Brighton Design Futures Sessions

Tom Bosschaert case

This case study focuses on an educational workshop on the application of SiD in a 3 day workshop at Brighton University, in the program ‘Design Futures’. It aimed at creating an understanding of the nature of systemic societal transformation processes, the importance of systems mapping and the necessity for identifying leverage points in such a methodology. Here, we share the formal setup of the program in detail, and review the execution of the program and its results.


A 3 day intensive SiD session was held in cooperation with the Design Futures program of the University of Brighton in August of 2014, in cooperation with Damon Taylor, design theorist and cultural historian. the participants about 30 students from diverse degrees (from marketing to fashion and business) and stakeholders of 5 social challenges in the city of Brighton. A basement parking area was converted for the workshop’s purpose, outfitted with lights, tables, couches, and masses of workshop materials.

Before the sessions started, the students had performed a short SiD Intelligence cycle by investigating their case, and making a system map that expressed their major view of the challenge. For the the intense session days, the students and stakeholders worked in 5 groups on their respective cases. The cases consisted of challenges such as the reintegration of homeless persons in the city back into a functional lifestyle, abandoned youth, disenfranchised and lonely elderly, and primary school teaching through tablet applications. Each team learned about system thinking while practicing to apply this to their case, produced large system solutions maps, and filmed their results, presenting them to a jury of case-relevant juries.

Structure of the event

Socially Useful Design: A Systemic Approach

This project is comprised of three parts:

  1. One-day primer session discussing the nature of a systemic approach to design and social change.
  1. A three-day workshop event to take place in an off-site location in Brighton on May 15-17th, facilitated by the architect, engineer and systems analyst, Tom Bosschaert of the Dutch design consultancy Except Integrated Sustainability (
  1. The dissemination of a publication recording the event and containing reflective pieces discussing what was learnt/discovered; production of web resources from the video material created in the event.

Project Goals

  1. To provide a rich and exciting experience of learning and teaching in an unusual and memorable context beyond the conventional confines of the academy.
  1. To bring together students from different courses and faculties to work together in an intense problem-solving environment and share an experience of the applications of design as a systemic interdisciplinary practice.
  1. To develop in the participants an understanding of the nature of systemic societal transformation processes, the importance of systems mapping and the necessity for identifying leverage points in such a methodology.
  1. To bring real-world relevance and methods of collaboration to the students’ academic studies.
  1. To act as a showcase for the Design Futures approach and to develop further promotional products for the programme.

Sessions outline

The workshop brings together a group of approximately 30 students from a range of different programmes (BA Design Futures; BA Graphic Design; BA Business Studies; BA Design and Craft; BA Fashion and Textiles; MA Sustainable Design; BSMS) to learn to analyse problems in a systemic manner as they collaborate in developing potential solutions to social problems. This takes place in a context that is beyond the confines of the conventional curricular routine of the students to enhance both the ‘real world’ nature of the project and to give intensity and vitality to the experience.

The students will be divided into groups of five, which will work around a devised problem to create a large-scale visual model of a systemic social problem to which design solutions may be applied.

The process will be led by Tom Bosschaert and supervised by experienced project manager, Chantal Klaver, both of Except Integrated Sustainability from the Netherlands.

The methodology of the workshop will be derived in part from the Symbiosis in Design (SiD) systems innovation framework, developed by Except. This approach combines collaborative innovation strategies using hot-room teamwork, and applies a particular form of complexity thinking, systems analysis and implementation strategy to social problems.

The SiD method prescribes intense collaboration between multiple disciplines during workshops of consecutive days in the same space to reach elevated understanding and synergy. The workshop therefore follows this approach and takes place on three consecutive days from morning to night. It will be located in a pop-up venue situated in retail space at Brighton Marina, rented for the duration.

The space will be transformed into its own universe, one that the students and staff will inhabit as they pursue the project. This will be achieved using work-props such as tables, lights, etc. Each group may place their tables where they want, and use desk lamps to create their work spaces. This is self-organized. Music will be playing at all times, apart from during public addresses and the interstitial lectures. All participants will prepare and eat lunch together each day to enhance the bonding effect of the experience.

Facilities such as digital video cameras, video editing equipment, a projector, printers and scanners will be sourced from the university’s own resources. Chairs, tables and lighting will be hired-in, for ease of setting up/taking down the event.

Areas of investigation

Areas to be analysed and explored in the project will include:

    • design for education;
    • design for waste minimisation;
    • design for wellbeing;
    • design for an ageing society;
  • design for youth social inclusion;

Some stakeholders from these areas have been identified and connections established. These include Hove Park School; Brighton Freegle; The Future Perfect Company; Brighton DV8. Those involved will be invited to attend the preliminary session and the final presentations of the results of the project.

Outcomes of the Project

Each team will produce:

  • A large visual model of their systemic issue (approx. 2 meters x 4 meters).

  • A five-minute video outlining their solution to accompany the model.


Primer day (one week before event)
Participants to the workshop gather to discuss the event and get to know each other in order to ease group formation. At this point the students will have received the program and assignments.

Day 1


  • Intro session on SiD
  • Allocation of themes and setting of goals.


  • 3 x 20 minute lectures on systems thinking and analytical approaches.
  • Initial systems analysis.


  • Discussion and reflection on systems analysis.

Day 2


  • Solutioning: rough prototyping of systems models.


  • Production of systems models.
  • 2 x 20 min lectures on identification of leverage points in social


  • Discussion and reflection on system modelling.

Day 3


  • Production of systems models and identification of leverage points


  • Production of final outcomes.


  • Presentations, film screenings, discussion & social gathering.


Five groups went through the process, with 100% attendance from all groups. Each group presented their system solution map, and a small story video of their project. All the groups showed great interest in the process of the others, also because each had a different case, and the lack of competition made a safe space for communication and exchange on a friendly, non-competitive level. The presence of case-holders and stakeholders of the cases grounded the projects in reality.

While focused on a primarily educational level, the process yielded insights for the case holders to take along back into reality that proved valuable to approach their particular cases in a new way.

Here are some images of the system maps and the group presentations:


The outcome of the workshop was universally recognized as insightful, educational, and greatly revealing of the systemic patterns behind the cases for all participants. The goals of the workshop were met, and in addition the social value of bonding and understanding between group members as well as stakeholders was noted as a great asset. Most groups were able to distill a breakthrough solution for their particular cases, recognized by the case study holders and stakeholders. The final review event, in which the films were shown and the system maps were reviewed proved greatly insightful, educational for all participants, and an event to be remembered for years to come.

Areas for improvement:

  • The location, a parking basement, was very effective to create the unique setting. However, the acoustics were distracting at times, and in the evenings, it could get chilly without heating.
  • The video recordings of the participant responses had a quality camera, but did not have an appropriate directional microphone, which rendered the audio of the videos next to useless in the echo-ing space. A better microphone and separate filing location is necessary.
  • One group failed to function because of differences within the group, which led to a fallout. While this can not always be prevented, in this case, there were signals early on about a single group member not participating in the group process, which dragged the group’s performance down and lost energy. It would have been better to isolate this group member and assign this person their own individual project rather than keep the team together.