Design Council launches new framework enabling designers to respond more effectively to climate crisis and other systemic challenges. 

A new framework enabling people to work together to address the climate crisis and other major systemic challenges has today been launched by Design Council to mark Earth Day. The Systemic Design Framework is being published as part of Design Council’s new research report, Beyond Net Zero: A Systemic Design Approach.  

Primarily for designers, commissioners and all those with an interest in environmental sustainability, Beyond Net Zero: A Systemic Design Approach explores how design methods, tools and principles that have been used over recent years to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. As well as exploring what others are doing to work towards this target, the research reflects on Design Council’s own practice, and the views of several experts who use design in their work.  

Beyond Net Zero: A Systemic Design Approach provides key recommendations on how designers can better respond to the climate emergency. The report argues that for designers to bring about real change, they need to do more than work towards the net zero target: they need to focus on broader concepts of sustainability and regeneration, and work across disciplines and with businesses, sustainability experts and communities.  

With people and planet at its core, the Systemic Design Framework outlines the key principles, roles of designers and processes needed to adopt this inclusive approach to systemic, sustainable design. It also includes a comprehensive list of detailed, design-sector specific resources for achieving net zero, along with design networks committed to enabling sustainable living.  

In the run up to COP26, Design Council will continue to promote these recommended ways of working. 

Key elements of the Systemic Design Framework include: 

  • Six principles for systemic design which can be used to help people to develop or adapt new design methods and tools from their own practice. The principles are: people and planet centred, zooming in and out, testing and growing ideas, inclusive and welcoming difference, collaborating and connecting, circular and regenerative. 

  • Four key roles for designers to play when tackling systemic issues: system thinker, leader and storyteller, design and maker, connector and convenor. Team members may take on different roles or an individual may adopt all of them. 

  • Types of design activities. These are: exploring, reframing, creating and catalyst.  

  • The enabling activity that goes ‘around’ the design process, including orientation and vision setting, connections and relationships, leadership and storytelling, continuing the journey.​

Cat Drew, Chief Design Officer at Design Council said: “This framework guides designers to work with their clients and commissioners to develop projects that can be pivotal in the collective change we need to achieve net zero and more. It starts with a hopeful vision, looks at building trust among stakeholders, digs deep into the root causes and then creates and tests things that can shift our behaviours for the good of the planet. Rather than designing in isolation, the framework asks designers to see their work as part of a bigger network of change, making connections with other ideas and inspiring others to join the movement.” 

Design Council Design Associate, Nat Hunter, who conducted the research said: "By talking to people who work in systemic change, and digging into the detail of how this kind of transformation actually happens we found common factors of the processes and understandings that are crucial to build the groundwork for a successful initiative, and what skills and roles have to be present in the team. We hope that by publishing these findings we can help more people work in more systemic and impactful ways.” 

The Systemic Design Framework reflects Design Council’s commitment to enable sustainable living, as outlined in its Strategy 2020-2024. It builds upon the global success of Design Council’s Double Diamond (2004) and its Framework For Innovation (2019) – the latter being an essential guide for anyone innovating within their organisation. It will be complemented by a further piece of research on evolving design practice, in collaboration with The Point People. This will look at designers who are working systemically and going further to push their practice, and is due to be published later in 2021.

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