A methodological framework and an interactive tool to address the systemic aspect of sustainability

PhD student: Laetitia Bornes
PhD supervisors: Catherine Letondal, and Rob Vingerhoeds
Date: 2021 – 2024

The influence of artefacts on our practices, as highlighted by Material culture, shows the importance of design in the ecological transition, a major issue in our society. Although sustainability cannot be based on technological solutions, it should be a central concern of human-computer interactive systems design.
In Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Systems Engineering (SE), current efforts for a more sustainable world focus on the energy efficiency of a system, optimising its life cycle, and encouraging users to save energy. Some voices in the HCI community recognise that the current approach, which focuses on the material impact of artefacts, is reductive and insufficient in the face of this systemic problem. It misses the opportunity to facilitate a necessary change in societal practices. In fact, Sustainable HCI projects attempt to respond to problems that have not been clearly formulated, and the community struggles to develop tools and methods for this purpose.

Systemic design, an emerging practice resulting from the combination of design and systems thinking, has developed methods for addressing complex problems. We propose to draw inspiration from these methods to apprehend the systemic aspect of the ecological transition in the design of interactive systems, particularly in the formulation of the problem and the objectives.

Our objective is to adapt the methods and tools of systemic design to help designers of interactive systems (e.g. agricultural robots) to analyse and target issues at the scale of a sociotechnical system (such as the agriculture sector). It is a question of understanding the contexts in which the designed system will be placed, and its possible impacts at scale, so as to avoid simplistic solutions that could be counterproductive (e.g. rebound effect). In particular, we propose the use of « quali-quantitative » modelling in order to represent the dynamics of the social system (e.g. consumption behaviours), the possible interactions with the parameters of the system to be designed, and to compare scenarios according to relevant variables (e.g. the carbon footprint).

Related Publication

Bornes, L., Letondal, C., Vingerhoeds, R. (2022). Could Systemic Design Methods Support Sustainable Design of Interactive Systems?. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD11) Symposium. https://rsdsymposium.org/could-systemic-design-methods-support-sustainable-design-of-interactive-systems/

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