What is Systems Design Engineering?

Systems Design Engineering is an interdisciplinary community of practice that focuses on, you guessed it, systems. It merges pedagogies and frameworks from digital user experience design, service design, systems engineering, and rapid & physical prototyping to find and intervene points of leverage within the system to affect asymmetric upside.

Raghav Rmadya


As technology disrupts industries and economies, we tend to focus on the outcome more often than the process. Coupled with a lack of exposure to building physical things outside of certain disciplines, we often find ourselves consuming products and services today that often might only exist on the internet. We are seldom forced to think about the impact of digital technologies on the built environment and vice versa which leads to a way of thinking that I call “2D thinking” i.e. sense-making of the world with two degrees of freedom - Physical and Digital. There are good reasons to succumb to 2D thinking. For most of us reading this on an electronic device, e-commerce, and global trade have made it extremely cheap and easy for us to get someone else to build what we want, ship it, and help bring our imaginations to reality without ever having to care about how something is built. We succumb to the externalities that result from such ignorance and contribute to a lack of innovative ideas that can evolve by acknowledging the 3rd degree of freedom that arises when we think between the lines of Physical and Digital.

So, how is Systems Design Engineering connected to 2D thinking?

System Design engineering can be looked at as an extension and a complement to a piece of domain knowledge. It provides the tools to engage with a discipline at a metaphysical level and consider which stocks and flows of a system the discipline is trying to impact. Systems design engineering provides a window into how powerful design can be when detached from how something looks to how something works, to the extent that the 2Dness of digital or physical becomes irrelevant. The intersection of digital and physical is where design engineering comes in. Working across engineering disciplines and design expertise to practice phyigital thinking, and sometimes making.

After engaging in systems design engineering, I realized that we need to not only think more critically about how the digital impacts the physical and vice-versa, but also how that impact contributes to the larger system. My own belief is that the world today lacks enough innovative pedagogies to teach collaboration between various types of designers and engineers to ideate, prototype, and build for humanity and I aspire to change that in my lifetime.