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70 504 Systems Oriented Design: “Design for Very Complex System“

Full course name in Norwegian Bokmål: 
System orientert design: “Design for meget komplekse systemer“
Course code: 
70 504
Level of study: 
Teaching semester: 
2020 Autumn
Assessment semester: 
2020 Autumn
Language of instruction: 
Norwegian / English
Maximum number of students: 
Person in charge
Birger Sevaldson
Required prerequisite knowledge

Passed foundation level (BA-level) courses at AHO in design or architecture or equivalent, 180 ECTS.

About the course: IMPORTANT!

This course contains two modules

Module 1 (20 ETCS)  is done in collaboration with OsloMet department of design, Kjeller. About half of the teaching will be held at Kjeller. 

Module 2 (4 ETCS)  Circular Mountain Systems Design

In addition, a specialization course of 6 credits is chosen.

The course will be theory heavy with many lectures and a partially scientific approach. Most of the lectures are linked to practical exercises and project work.

The content of the course may differ from what is stated here.

Additional teachers 

Tobias Luthe, Andreas Wettre

Tore Gulden, Kristin Støren Wigum, James Lowley, Abel Crawford

Course content

The course is suitable for all design topics including architecture, urbanism and landscape architecture and is open for all programmes at AHO. The course has two main themes to choose between but even individual programming is possible. The course is well suited as preparation for the diploma.

Design for a complex world

Designers today are confronted with an increasing complexity. Constantly new fields and tasks are opened up for designers, and the importance of design increases. Designers address complex socio-technical problems, both in the development of solutions and processes. To be better prepared for this development, designers must learn to handle greater complexity, understand larger contexts, learn more about the consequences of our choices, both for businesses, customers, individual users as well as society and the environment.

Systems thinking

A deeper understanding of complex processes is called systems thinking. In Systems Oriented Design (SOD), we have developed an approach to systems thinking that is especially developed for practicing designers. It is the designerly approach to systems.

SOD is part of a larger movement with many approaches called Systemic Design (systemic-design.net). This movement was started by SOD teachers here at AHO and other people mainly from Canada, India, Italy and the US.



MODUL 1: Design for very complex systems

There are many partners in the course. The topics range from, the public sector, services and organizations to products, architecture, sustainability and democracy. Students can choose one of the partners or self-program.

Who should take this course?

This is the course for you if you wish

  • - to take up a challenge to work with very complex problems,
  • - to develop the designers' abilities of holistic thinking,
  • - to have a strategic role in your future work as a designer.
  • - to combining multiple perspectives and diversified views, as well as conflicting interest, such as sustainability while maintaining profit, or working with dialogues while maintaining diversity
  • - be part of a circular economy transition 
  • - to learn to design as nature: (1) with materials and products, and (2) on a systems level in organizational economic transitions
  • - to acquire methodological, contextual, technical, and social skills in circular regenerative design, i.e. life cycle analysis, engineering design with renewable materials, circularity indices, transitioning of a tourism service economy, and alike
  • - to develop the designers' ability to integrate holistic thinking and circular design in a real-world context of mountain economies, tourism, and global environmental change
  • - getting better at handling different perspectives, interests and values

This course is for you if you…

  • - is independent and manages to create own problem statements
  • - is capable of living with uncertainty and does not depend on everything being planned for you.
  • - is willing to take in new knowledge and to read independently.
  • - likes to work with difficult things that give resistance
  • - is good at taking the initiative and seeking guidance and criticism
  • - is able to critique there and then and actively participate in the design of the course along the way

If you feel that you do not meet these requirements you should think carefully, but if you are willing to improve in the above requirements then you are most welcome.

The course is open to all students at AHO and it endeavours to think in transdisciplinary perspectives and to develop new perspectives or take positions that are not covered by the AHO disciplines. Examples include organizational design and design for action (action design) or entirely new perspectives.

 If you are in doubt, don’t hesitate but contact birger.sevaldson@aho.no

MODUL 2Circularity in Mountain Systems
Systemic relations from products to behavior to land use and regional (circular) economy

Mountain regions are complex social-ecological systems, vulnerable to global environmental change, often dependent on single industry sectors like tourism, forestry, or mining. How to design a more resilient, regenerative mountain economy? How to create circularity in mountain regions, with a more diversified, flexible, connected economy, where (winter) tourism is one pillar of a circular economy? What is the role of the consumer, the tourist, the products we consume, the choices we make? How do product design, skis, mobility, local identity, and a circular economy in mountains correlate? How can designers design for circularity? Mountain systems are intrinsic part of Norwegian landscape, culture, economy, history, and future. They experience change the first and the worst. They are sink and source of resources, livelihoods, travelers, sorrows and dreams. They are extreme environments and antennas for future developments.

In this course, we explore and design circular mountain systems, that are more resilient and regenerative. We design for circularity from two different directions, in two groups:

Group (1) designs from the “zoom in” perspective, the detail, the material, the resources, via the product “ski”, and zooms out to its use in mountain tourism;

Group (2) designs from the “zoom out” perspective, the mountain region, the local economy, the landscape use, from the current linear to a future circular economy, and zooms in to the different economic activities and consumer behavior. This is where groups (1) and (2) merge their work on circularity of mountain systems; the systemic product designer and the systemic service-landscape designer cooperate “bottom up” and “top down” to develop a common systems strategy communication map for circular mountain systems.

This course in Circular Mountain Systems Design (as part of the general AHO teaching offers in Systems Oriented Design SOD) provides a rich and highly complex learning field, starting with a circular designed product, its materiality and supply chains (group 1), then expanding to the user and his/her interaction with the skis and natural snow environment, mobility behavior and general consumption, to the natural landscape and mountain regions with their nature and economy in transition towards circularity (group 2).

Please do not hesitate to contact tobias.luthe@aho.no for questions.

Learning outcome

Students will be introduced to System Oriented Design (SOD) as a method and approach, to be able to work with a greater degree of complexity.


Students are:

  • introduced to System Oriented Design (SOD) as a method and approach, to be able to work with a greater degree of complexity.
  • given a thorough introduction to System Oriented Design, Rich Design Space, GIGA mapping, ZIP analysis and systemic evaluation.
  • Given an understanding and a general knowledge of systems thinking, systems theory, systems dynamics: cause and effect relationships and complexity for practicing designers.   


Students will acquire skills in:

  • SOD as process-led methodology
  • Research by design methodology
  • Develop a sensibility for systems, relationships and consequences: cause and effect
  • Unfold, understand complexity and work with “problematiques” (multiple interlinked problems)
  • Workshop facilitation
  • Participatory design
  • Team work


General competence

Students will be able to use this methodology to understand and tackle complex problems and to think systemically. Systems thinking in design is a highly relevant skill as the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and since the challenges the world need us to solve today are fuzzy and consists of a great degree of complexity. This competence is often required by design consultancies today as they take on a higher degree of projects that demands design capacity that can work with Wicked Problems.

Holistic perspectives, ethics and sustainability as well as cultural, organizational, economic and technical considerations are central to the Systems oriented designer. These perspectives and the ability to have the project overview is a very good competence for a designer in a team, and also excellent proficiency for a project leader. Systems-oriented designers can play a decisive role in managing complexity in future societal developments. Systems-oriented designers typically can work in design consultancies, in organizations, in municipalities with service design, on policy level, in the private sector to give some examples.

Systems-oriented designers are trained in techniques such as Gigamapping, this enables them to cope with complexity, - and to take more responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The systems-oriented designer is also a skilled workshop facilitator and leader of co-design processes, to achieve the holistic picture of complex design problems with different stakeholders.

Working and learning activities

Students will work on a semester project individually or in groups. Group work is preferred.

Project plans are created for each project individually according to their demands. Each project requires, in principle, its own project design. The course itself is a dynamic social system that must be adjusted and tweaked in real time. Therefore, students must be actively involved in designing the course. We expect corrections of the course and changes in the approaches along the way.


Luthe, T. 2018. Designing More Resilient Arctic Communities: Change Means Chance. The Circle 2/2018. WWF Arctic Program.

Luthe, T., Lumpe, T., Schwarz, J., Schuetz, M. and K. Shea. 2017. Teaching Systemic Design For Sustainability In Engineering By Building Eco-Skis. Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 17) Vol 9: Design Education, Vancouver, Canada, 21-25.08.2017.ISBN: 978-1-904670-97-1, ISSN: 2220-4342.

Meadows D. (2008). Thinking in Systems. A Primer. Redaktører: Wright D. Forlag: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.

Sevaldson, B. (2011). GIGA mapping: Visualization for Complexity and Systems Thinking in Design. Artikkel presentet at Nordic Design Research Conference, Helsingfors 2011.

Sevaldson, B. (2008). Rich Design Research Space. FORMakademisk, 2008 bind 1 (1) s. 28–44.

Systems Oriented Design: www.systemsorienteddesign.net

Systemic Design www.systemic-design.net


Syllabus literature beyond this will be given during the course.

Form of assessmentGroupingGrading scaleComment
Portfolio assessment (Vurderingsmappe)-Pass / failProject presentation and report, video and exhibition that easily communicate the project for the AHO WORKS EXHIBITION. The report is the main delivery.

The students are evaluated on the basis of participation and effort, milestone reviews, assessment and final project delivery.

Form of assessment:Portfolio assessment (Vurderingsmappe)
Grading scale:Pass / fail
Comment:Project presentation and report, video and exhibition that easily communicate the project for the AHO WORKS EXHIBITION. The report is the main delivery.

The students are evaluated on the basis of participation and effort, milestone reviews, assessment and final project delivery.

Workload activityComment
AttendanceStudents are expected to attend all lectures, tutorials and presentations.
Forventet arbeidsinnsats:
Workload activity:Attendance
Comment:Students are expected to attend all lectures, tutorials and presentations.