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A collaborative initiative to build common ground and foster shared action


The Center for Design (CfD) at Northeastern University (NU) is: (1) a platform for interdisciplinary design research, (2) a space for collaborative research activities, and (3) a hub for connecting the actors of the design ecosystem, within NU, in the Boston area, and beyond.

The CfD has a commitment to sharing knowledge and (research) practices, shaping common tools and methods, and strengthening a unified disciplinary ground. The CfD was founded in late 2019 and launched in January 2020 – right before the COVID-19 pandemic exploded. We’re now in the phase of shaping and grounding the CfD’s research agenda and what we are learning from this unprecedented phenomenon should be part of our foundations.

In this perspective, we started a conversation with different players about the present and the future of design with complex issues to tackle such as the current pandemic, climate change, and the rise of AI-based platforms. We found a strong convergence around the importance of thinking holistically and embracing a systemic approach when thinking and acting through design (something NU design education is rooted in through courses as Design Systems, originated in 2006 by Professor Nathan Felde, and adjunct faculty such as Professor of the Practice Hugh Dubberly) together with a shared sense of the urgency of (re)stating it, now.


We envision a meta-platform comprised of existing and new platforms, for building a common understanding and fostering collaborative action. This meta-platform will consist of talks, seminars, documents, and other shared initiatives. We aim at sparking conversations within and outside the design field, both in the academic context and in the professional domain: we are reaching out to practitioners, design lovers, academics, and industry players.

Externally, the aim is to help build a shared body of knowledge and promote a deeper understanding and adoption of systems thinking and meta-design, with a focus on design action/design doing. Internally, we want this approach to be the core of both the Center for Design’s research agenda and the positioning of design as a discipline within Northeastern University.

We want to help waive – and build upon – the existing and ongoing conversations, initiatives, movements, networks, platforms and work being done about metadesign, systems thinking, and systemic design approaches: Among others, Paul Pangaro’s request to think about and re-imagine an ethical and responsible future for Ai — Responding to the Pandemic of “Today’s AI”, as well as to engage in broader conversations for tackling complex problems with the #NewMacy initiative; Paul Pangaro and Hugh Dubberly’s Cybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action (Dubberly & Pangaro, 2019) and Systems Design with emphasis on Humberto Maturana’s work (Maturana, n.d.; Yáñez & Romesín, 2013); Don Norman is challenging his original human-centered-design approach to a broader approach to design for wellbeing for people, society, and the planetThe Future of Design Education: A conversation with Don Norman and with his Future of Design Education initiative – with the System Thinking workgroup, led by Pangaro and Dubberly; the DCODE Network offers a postdisciplinary framework and pedagogical approach to rethink design in the light of a persistent digital transformation of society; the Systemic Design Framework — Beyond Net Zero: A Systemic Design Approach just launched by Design Council in April 2021; the Relating Systems Thinking and Design – the annual symposium organized by local hosts under the “sanction, guidance and assistance” of the Systemic Design Association (RSD10 in Delft, Nov 3-6, 2021); the “More-then-Human Futures” Design PhD 2021 Summer School at Politecnico di Milano  – and counting.


The CfD is working with the Design Research Society (DRS)to experiment with new formats (such as the recently launched “DRS Festival of Emergence”) to foster conversation between DRS members (and beyond), in the path towards the 2022 DRS conference in Bilbao.

The “Meta-Design” gathering we are proposing here is conceived to be one of these experiments, with the idea of potentially contributing a track proposal for the conference. DRS can therefore endorse and support our event.