My story

My journey towards becoming a systemic designer and transdisciplinary researcher started in 1994 when I enrolled in a MSc degree in Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology (Netherlands). I have always been particularly interested in the ‘human’ side of design, and I graduated in 2001 on the design of a user interface for television for Philips.

Coming from a family of teachers, I searched for a job in that direction after I graduated and was lucky enough to be offered a lecturer position at the University of Twente. I applied my interests in human-centred design methods in developing subjects such as scenario-based design and human-product interaction. During this time I became interested in research and started working on a PhD in human-centred design. I was particularly interested in how designers design usable products for other people. I conducted many studies with practicing design teams in the manufacturing industry and student design teams, and subsequently developed a workshop technique and a set of guidelines to support design teams in designing for dynamic and diverse use situations. Based on these studies I was awarded my PhD degree in 2012 for my thesis.

In the meantime my personal life had taken some unexpected turns. In 2010 my husband and I had to give up on our dream to start a family, after many years of fertility treatment. This impacted our lives in many ways. For my professional life it meant that I wanted my work to be more meaningful and I started looking for other opportunities for my research.

Around that time I heard about  the Designing Out Crime research centre at University of Technology Sydney in 2007. This research centre was aimed at tackling problems related to crime through methods borrowed from design. When I heard about this work I got really excited as it uses design to address complex societal challenges, which felt like a very meaningful application of design. I started to get interested in how my expertise of human centred design processes would fit into this and after some conversations with the research centre’s director I was lucky enough to be offered a job in Sydney.

In 2013 we made the big move to Australia. At UTS I started supporting organisations to address complex societal challenges through design. I specialised in public and social sector innovation. What I really enjoyed about this work is that I could build on my expertise in human-centred design practices, while at the same time being exposed to a for me completely new field: innovation in the public and social sectors. I worked with people who work for local and state government, in the educational sector and in the health sector. I started to develop a particular interest in topics related to wellbeing, youth, work and education.

In 2016 I also joined the core teaching team of UTS’  new transdisciplinary double Bachelor degree in Creative Intelligence and Innovation. This program brings students together from 25 degrees across UTS and explores the creative, future-focused, transdisciplinary practices that are required to address the problems of the future and to create ‘the jobs that don’t exist yet’. Following the success  of this degree UTS established the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation – now Transdisciplinary School – at the start of 2017, in which I started to work as senior lecturer. I combined this work as an academic with working as a designer in social design agency Rad Social Design which I co-founded with Lucy Klippan.

Working with colleagues across a very broad range of disciplines, from engineering to journalism, from law to midwifery, and from creative writing to science, I have come to realise that if we really want to make a difference in addressing complex societal challenges, we need to look beyond our own practices – in my case human-centred design – and focus our efforts on bringing people together across disciplines, learning from each other, and developing new creative practices that transcend the individual disciplines. I have also learned that transdisciplinary practices require a thorough understanding of systems and of complexity. Since 2016 I am part of an international research and professional community that brings these systems thinking practices and design practices together in what we call ‘systemic design’.

In 2019 I moved back to The Netherlands to work as Associate Professor for my alma mater Delft University of Technology at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. Since I graduated from there in 2001 the faculty has added new application domains to the curriculum and research program including service design and more recently ‘design for complexity’. My role was to bring in the transdisciplinary and systems perspective. For this purpose I founded the Systemic Design Lab together with my colleagues Nynke Tromp, Jotte de Koning and Ella Jamsin. In the lab, students, researchers and partnering organisations work together to study and develop methods and practices to tackle complex societal challenges, building on both systems thinking theory and practice and design methodology.

During the COVID19 pandemic, I was also engaged in various initiatives to promote student and staff wellbeing. As with my other work I adopt a human-centred, transdisciplinary and systems perspective on this challenge.

In addition to my part-time job at TU Delft I founded Meerkat Consultancy in 2022 to make my knowledge and expertise more directly accessible to private and public organisations who want to learn more about new, creative, and collaborative ways to tackle complex societal challenges. In 2024 I resigned from TU Delft to expand my work at Meerkat Consultancy and work on a book about design & humanising social systems.

My future plans are to continue exploring how we can most effectively use and bridge different ways of knowing to tackle the complex challenges that we are facing as societies. In the area of systemic design I’m particularly interested to learn more about human relationships, how relationships impact social systems, and how we can design for them. In the area of transdisciplinarity I’m interested to learn more about research integration and innovation across knowledge domains and how we can shape our academic systems to enable the generation of knowledge that benefits society and to promote that students and staff learn and flourish together. I’m looking forward to see where this journey will take me!

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