Design education plays an important role in the transition towards a sustainable future and it requires re-learning of normative perceptions by educators and students in the present educational system. Studies show that students lack systemic competences and understanding when working in sustainable, social or complex real-world challenges (e.g.Østergaard, 2019) and “[…] lack of systemic wisdom is always punished. “(Bateson, 1972:440).

UNESCO (2021) points at how teaching and learning curricula should provide a “re-learning” of the systems surrounding us; how activities are interconnected with a damaged planet and “unlearning the human arrogance that has resulted in massive biodiversity loss, the destruction of entire ecosystems, and irreversible climate change” (UNESCO, 2021). According to UNESCO, future curricula must address and enhance students’ connectivity with nature and biosphere as an educational space using knowledge commons, social and emotional learning and community involvement practices. Over the past 10-20 years a new field of research and practice within the area of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)has emerged in Higher Educations (HE), revising the concept of education and illustrating how ESD can become the core of a transformation of the societies in the Anthropocene (UNESCO, 2014, 2018, 2021). Teaching and learning in the ’Anthropocene’ (Latour, 2017) involves generating new educational practices and perceptions when entering an epoch where all human activities affects all life critical zones on Earth. With the 17 Development Goals (SDG) (UN, 2015)a platform of construing the Worlds challenges has provided a normative argument for the political educational path forward. In this regard, the challenges of making the students understand their positions in the system of the ‘Anthropocene’ require developing a new profound systemic revision and understanding of the view of the planet Earth and a recogniqtion of the interconnectedness between human acticivities and nature in educational practices. (Poulsen, 2021)

This paper asks the question if we can enhance the students systemic competences by using “Operative mapping” (Paez, 2019) tools and explores how the present design educations mirroring practices of the industry influences the development of the students systemic competences. “‘Mapping’ refers to the practice of making maps. The verb ‘to operate’ implies agency – to produce an effect, to perform a function, to exert an influence” (Ibid: 21). In relation to our Design & Business students who predominantly are educated to enter the Lifestyle Industries (Fashion, furniture, etc.) we do however employ the concept of (operative) mapping with a bilateral approach. One approach is to create an understanding of the complexity of the lifestyle industries through student-led development of mapping the current systems. The other approach is the development of maps that propose alternative systems “Maps do not inform; they propose. Rather than representation of reality, they are systems of propositions” (Paez, 2019:21). The first tests of employing ‘operative mapping’ is executed among fashion design students “[…] as in design we have become so focused on the object that we have lost touch with the wider systemic conditions from which the object originates.” (Chapman, 2021:63).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventThe 24th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education: Disrupt, Innovate, Regenerate & Transform - London South Bank University, London SE1 0AA, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 8 Sept 20229 Sept 2022
Conference number: 24


ConferenceThe 24th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education
LocationLondon South Bank University, London SE1 0AA
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • textiles
  • Systemic understanding
  • design education
  • operative mapping
  • student centered learing


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  • Systems thinking and interdisciplinarity in disciplinary design education

    Harsaae, M., Østergaard, T. & Bang, A. L., 7 Sept 2022, Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2022): London South Bank University in London, UK. 8th - 9th September 2022. Bohemia, E., Buck, L. & Grierson, H. (eds.). London: Design Society, Vol. 24. 6 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution to proceedingpeer-review

    Open Access

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