My presentation at RSD3 symposium

This is the presentation I prepared for RSD3 symposium “Emerging contexts for systems perspectives in design” (AHO, Oslo). Proceedings will soon be online here:

The conference was a great opportunity to relate what I am doing to a design approach I knew very little about.



Drawing Futures Together. Diagrams for the Design of Scenarios of Liveable Cities

This work introduces an ongoing research project that seeks to develop appropriate visual techniques for the design of future scenarios that are able to capture interdependencies within and across different systems. These design methods are being explored as part of a wider research on the future of cities and sustainable urban living.

The issue of cities as complex systems has been explored by a considerable amount of literature, across different disciplines (for example, Simmel, 1971; Lynch, 1960; Jacobs, 1992; Abrams and Hall, 2004). Cities are not only defined by buildings and infrastructure, but also by the material and immaterial flows generated by the activities that take place in the urban environment, as well as the personal experience of its inhabitants

Environmental, social, and economic challenges call for actions of radical interventions in modern urban areas. In order to be truly sustainable these actions must be collaboratively developed in trans-disciplinary sessions. Here, people from various backgrounds and with different interests explore alternative solutions, find a common ground and plan concrete actions towards a desirable future (Holman et al., 2007).

One of the challenges of this approach is to find effective ways to visualize how individual solutions impact on the context in which they are implemented, and how they relate to each other. There is a need to develop “means for drawing things together” (Bruno Latour, 2008), a common language to describe complexity and allow hidden interdependencies to emerge. The field of information visualization is rich with examples of how diagrams can be used to describe a complex matter by focusing primarily on the relations between different sets of qualitative and quantitative data. Drawing on Deleuze philosophical interpretation, Scagnetti (2007) describes diagrams as “operating devices able to reveal weak links among the elements of the system, and to show the driving forces that can facilitate (or hinder) a design intervention.” In this context diagrams are processes rather than finished products: they are working tools for design and decision making.
This paper describes how this diagrammatic approach to city visualization is being adopted in different case studies, and as part of the Liveable Cities project.
Liveable Cities is an interdisciplinary research project that aims to develop a method of designing and engineering low-carbon, resource-secure UK cities that do not compromise on individual and collective wellbeing. Different areas of the project are investigated by research teams at Lancaster University, University of Southampton, UCL, and Birmingham University, with the help of expert panelists, partners and potential users of future services. Great importance is given in the research to the human dimension of living and working in a city. Quality of life, wellbeing, and citizen aspirations must be assessed and translated into design criteria for transforming the engineering of cities to deliver low-carbon living solutions.
A series of short Future Visioning Workshops that bring together leading experts from different sectors are being organized. These activities allow us to broaden the scope of academic research to include not only designers, engineers, and social scientists, but also external stakeholders, in the definition of desirable urban scenarios. The outcomes of these sessions, that combine hands-on activities and open discussions, are then collected in visualizations, layered to highlight interconnections, synergies and contradictions. Collectively, these visions will inform design and engineering recommendations developed by Liveable Cities’ team of researchers and co-investigators.
At the time of the symposium, the preliminary outcomes of the Future Visioning Workshops will be ready to be presented. Any feedback from other researchers working in systemic design, will be useful to evaluate whether, and to what extent, a similar approach can be applied to other research projects. This information will be included in the working paper, and will be taken into consideration in the stages of definition, evaluation, and further application of the methods.
While diagrams and visual methods that are being designed for the Liveable Cities program might not be directly applicable to different projects, radical design actions in complex systems require the development of specific methodologies for scenario making. These scenarios are articulated visions, generated in a trans-disciplinary context, that provide involved actors with a common direction for their design actions (Jegou and Manzini, 2004).


Abrams, J., Hall, P., 2004. Else/where: mapping. University of Minnesota Design Institute ; University Presses Marketing, Minneapolis, Minn.; Bristol.

Bruno Latour, 2008. A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (with Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk), in: Keynote Lecture. Presented at the Networks of Design, Design History Society, Falmouth, Cornwall.

Gaia Scagnetti, Donato Ricci, Giovanni Baule, Paolo Ciuccarelli, 2007. Reshaping Communication Design Tools. Complex Systems Structural Features for Design Tools. Presented at the IASDR07, International Association of Societies of Design Research, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

George Simmel, 1971. The Metropolis of Modern Life, in: On Individuality and Social Forms. Levine, Donald, Simmel, p. 324.

Holman, P., Devane, T., Cady, S., 2007. The change handbook the definitive resource on today

Jacobs, J., 1992. The death and life of great American cities. Vintage Books, New York.

Jegou, F., Manzini, E., 2004. Design degli scenari, in: Bertola, P., Manzini, E. (Eds.), Design multiverso, appunti di fenomenologia del design. Polidesign, Milan, pp. 177

Lynch, K., 1960. The Image of the City. MIT Press.

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