Modelling the design systems thinking paradigm

Sabin Gianelloni, Molly H. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Systems thinking and design thinking have always been considered separate concepts. Systems thinking is described as the cognition a person uses in the solution and design of large-scale complex systems, often requiring hypothetical and holistic approach. Design thinking prioritizes the consumer and describes the cognition of a person completing a design task. Design thinking is often iterative and dynamic requiring creativity and expertise. On the surface the two seem very distant, but as both are becoming more and more important in the world of engineering so does the relationship between them. Recently Greene, Gonzalez, Papalambros, and McGowan questioned this separation by examining the history and application of both systems and design thinking. They hope to find applications of trusted design training techniques to advance the development of systems engineers and to better understand systems thinking as a concept. By initiating research into this subject, they offered various models to describe the systems/design thinking relationship with an open request for further research to support or deny the proposed models. This paper aims to provide support for a model of the Systems/Design Thinking relationship by examining the emergent characteristics of active designers and systems engineers in order to identify traits and skills that relate to success. We did this by analyzing prominent literature around Systems Thinking and Design Thinking and comparing the findings and models of multiple studies. We then compared the emergent characteristics identified in our analysis to form conclusions about the Systems/Design Thinking relationship. Our paper provides support for the close interplay between Systems Thinking and Design Thinking and suggests applications in education and avenues for future research. We aim to provide the foundation for future research into the application of design thinking teaching and learning strategies into a mixed systems design engineering curriculum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1025
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 22 2020
Event2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jun 22 2020Jun 26 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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