Courses Overview >> Short courses >> Transition Design: Seeding and Catalysing Systems-Level Change 2022

Transition Design: Seeding and Catalysing Systems-Level Change 2022

Key Info: 
  • Incorporate design thinking and practice into your work
  • Understand the dynamics within complex systems and wicked problems
  • Learn to frame problems within systems contexts that include the past, present and future
  • Develope compelling long-term future visions

Terry Irwin and Gideon Kossoff, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University and Cameron Tonkinwise, University of Technology, Sydney, co-originators of Transition Design

£ 1495.00
Course fees include all vegetarian meals, field trips, materials and all teaching sessions as well as simple, private accommodation with shared bathroom from the first lunchtime you arrive through until the lunchtime before your departure.

"You never really change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete​"
— Buckminster Fuller

"Transition Design is an emerging approach to seeding and catalyzing positive, systems-level change, pioneered at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, USA and has been taken up in over 20 universities around the world. Transition Design acknowledges that we are living in “transitional times” in which communities (and entire societies) must transition toward more sustainable, equitable and desirable long-term futures. It proposes that the tools and processes of design can be used not only by designers, but also by activists and practitioners from all walks of life. It argues for the development of ‘ecologies of solutions’ to complex, ‘wicked problems’ that solve for multiple issues simultaneously.

Transition Designers work to reconceive entire societal systems (energy, waste, food, transportation, shelter, health-care and education) and the policies through which these systems are managed (governance, legislation, finance) so that everyday life and lifestyles become not only more sustainable and equitable but also more convivial and fulfilling. Transition designers focus on the need for ​cosmopolitan localism​; co-created lifestyles that are diverse, place-based and regional, yet globally aware and interdependent, and symbiotic in their exchange of information, technology and culture. Transition Design uses a living systems approach to develop an understanding of the interconnectedness of social, economic, technological, political and natural systems to conceive solutions that leverage the power of interdependency and synergy. 

This course will introduce the tools and concepts of Transition Design, providing participants with a transdisciplinary body of principles and practical approaches that are applicable in a wide range of circumstances by a variety of stakeholders, including communities and municipalities, NGOs, non-profits, businesses, funding and professional organizations, and educational and research organizations.

Participants will be introduced to a broad and diverse range of readings orienting them within the four interrelated areas of the Transition Design Framework: Vision; Theories of Change; Mindset and Posture; and New Ways of Designing:

1. MINDSET AND POSTURE: Living in and through transitional times requires new ways of ‘being’ and ‘knowing’ in the world.

Fundamental societal change is often the result of a shift in mindset or worldview. Transitioning t owards more sustainable futures calls for new, ‘ecological’ ways of ‘knowing’ and ‘being’ in the world: it calls for changes in the individual and collective values, assumptions, expectations, beliefs and norms that are inherent in our dominant socio-economic, technological and political paradigms.

Mindsets and postures often go unnoticed and unacknowledged but they profoundly influence w hat is identified as a problem, how it is framed (its context), which stakeholders are engaged and how it is solved. Transition Design asks us to examine our own value system — the role that our ways of ‘knowing’ and ‘being’ plays in addressing complex problems. It argues that sustainable solutions to these wicked problems are best conceived within a more holistic worldview and mindset, the shifting of which can inform more collaborative postures amongst diverse stakeholders and can be part of  intentional processes of self-reflection and change.

2. THEORIES OF CHANGE: Never in history has the need for change been more urgent. The transition to a sustainable society will involve systems-level, ongoing societal change.

Transition Design argues that the social, economic, political and technological systems upon which society depends must urgently transition toward more sustainable futures, but that seeding and catalyzing systems level change requires a deep understanding of the dynamics of change itself — how and why change happens within complex social and natural systems.

Transition Design is therefore concerned with theories of change and argues that: 1) a theory of change is always present, and yet rarely acknowledged, within any designed/planned course of action; 2) transition to sustainable futures requires sweeping change at every level of our society; and 3) conventional, outmoded and seemingly intuitive ideas about change lie at the root of many wicked problems. Transition Design asks what are the psychological, social, economic, political and technological factors within societal systems that cause them to either remain inert or allows them to change. It also asks how can such change be influenced and intentionally directed (designed) towards more desirable and sustainable futures.

3. VISION: The transition to a sustainable society requires a vision of where we want to go.

Transition Design proposes that radically new ideas and compelling visions of sustainable and convivial futures are needed. It argues that we need to develop the ability to think rigorously and creatively about our long-term futures, proposing the reconception of entire lifestyles and addressing quality of life issues within the context of the everyday. It seeks to cultivate ways of living in which fundamental needs are satisfied in integrated, place-based ways, fostering symbiotic relationships between communities, the ecosystems within which they are situated and the planet as a whole.

Transition Design works to create planetary networks of sustainable, place-based communities at all levels of scale (households, neighbourhoods, cities and regions) which exchange knowledge, skills, technology, resources and culture — a ‘cosmopolitan localist’ society. It argues for a plurality of inclusive and co-created, compelling but flexible visions of long-term futures that we want to occupy—how things could be. Such visions can offer imaginative critiques of, and help transcend differences in, the present; they can act as magnets that motivate us to action and become a roadmap for how to move towards our desired futures.

4. NEW WAYS OF DESIGNING: Systems level change will require ways of designing that are informed by new ‘Mindsets and Postures’, ‘Theories of Change’ and ‘Visions’

Transition Design is complementary to/borrows from a myriad of other design approaches, but is distinct in its emphasis on:

1. principles from living systems (self-organization, emergence, etc) as a way of u nderstanding the dynamics within complex systems and wicked problems
2. stakeholder involvement in mapping wicked problems; resolving stakeholder c onflicts and leveraging areas of alignment
3. developing compelling long-term future visions
4. framing problems and visions within radically large, spatio-temporal contexts
5. thinking in terms of ‘systems interventions’ instead of one-off solutions
6. conceiving interventions that protect and restore both social and natural ecosystems
7. viewing solution/intervention context for conceiving solutions/interventions
8. cosmopolitan localism, a place-based lifestyle that is global in its awareness and e xchange of information and technology
9. designing and implementing interventions at multiple levels of scale, over short, mid a nd long time horizons
10. identifying emergent/grassroots solutions and amplifying them
11. linking both new and existing solutions into ‘ecologies’ of interventions that become s teps in transitions toward desirable, sustainable futures
12. basing designed interventions upon genuine ‘needs’ vs. wants/desires
13. viewing the designer’s own mindset/posture as an essential component of the design process
14. reintegrating and re-contextualization the knowledge that is necessary for doing this work.

This course is for you if:

  • You are a transition/sustainability/social/community activist seeking to incorporate design thinking and practice into your work.
  • You are a professional designer of any kind seeking to extend your practice into social and environmental fields.
  • You are working in a specialist field other than design and would like to explore how transition design can support and supplement your work, and the contribution that your field can make to transition design.
  • You are a layperson interested in learning more about how to think about developing solutions to complex social and environmental problems.
  • You are an educator who would like to incorporate transition design and systems thinking into your curriculum.
  • You would like an overview of the emerging field of transition design.
  • You wish to meet, study and network with others who are interested in transition design, systems-thinking and related fields.

Course Details:

Format: The morning is comprised of a brief period of reading* on your own followed by lectures and discussions on the concepts, methodology and practical application of Transition Design. The afternoons center around team-based work applying the ideas being explored through a series of exercises focused on a complex, place-based problem. Materials are provided for this studio-based work.

*participants will be provided with an extensive Transition Design Reader in PDF form prior to arrival. We recommend bringing a computer or tablet device on which daily readings can be accessed prior to class.

Themes: Course leaders will also discuss the origins, influences and inspiration of Transition Design which include: Transition Town Network, Sustainability Transitions Network, Socio-Technical

Transition Management and the Great Transition Initiative, among others. Other topics include cosmopolitan localism; the significance of living systems theory; the influence of worldview on design; everyday life as the fundamental context for transition; the theory of needs and satisfiers as a way of assessing the well-being of communities.

Skills: visioning/backcastcasting, contextual/systems-thinking, narrative and storytelling and visualizing/mapping wicked problems, ability to develop “ecologies” of synergistic solutions, emphasis on facilitation and collaboration in stakeholder groups.

Course objectives: the course aims to provide an overview and roadmap for further study for course participants and enable them to take key ideas and concepts back into their careers and communities.

For more detailed information on Transition Design:

*The Booking Deadline gives us an accurate idea of course participant numbers at approximately 6 weeks before the course is due to run, at which point we confirm the course, add additional time for people to book on or cancel the course. We encourage people to register early for courses as places are limited.

Terry Irwin and Gideon Kossoff, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University and Cameron Tonkinwise, University of Technology, Sydney, co-originators of Transition Design
Terry Irwin

Terry Irwin

Terry Irwin, Professor, School of Design, Director, Transition Design Institute: Carnegie Mellon University

Terry has been a designer for over 40 years and has taught design at the University level since 1986. She was a founding partner and creative director of the transdisciplinary design firm MetaDesign with offices in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Zurich. There she directed projects for clients such as Apple Computer, Nissan Motors, Berlin Transport Authority, Audi, Ernst & Young, Sony and Samsung among others.

In 2001, after becoming increasingly frustrated with the connections she saw between design solutions and the complex problems confronting society (pollution, over consumption, depletion of natural resources, etc.) Terry decided to leave professional design practice and return to school. A three week short course at Schumacher College in 2002 with environmentalist and physicist Fritjof Capra inspired her to move to Devon in 2003 to undertake full time studies in Schumacher’s Masters Degree in Holistic Science. Her masters thesis explored how principles of living systems could inform a more responsible and sustainable design process.

In 2004 Terry joined the faculty at Schumacher  College and taught design thinking. In 2007 she moved to Scotland to undertake PhD studies at the Centre for the Study of Natural Design at the University of Dundee. Her research explored the concept of worldview and mindset as the basis for more sustainable ways of designing.
In 2009 she moved to Pittsburgh to join the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University where she served as Head of School from 2009-2019 and led faculty in a 2-1/2 year redesign to place sustainability at the heart of all programs and curricula. In fall of 2014 the School launched all new programs and introduced Transition Design as an area of doctoral study and as a key strand in both undergraduate and graduate curricula. She is actively engaged in helping other colleges and universities to integrate Transition Design into courses and curricula.
Terry holds an MFA in Design from the Allgemeine Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel, Switzerland and an MSc in Holistic Science from Plymouth University/Schumacher College, England.

Gideon Kossoff

Gideon Kossoff

Gideon Kossoff, Faculty, School of Design, Associate Director, Transition Design Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

Gideon Kossoff is a social ecologist/social theorist whose research focuses on holism and the tradition of anti-authoritarian social and political thinking. He currently teaches Transition Design courses to undergraduates, graduates and Phd students in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University.

He has been involved in sustainability and green activism for his entire career, and studied at the Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont with its founder, ecophilosopher and social ecologist Murray Bookchin. From 1998 to 2007 Gideon was programme administrator and course tutor for the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, where he also managed the College library and built its extensive collection of books, and regularly created chaos in the kitchen.

Gideon completed his PhD in design at the Center for the Study of Natural Design at the University of Dundee, Scotland. In his doctoral thesis, he combined a concept he calls ‘radical holism’ with holistic science and began to develop the concept of Transition Design. His doctoral thesis was entitled 'Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life: a Framework for Transition to a Sustainable Society’. It is summarised in the book 'Grow Small, Think Beautiful' edited by Stephan Harding and published by Floris.
Gideon would like to spend more time doing astrology and delving into the esoteric tradition.

Cameron Tonkinwise

Cameron Tonkinwise

Cameron Tonkinwise, Professor, Director of the Design Innovation Research Centre, University of Technology, Sydney

Cameron has a background in philosophy and his doctoral dissertation concerned the educational philosophies of Martin Heidegger. He continues to research what designers can learn from philosophies of making, material culture studies and sociologies of technology. His primary area of research is sustainable design, focusing in particular on the design of systems that lower societal materials intensity, primarily by decoupling use and ownership - in other words, systems of shared use.

Cameron has published a range of articles on the role of design, and in particular, service design, in the promotion of the sharing economy and collaborative consumption. He has extensive experience with practice-based design research, having supervised and examined reflective practice and artifact-based research projects and written about the epistemologies particular to this kind of work.

Cameron was the Associate Dean Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, and before that Co-Chair of the Tishman Environment and Design Center and the Chair of Design Thinking and Sustainability in the School of Design Strategies. He was Director of Design Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney, and executive Director of Change Design, formerly known as the EcoDesign Foundation.

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Short Course Bursaries create an opportunity for an individual to experience the powerful transformative learning by joining a course that assists the participant to inspire their wider community and benefits from the participant’s own unique contribution. It is our hope that our bursaries support a wide cross section of participation on our short course programme. The number of bursaries available is limited, competition is strong and funding is not always available for every short course. Please be aware that most bursaries are in the region of 10% – 20% of the course fee so please be prepared to raise funding from other sources.  A bursary award is not intended to cover travel or incidental expenses.

Applications are viewed on a case-by-case basis and we are unable to enter into discussions on any decisions. We generally have many more applications for bursaries than we have funding available. We can only offer one bursary per person per year and priority is given to those who have not attended the college or received a bursary before. To help us support as many people as possible, please only apply if you would be unable to attend the course without a bursary.

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NB: Please do not pay your deposit for the course yet. Any applications received where a deposit has been paid will be rejected and the deposit refunded.

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  1. What does a bursary mean to you?
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Please be prepared to supply an appropriate reference in support of your application.