us to build product roadmaps and plan our product strategies and gives us a deeper understanding of how our product will exist in a wider eco-system and how out audience will engage with the product.

As Peter Senge puts it: It’s a framework for seeing relationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.

You can view how I have applied systems thinking in my work in the next couple of projects.