A Systems Design Approach to Sustainable Development

Embracing the Complexity of Energy Challenges in Low-income Markets

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The societal and technical problems faced by low-income markets are increasingly seen as more complex due to environmental, social, and economic concerns. The enormous negative impacts of complex societal problems and the inability of designers to deal with complexity cannot be overcome without a paradigm shift in how we understand, engage with, and teach about such issues. In light of this challenge, one can pose the question, “What is the best approach to deal with a complex societal problem?”. A traditional approach to deal with a complex problem is to simplify it. Alternatively, as here, research may aim to provide a novel approach to handle complex societal problems, thereby embracing complexity. Thus, this thesis contends that embracing complexity represents a significant shift from the traditional design approach to a systems design approach for sustainable development. To help designers to bring about such a transition, the four main contributions provided in this doctoral research are: (I) Exploring the integration of systems thinking into design, particularly by adopting a systems design approach to sustainable energy solutions for low-income markets; (II) Extending the scope of product-service system design through the introduction of four major systems thinking tenets: a holistic perspective; a multilevel perspective; a pluralistic perspective; and complexity-handling capacity; (III) Proposing heuristic tools for the integration of systems thinking into design, which allows for developing new and strengthening existing systems design approaches; and, (IV) Increasing capacity building for a systems design approach to address complex societal problems through design education.