On May 5, Master’s students from the Functional Design Department of the Art Academy in Riga, Latvia requested to visit the Bertalanffy Center for an introduction to systems science and design. They spent an internship of two months at hi-pe.at, design partner of the BCSSS, where they worked on pedestrian guidance systems / wayfinding for the prestigious Schönbrunn area in Vienna. They were accompanied by Barbara Abele, professor at the Latvian Art Academy and responsible for the master’s program; and Ilze Dobele, lector for language and communication at the Latvian Art Academy as well as TV presenter at the Latvian evening news.

Martin Fößleitner, Founder and Managing Director of hi-pe as well as BCSSS member, established the contact with the BCSSS for an inspiring and fruitiful meeting. To provide the systems context for these conversations, Stefan Blachfellner, Managing Director of the BCSSS, gave a short lecture on three important connections between systems science and design.

From l.t.r.: Liga Lindenbauma, art historian; Linda Rubene, product designer; Agate Eglite, BA Business Admininistation; Stefan Blachfellner, Managing Director BCSSS

First, design works as an amplifier to existing societal structures and dynamics. The aesthetics and the design of public spaces, products and communication is a mirror to the zeitgeist of each era. As such, design makes a major contribution to the self-perception of a society. In his work, Ludwig von Bertalanffy illustrated the critical role of such symbolisms. Today, designers need to be sensitive and conscious to the impact of such symbols in their work. Systems thinking principles can support them in reflecting on this.

Second, design also has the capacity to create new narratives and to shape political life. It can work to enable generations to express and develop their views; and it can also be used to nudge people towards changing their behaviors. This is highly apparent in domains such as advertising or architecture. However, the conscious reflection of the effects of specific design decisions can be rather neglected in the design of social interactions or electronics.

Third, the battle between facts and their false portrayal – whether by mistake or purposely – shows the urgent need of science to better communciate its findings. This is especially true in the age of data driven science and big data, which requires appropriate visualizatons, for scientific analysis, decision bias as well as to for responsible reporting in the media.

left: Barbara Abele; right: Ilze Dobele

Finally, BCSSS Program Manager and trained System Dynamics modeler Angelika Schanda contributed an insight into computer modeling in systems science. A short demonstration showed how common sense can sometimes lead us to problematic conclusions, and how systems modeling can help designers to review their own assumptions critically.