By Ariana Lutterman and Tara Campbell
The Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium (RSD) is an annual international gathering of academics, researchers, and practitioners engaged in systemic design, a discipline that brings together systems thinking and systems-oriented design. This year, the seventh RSD took place in Turin, Italy from October 24-26th to explore the theme of “Challenging Complexity by Systemic Design Towards Sustainability”.
RSD is convened by the Systemic Design Association, co-founded by Dr. Peter Jones, an associate professor in the Faculty of Design here at OCAD, where he teaches in two graduate programs: Strategic Foresight and Innovation, and Design for Health. Both of these programs have courses in systemic design. As part of these courses, students create maps that visually illustrate complex topics, unpacking relationships, histories, and layers of a system in a way that can be more easily understood and digested. The symposium included a track for these visual maps specifically, and several OCAD student groups submitted and had their maps accepted to be presented in the RSD7 gallery.
The conference itself began with a day of workshops covering topics ranging from the idea of place in systemic design to connected products and the circular economy. The following days were broken down into parallel presentation sessions for participants to choose from based on different themes within systemic design. These were punctuated by keynote presentations from systems thinkers whose backgrounds spanned public policy, ecology, economics, farming, and architecture - a representation of the diverse voices needed across disciplines to truly think systemically. A number of OCAD faculty, Peter Jones, Greg Van Alstyne, and Michele Mastroeni, presented their work relating to systemic design. Students and alumni from Strategic Foresight and Innovation and Design for Health also presented work, including the aforementioned posters in the Visualization of Complex Systems exhibit, as well as paper presentations.
After the conference, participants were given the opportunity to attend a “de-conference” in the nearby alpine village of Ostana. Here, RSD members who founded the MonViso Institute brought attendees to visit their mountain laboratory, a community they are constructing using systemic design principles. Participants visited the buildings being constructed through net-positive, sustainable, cradle-to-cradle construction and shared meals sourced from local, seasonal ingredients produced with an emphasis on permaculture.
Overall, OCAD had a large presence at this year’s symposium, a tradition that will hopefully be continued at RSD8 next year in Chicago.