Design for complex systems Analyzing relations
People & perspectives People& Perspectives
People and Transformation Mediating Perspectives

Who am I?

A strategic designer interested in complex challenges

For me design is a way of thinking, experimenting, analyzing, reflecting and synthesizing.

  • Britt Smulders
  • BSc Industrial Design
  • Design Leadership & entrepreneurship
  • Processes, Business, User & Society
  • Passionate, Strategic, Intuitive
A vision about supporting transformation through design
I design in organizations, multi-stakeholder situations and complex systems

In my case, this means that design is a constant movement between the abstract and the concrete. It is about understanding the larger system and being able to understand the details and intricacies of the relations. Designers will be working more and more with wicked problems where the scale, complexity and level of social integration has increased. Design then moves from making, towards creating value through innovation and service design to organizational transformation with changing work practices, strategies and structures, and finally to social transformation, social systems, policy making and community design (Jones, 2014). These domains differ when it comes to skills, attitude and practices such as collaboration, methods and stakeholder participation.

In these situations, from my perspective, design should be about opening up the system to different perspectives and enabling interrelations. This requires a new way of thinking, more in line with complex thought to understand these complex systems, and stops treating design as merely creating final ‘products’ or tools. Instead looking at design as a way of thinking, experimenting, analyzing, reflecting and synthesizing. For me design then is a certain way of looking at situations and systems. Design can be used to externalize thoughts and perspectives in a way that is different from other fields. It distinguishes itself from other disciplines through its experiential nature, ability to see relations, and to use different perspectives – creating the starting grounds for transformation.

Identity

Curious, Creative & Analytic

I am a curious and creative person with analytic mind this makes me drawn to complex societal challenges where a ‘solution’ does not exist. I like to dive into the complexity of these wicked situations and emerge myself completely in the context that I am working in.

I am curious which means that I have broad interests. In design I am therefore often looking for knowledge both inside and outside the field of design. Also, it drives me to approach situations from multiple perspectives. This means that when diving into this complexity of wicked problems I like to get in contact with people that inspire me and have collaborations that trigger my thinking. I am also a sensitive and intuitive person which makes me a good listener and able to connect to others in conversations and discussions in a very personal way.

I am an abstract and analytical thinker but being a designer, my work is also heavily involved with practice. I work well in settings that are very ambiguous and uncertain, giving me the freedom to work on an abstract level and at the same time zoom into the micro level to experiment and reflect. My strength in design is at the very start of any process, where everything is still open.

Overall Growth
Exploring and finding my own position - embracing my personal perspective

In my time in the Master program I have most of all learned to embrace my interests and personal perspective. Just as I have built my own program that fits my interests and perspective, this program has also built me into the person and designer that I am today. This allowed me to create a position that truly fits me as a person.

Throughout my bachelor and the first semester of my Master program I have worked on designing products and services that support people in their way of working. The increasing complexity of the challenges that I worked on and my personal interest to embrace this made me bump into the boundaries of my environment and Industrial Design.

This forced me into a new direction. I started to explore what my design perspective meant in different contexts - I explored design on different interfaces. I started taking courses that challenged my design perspective from different angles. Perspectives from strategy, innovation, philosophy, ethics, and the social sciences all highlight different aspects of design and informed my work from then on.

For me challenging myself also meant moving to the context of policy making and seeing what I could bring to the table in an environment with an interest in multi-stakeholder collaborations, different organizations, strategic processes and complex issues. This challenged me time and time again to confront the edges my perspective and stretch myself to explore different ways of using design than (just) designing products and services. This made that I formed my own perspective on how I worked as a designer in these complex contexts using different perspectives in my process.

My final master project was the time to push through and synergize my learnings in a design process. In this project I explored the way of working (together) in complex contexts, such as the energy transition. This allowed me to take all the skills, knowledge, and perspectives I gathered in all the projects, electives, work in practice and extracurricular activities and show my unique perspective on design.

Most of all, what I saw during my master was that my strength is in taking my own perspective and always challenging myself to continue learning.

Bachelor
  • A design perspective
  • (supporting) Working on challenges in a design environment
  • Designing products, services and tools to support others in their way of working
  • Fitting in with the environment
Master
  • A design perspective informed by strategy, innovation management, social sciences and continuing to explore
  • Supporting work on complex challenges in a multi-stakeholder environment
  • Using design in the broadest sense through research, facilitation, futures, questioning perspectives, building, changing questioning stories, communication and strategic processes
  • Finding, creating and embracing my own perspective
My Expertise Areas

Throughout my years at Industrial Design I have developed my own interpretation of the Expertise Areas that fits with my vision on design and identity.

Business & Entrepreneurship

is about understanding how organizations work; managing processes with multiple stakeholders; creating, evaluating and validating strategic directions and processes; leadership; looking at the micro and macro-economic contexts surrounding the design and system; sustainable business networks; creating value propositions and business cases that are not limited to creating financial value.

User & Society

for me this is about creating value for people through looking at the social, political and cultural implications of design; sharing different perspectives; understanding the world through interactions with stakeholders; being able to shift between designing for an individual and the system; it is about evaluating directions, concepts and designs with people; understanding the ethical implications of design.

Design & Research Processes

for me design is about approaching things from different perspectives and having a reflective attitude; embracing the complexity of systemic challenges; approaching challenges from both a theoretical and practical perspective; switching between intuition and reason through strategically interchanging thinking and making; adapting your methods in a way that fit the challenge.

Creativity & Aesthetics

is about using a 1st, 2nd and 3rd person perspective to reflect on design; creatively approaching challenges and involving stakeholders in the process of designing; communicating ideas through making them tangible and visible; using both intuition and knowledge in the creative process; speculation using design

Math, Data & Computing

is about getting a grasp of complexity through (mostly qualitative) data; looking at relations & identifying patterns; using data to support arguments and inform decisions; visualizing data to communicate; using qualitative and quantitative data in the process; giving meaning to data through looking at context.

Technology & Realization

is about mediating interactions between people; exploring the potential of technology in multi-stakeholder collaborations for wicked problems; exploring, visualizing and creating innovative concepts with the appropriate technologies; mediating interactions; complementing human skill and interaction

M1.1

The need for a change of pace

In my M11 project we designed AVA: a tool for perinatal healthcare professionals that creates more transparency in the different perspectives through a shared digital and physical space.

Here I saw how design and technology have the ability to mediate perspectives and relations through altering interactions. By working together with a team on this project I had to learn many new skills when it comes to communication, decision making as a team and using the strengths of different team members. I learned how to design a product from a specific theoretical perspective and evaluate it in a professional context with users. My main focus was on framing the project as well as on how to design the dynamics, interactions and aesthetics from a user perspective and demonstrating it with a prototype of the right fidelity.

report
Constructive Design Research

In the course constructive design research, I have chosen to work on a reflection of what CDR is at the department of Industrial Design. The ‘interventions’ that we used in this design research helped us to gather knowledge about constructive design research and design research in general. What I have seen in this course is that the thing that sets design researchers apart from other researchers is that we make sense of the world through making. This means that construction itself is what we use to make sense of the world around us. It is the ‘constructing’ that helps me as a designer to make sense of these wicked situations in a way that other types of research cannot.

Paper
Philosophy of Science and Technology

In this course I learned about different perspectives on scientific and technological progress. Analyzing these perspectives and writing my own essays helped me to understand these critical perspectives, reflect on how they still hold at this moment and take a stance myself. This forced me to be critical of my own perspective towards what progress means for me and how I use technology. For me technology is about supporting people and human interaction and not innovating just to create something new. It is about being critical about what we develop and how it can impact relations and society at large.

Essay
How my M11 semester shaped me
Finding the need for a new perspective

In this semester I found the need for a change of pace in my master. Through the project and courses, I discovered that my interests go beyond designing products, services and tools. Instead, I saw that designs can be used to mediate relations and perspectives and to do research.

I found myself being critical on my own perspective and felt the need to develop my own perspective further in my master. In this way this first semester was really about letting go of a previous perspective and finding the need to explore new things.

M1.2

Entering the world of organizations and multi-stakeholder collaborations

In my research project I dove full-force into a new context and new challenge by working for a public-private investment fund.

Here I had the opportunity to start exploring what my design perspective brought to the table in this setting. I saw the importance looking at (personal) relations through different types of data, sharing and engaging with different perspectives and consciously defining the boundary of your challenge. It was my first encounter with a multi-stakeholder setting up-close, where I got to take part in all activities. I had to start learning how to communicate my role, perspective and value to others in these situations. In the project I positioned a several ideas based on both systems and complexity theory as well as practice, which was not meant to provide a concrete tool but rather to better understand the potential ways to navigate complexity.

All in all, this project was a reflection of what it means to use systems and complexity concepts from a designerly perspective.

Paper
Entrepreneurial Finance

The focus of the course was on developing a set of methods for the valuation and financing of new ventures. I learned more about the kind of financial issues of entrepreneurial ventures and early-stage investors. This also means learning about the different phases of new (technology) ventures and the issues relevant in each phase of the life cycle. Therefore, the analysis of R&D risks using real options was also one of the methods covered in the course. A key take-away from following this course is that you need some knowledge of different expertise’s to be able to talk to people in these disciplines – this is an important skill. What I also saw here is my interest is not in (corporate) entrepreneurship

Business case
Design Leadership and Entrepreneurship

In this course I learned that I tend to take a leadership perspective – by looking at long term perspectives, processes and determining directions. This fits very well with how I work as a designer when working on wicked situations, not tied to a single organization and looking at the more systemic level – to the wider society. For me it is about supporting and helping others access their own powers and strengths and make their own decisions. I also have some entrepreneurial qualities. For me entrepreneurs are people who speculate and operate in uncertain environments and that take opportunities with a future-oriented perspective – two qualities that characterize me and my work.

Leadership infographic
How my M12 semester shaped me
Starting to find my own position and perspective

This semester was centered around learning more about my own perspective and interests. I got to explore multi-stakeholder collaborations in practice. Here I saw first-hand the importance of (personal) relations, engaging with perspectives and being sensitive towards boundaries. I learned to speak different languages through engaging with people from different disciplines and by operating in a policy making environment.

Next to that, I learned about myself as a person and how I tend to operate in a leadership position. This for me is not about being a traditional leader but about listening to others and supporting them in finding and taking up their own strengths and positions. This is something that is important in my process but it is also the focus of my work as a designer

M2.1

creating the starting grounds

In this project I worked on supporting organizational change in the Province through design. Supporting their journey towards an integrated way of working on complex societal challenges.

This project was centered around going out of my comfort zone in many ways. I helped to create workshop sessions for groups of people which is something that I had not done before. Even though I did not host the sessions, I learned a lot about how to design and organize such events. Additionally, I brought back more of my design skills by using storytelling and scenarios to discuss directions and potential for change in the organization. To do this, I designed the ‘organizational software’ of the future which was used to confront employees. Through these activities I got a much better understanding of the Province as an organization and what they need to work on complex problems from different perspectives.

Report
Strategy and Technology Management

In this course I deepened my understanding of core concepts of strategy and organizational change. Also, I learned more about how open innovation processes work and the role of networks of external partners (ecosystems) in this process. This understanding was tested through creating a draft research paper. It was in this course that I saw how different my perspective as a designer is from ‘traditional’ organizational researchers. As a designer who worked in public-private ecosystems I did not focus on the traditional firm perspective but looked at a bigger picture of innovation around challenges such as healthcare, energy, and food . This is a perspective that is still very new to organizational sciences and strategy.

Paper
Network Society

Through following this course I deepened my understanding of social network theory and analysis. Network analysis is about relationships between or among social entities, which can be individuals and/or organizations. I learned of classic network theories and their relation to innovation and change on a micro, meso, and macro level. Additionally, I learned how to analyze networks and social relations between people based on qualitative and quantitative data using calculations by hand and using software tools. Lastly, I learned how to analyze technological development trajectories through patent citation data. For me learning more about relations at different scales and how to analyze them was a key take-away from this course.

Network analysis
How my M21 shaped me
Developing the starting grounds for my own perspective and position

This semester I explored in-depth what my perspective entails. I deepened my understanding of strategy and organizational research and found where my design perspective is unique. In addition, I learned more about how to look at (personal) relations on different levels. In the project I created the starting grounds for working on organizational change and strategic processes.

These activities allowed me to write a fitting FMP proposal bringing together my interests in designing to support different ways of working, strategic processes in organizations and working on complex problems. In addition, I gained trust in my work from within the Provincial organization which allowed me to continue working here on my FMP.

M2.2

Working (together) in complex contexts

How can we, as designers, support stakeholders in working (together) in complex contexts such as the energy transition?

In this project I examine this question from the perspective of regional policy making in the Province of Noord Brabant. To explore potential answers to this question two designs were created situated in policy making practice. The first design focuses on supporting collaborative governance through building personal connections in a dialogue. The second design is a future scenario focused on emergent connections between individual policy makers through dynamic information sharing.

The dialogues, evaluations and conversations using the designs and my own perspective led to scaffolds for complexity-based ways of working. These scaffolds and the principles for ways of working are a guide for the strategic process of working on the energy infrastructure challenge in the coming months (and years).

Report
A holistic reflection on my FMP
Finding and becoming myself as a designer

This semester I found the courage to be true to my own perspective as a designer – a bold statement but one I fully stand behind. In this semester I was able to take a stand and use all the skills and knowledge I gathered over the past years with an attitude that fit me. This also means that I am very conscious of my own perspective, realizing that the knowledge gathered in my processes is always embedded and embodied. This means that I work by continuously reflecting on and questioning my perspective – observing the observer.

I have always been an abstract thinker and enjoy working on the level of processes, methods and theories. This is also something that strongly influenced my process and way of working over the years. However, this is also my struggle as many times I do not investigate the details or do not use design on the concrete level. This semester I was finally able to use design at a concrete level to inform my abstract thinking. This meant that design was used in many different ways in my own complex problem of working on the energy infrastructure case and at the same time finding how this could inform the discipline of design. When designing prototypes the intention was not on designing final products, validating or providing proof. Instead I used design to reflect, to learn, to facilitate, to discuss, to communicate, to (re)frame stories, to find future and strategic directions and to find tensions in organizations and collaborations. This also means that the prototype fidelity and technology I use are mainly focused on their communicative potential to fit my purpose.

What this process emphasized for me is that my strength as a person is in being a generalist. This might seem like a strange statement but I provide value through being able to have an overview of many things at an abstract level. At the same time my strength as a designer is being able to make specific things very concrete through a variety of methods - externalizing. This supports gathering insights into relations, engaging with different perspectives and a being sensitive to boundaries of our own perspectives – all qualities I have found very valuable in practice. The strength in this final master project, I believe, is in linking the concrete details through design to a more abstract level to provide insights on the level of processes, strategy and perhaps even theory – a continuous zooming in and out. With this I added value for my clients with the concrete designs and also through informing their strategic process with my insights.

I have found my strength to be in having a very personal approach and a very good listener because of being a relatively shy person. Hosting group sessions was therefore miles out of my comfortzone and something I did not do by myself before. However, using this as my strength means that I take a very intuitive approach, am sensitive to statements about feelings and use all my senses to interpret statements people make – I observe the aesthetics of relations. This made that I did not look for data on cause and effects, but instead gathered contextual data in which I looked for patterns of relations. This put the emphasis on meaning in context as everything is situated. Additionally this means that the emphasis in my process is on story – story as a medium to gather data, to communicate, to investigate and to (re)frame. Story and design also allow us to move through time to gather insight into relations in a way that other disciplines cannot. For instance by looking at different futures and discussing how these reframe our perspective of the past and open up new directions for action.

The process of getting a grasp of the energy infrastructure system really emphasized the importance of incorporating a wide variety of different perspectives to get a grasp of what is happening – a requisite variety to understand. In my process I make a lot of effort to work with people from all types of disciplines and who have a broad range of perspectives. This also allows me to better reflect on my own way of thinking. A lot of times I feel the need to control processes or design them in a way that is structured, but when working with this many perspectives and uncertain contexts there needs to be free space – space to be flexible. This time I let change be the controlling force of the process and adapted things as the process evolved – embracing emergence in the process. Next to that, I saw the strength of embracing the random, which the strength of creating, making and being open to new input. This sparked new ideas in my process and brought my creative side to the forefront.

If you read between the lines of this reflection you can see how for me all the expertise areas are very much intertwined in my process.

Designing the setting for personal connections and initial trust between people from different contexts.
Dialogue design

Design to facilitate

Exploring how design can play a role in shaping the relations between different contexts in an organization.
Connections in different settings

Connecting across contexts in the Province

Creating personal connections through dynamic information sharing across contexts.
An information system concept

Designing a potential future (direction)

Reflections
The value of my FMP work for others

I got to know Britt as a student who knows what she's talking about, who could scientifically substantiate everything she says. At the same time, she also used all this knowledge and research to hide behind: a safe place where everything is perfect and predictable. Meanwhile, her research increasingly focused on the connection between people and how they relate as humans to the systems in which they work. And there came a realization, because who is Britt anyway? And how does she, as a human being, relate to what she does, makes, writes?

A beautiful and difficult process followed, with trial and error, with laughter and tears. I saw her take new steps where it always revolves around connection: the connection with the people she works for, connection with nature where she lives, connection within herself between head and heart. Dear Britt, you are showing more and more who you are: a powerful young woman who chooses her own path!

Organizing coordination between multiple disciplines in our organization usually goes through the content and often it is determined via a political route how a goal can then be achieved. It's very nice to meet someone like Britt who is capable of designing and guiding a different kind of conversation line. This meant that the participants indicate with which story they themselves see a topic. This gives the participants more starting points for continuing their collaboration with each other and each other's discipline.

I have found the design and realization of such a conversation, containing a certain subject as a seed that essentially touches every participant, as very valuable.

What you did in these sessions was creating a mirror for us to reflect on our daily practices and implicit assumptions together in a positive way. You could do this because of your high level perspective and personal approach – a perspective that people in this organization do not have. I found this of great added value and really enjoyed participating in the session.

We had the time to consciously reflect and then tell our story, which is something we are not used to in this organization. As a result, the different perspectives of the people in the session really had the chance to come to light and be appreciated.

Broadening my perspective
extracurricular Activities

In my Honors project I worked on a consulting project within Elderly Care in three small villages in Brabant. The process was about finding the right question to tackle together with different stakeholders. To do this I helped analyze the relations in rural elderly care and their framing. Following this exploration, I supported the stakeholders in creating an action plan. This project was an exploration of the role of design in strategic processes.

Report

In addition to the philosophy course in my Master program I followed two other courses. First, I followed the course ‘ethics of technology’ where I learned more about the different perspectives of ethical analysis. In addition I performed ethical analysis of both deepfake technology and Artificial analysis. Second, I followed ‘Entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility’, where I learned more about the ethical implications of doing business.

Ethics in AI essay

This paper explores a possible way to complement expert information from the healthcare professional with information from online communities. I created a design that build on the patient journey app. I then explored how information of the online health community can complement with the information provided by the healthcare professionals. It was seen that this provided structure for patients and supported them in asking specific questions.

DIS paper
What's next?
A PhD at the intersection of design, strategy and innovation management

In the summer I will start a PhD position at the Department of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences at the TU/e. Here I have the opportunity to continue working in the context of complex challenges and multi-stakeholder situations. Within my research I will focus on a case within the European poultry farming sector and focus on the development of methods, processes and perhaps tools that support stakeholder research, developing business models and managing ecosystems of stakeholders.

All in all, this position will allow me to continue exploring the field I entered during my Master’s program in a new light.