Eric Benson; Priscilla Ferronato

Published On


Page Range

pp. 155-172

Print Length

17 pages

7. Design Education in the Anthropocene

Teaching Systems Thinking

  • Eric Benson (author)
  • Priscilla Ferronato (author)
The following chapter by Eric Benson and Priscilla Ferronato discusses how teaching design through the process of systems thinking, as derived from the disciplines of both ecology and biology, is the best path forward to prevent the worst-case scenarios of climate change. Systems thinking is a process that can help designers to uncover the root cause of a problem and how it connects to the larger picture: people, profit and planet (and everything in between). The conditions of the Anthropocene mean that designers must be able to identify the social, political and environmental repercussions of their work – and take responsibility for them. This process empowers designers to evaluate and shift the emphasis of their outcomes to consider the demand put on our natural resources: where and how we get materials to produce our projects, who and what is affected by our decisions and what will happen to the project after it is implemented. The systems thinking process explored in this chapter is a four-step model (determine ¬project goals, map out the design problem, brainstorm design outcomes and evaluate each possible design outcome) as set forth in the 2017 book Design to Renourish: Sustainable Graphic Design in Practice. The authors, who are based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, taught this systems thinking model over two years in three different courses to test its effectiveness and make improvements to the process, methods, tools and resources from one academic term to the next.


Eric Benson


Priscilla Ferronato