6th December, 2017

Transition Design is an area of design research, practice and study which looks toward design-led societal transition toward more sustainable futures. Social Design Sydney is very excited to be hosting Professor Terry Irwin from Carnegie Melon University to talk about the emerging design field of Transition Design.

Fundamental change at every level of our society is needed to address the issues confronting us in the 21st century. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, depletion of natural resources and the widening gap between rich and poor are just a few of the ‘wicked problems’ that require new approaches to problem solving.


Transition Design acknowledges that we are living in ‘transitional times’. It takes as its central premise the need for societal transitions to more sustainable futures and argues that design has a key role to play in these transitions. It applies an understanding of the interconnectedness of social, economic, political and natural systems to address problems at all levels of spatiotemporal scale in ways that improve quality of life.


Terry will present the keynote below, followed by a response by Kees Dorst who will respond with some of his case studies and insights about systems transformation.


A panel discussion will follow with Terry, Kees and Sasha Abram who is a service design practitioner about to embark on a Transition Design related PhD.

The Vision for and Posture involved in Transition Design by Terry Irwin

Transition Design is set of knowledges and practices assembled by colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University to bring together Sustainability Transition Management and the professional practice of design. Transition Management researchers tend to miss the mediating power of designing in their Theories of Change. But more significantly, designers, even those working on Wicked Problems, are not well-informed about strategies for effecting multi-stage systems-level change in our societies. Terry Irwin will explain the Transition Design model that has been developed to teach designers about ways of realising longer term change. Terry will share recent project work in which a range of stakeholders in Ojai, California have used a range of tools to develop shared visions for transitioning their community to more careful water usage.

About Terry Irwin

Terry Irwin is the Head of the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University and has been teaching at the University level since 1986. Her research is in Transition Design, a new area of design study, practice and research that argues for societal transition toward more sustainable futures. Terry, along with Gideon Kossoff and Cameron Tonkinwise developed Transition Design and integrated into programs and curricula at the School of Design in 2014.

Terry has been a practicing designer for more than 40 years and was one of the founding partners of MetaDesign, an international design firm with offices in Berlin, London, San Francisco and Zurich. Terry has held faculty positions at Otis Parsons School of Design, Los Angeles (1986-1989), California College of Arts & Crafts, San Francisco (1989-2003) and the University of Dundee, Scotland (2007-2009). She has guest lectured and taught at numerous schools in Europe and North America including Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles, The University of Washington, Seattle, Arizona State University, Tempe, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, University of the Arts, London, The Free University of Bolzen-Bolzano, Italy and the ICIS Centre, Denmark, among others. She holds a masters degree in design from the Basel School of Design, Switzerland.

See Terry speak: Design a Worldview for Social Impact: Terry Irwin at TEDxArtCenterCollegeOfDesign

About Kees Dorst

Kees Dorst was educated as an Industrial Design Engineer at Delft University of Technology, and studied Philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Currently, he is Professor of Design Innovation at the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation of the University of Technology Sydney. He is the founder of the UTS Design Innovation Research Centre and the NSW Designing Out Crime research centres. He lectures at Universities and design schools throughout the world. He has published many articles and several books – including ‘Understanding Design’ (2003, 2006) and ‘Design Expertise’ (2009), with Bryan Lawson. His most recent books are ‘Frame Innovation – create new thinking by design‘ (2015) ‘Designing for the Common Good’ (2016) and ‘Notes on Design – How creative practice works’ (2017).

About Sasha Abram

Sasha Abram is a service designer and researcher with expertise in fashion and retail, service reform and design studies. Her research interests include consumption practices, design philosophy and community building. She employs a human-centred approach to designing with industry for social innovation and sustainable outcomes. She is currently a design researcher at Westpac working in the Customer Centred Design team on organisational transformation.

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