Professional Round Table


Driving the Design Thinking Process Through a Systems Approach

Dimitrios S. Varsos

Department of Informatics, University of Piraeus, 80, Karaoli & Dimitriou Street, GR-18534, Piraeus, Greece
MSI Hellas Consulting Group, Irakleous 2, GR-11743, Athens, Greece



In an ever-changing interconnected world in which the only certainty is uncertainty, it is essential that organizations be vigilant of their capacity to understand the various design principles that are needed to come together, in order to create a user experience that is congruent to their expectations. At the same time, organizations need to embrace a solution-based approach with which to address the complex problems, which are a consequence of the internal and external forces that impact their structures and functions. In this context, design thinking needs to be approached as a continues process through which one seeks to understand the believes, values, and needs of the ultimate users of the organization’s products and/or services, in an attempt to challenge prevailing paradigms and to identify alternative strategies and solutions. This process, however, is often undermined by the application of traditional methods and tools that rely solely on analytical thinking. Application of analytical thinking involves the determination of the meaning of what is studied in the context of a reductionist approach: reducing the whole into its constituent elements (parts), understanding each element separately, and aggregating understanding of the individual elements into an understanding of the whole. Given the networks of interdependencies that exist among the interacting elements, application of a reductionist method typically results in the loss of the essential properties of both the whole that is of interest, as well as those that define the parts of which the whole is composed. Hence, decisions relative to user needs lack clarity, and the organization’s products and/or services the characteristics that result in a positive user experience. Systems thinking is fundamentally different from the reductionist method in that it focuses on the understanding of how and why the various elements affect one another within a defined unified whole. A systems approach concentrates on the understanding of the interactions of the constituent elements of a system that produces a behavior, rather than the actions of the isolated parts. Systemic design thinking is a structured way of addressing user needs. It utilizes powerful methods and tools that are designed to generate and organize information about complex systems, and dynamic conditions that are neither intuitive nor linear. It revolves around a fundamental interest in developing an understanding of the users of the products and/or services that are offered by the organization. It enables the organization to develop empathy with the target user. Systemic design thinking drives a continual process of questioning the problems that are associated with the organization’s operation, the assumptions that frame the problems identified, and the long-term implications of the solutions that are implemented. Moreover, systemic design thinking is extremely useful in tackling “messy” problems that are ill-defined or unknown, which require significant judgments that involve multiple stakeholders, by re-framing the problem in an anthropocentric way. It is instrumental in generating ideas and adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping, testing, and trying out novel concepts and ideas. The need for a systemic approach to design thinking has never been more imperative given the unexpected consequences resulting from the pandemic (including changing trends concerning the workplace and consumer behavior), which have forced organizations in all public and private sectors to respond to, cope with, and look beyond the crisis.



Dimitrios S. Varsos holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Informatics of the University of Piraeus. He received his Master’s Degree in Organization and Management, concentrating in Industrial Technical Management. He is the co-founder and Managing Director of MSI Hellas Consulting Group. His work in research, consulting and education involves more than 140 corporations and governmental agencies in Europe, the U.S. and Russia. His research areas of interest include systems theory, complex adaptive systems, organizational theory, systemic methodologies, systems modeling and simulation. Mr. Varsos is a Member of the Board of Directors of the Hellenic Society for Systemic Studies (HSSS) and a lecturer in the Post-Graduate Professional Program Certified Systemic Analyst Professional (CSAP).