Systems & Design Thinking: A Conceptual Framework for Their Integration


  • John Pourdehnad University of Pennsylvania
  • Dennis Wilson Organization Dynamics Program, University of Pennsylvania
  • Erica Wexler


Systems Thinking, Design Thinking, Ackoff, Integrative Thinking, Problem Solving, Synthesis,


This paper explores the relationship between Systems and Design Thinking.  It specifically looks into the role of Design in Systems Thinking and how looking at the world through a systems lens influences Design.  Our intention is to show the critical concepts developed in the Systems and Design Thinking fields, their underlying assumptions, and the ways in which they can be integrated as a cohesive conceptual framework.

While there are many important distinctions that must be considered to understand the similarities and differences of these concepts, gaining a complete understanding of these factors is more than can be covered in this paper.  Nevertheless, the most critical classifying variable used to distinguish these concepts will be discussed in order to make their integration possible. 

This variable, the recognition of purposeful behavior, will be used to develop a conceptual vision for how a combined approach can be used to research, plan, design and manage social systems.Systems in which people play the principle role.

Author Biography

John Pourdehnad, University of Pennsylvania

Adjunct Professor and Associate Director Ackoff Collaboratory for Advancement of Systems Approaches



How to Cite

Pourdehnad, J., Wilson, D., & Wexler, E. (2011). Systems & Design Thinking: A Conceptual Framework for Their Integration. Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2011, Hull, UK, 55(1). Retrieved from