A Systems Design Approach to Sustainable Development

Accelerating the transition to a Systems Perspective in Design

01. The Approach

A Systems Design Approach to Sustainable Development

A common approach to deal with a complex problem is to simplify it. Alternatively, this research aims to provide a novel approach to handle complex societal problems: embracing the complexity within the system.

02. Look inside

WHAT’S INSIDE the book

The book is divided into four main studies (Chapters 2-5), published as peer-reviewed journal articles. Each publication supports the answer to the main research question:

How can systems thinking contribute to handling the complexity of sustainable product-service system design for low-income energy markets?

The findings from each study come together to provide contributions to design theory, practice, and education.

Table of Contents


1 Embracing complexity to handle energy challenges in low-income markets
1.1 Energy challenges in low-income markets
1.2 Complexity of low-income markets
1.3 Complexity of energy challenges in low-income markets
1.4 Design for sustainability and development
1.5 Sustainable energy product-service systems
1.6 Towards systems-oriented energy product-service systems
1.7 Overview of this thesis

2 Foundations for a systems design approach to complex societal problems
2.1 Systems-oriented approach to complex problems
2.2 An interdisciplinary and systematic literature review
2.3 Uncovering the foundations of systems design approach
2.4 Systems approaches
2.5 Systems methodologies
2.6 A selection of systems design approaches
2.7 Results: Conceptual framework for systems design approach
2.8 Conclusion

3 A multilevel analysis of sustainable energy product-service systems
3.1 Energy solutions in low-income markets
3.2 A multilevel perspective on energy product-service systems
3.3 Methodology for the case study
3.4 Multilevel analysis of a low-income energy-efficiency programme in Brazil
3.5 Discussion: Insights from the multilevel analysis
3.6 Conclusion

4 Introducing systems design approach in design education
4.1 Broadening the scope and complexity of design
4.2 Designing products, services and systems for low-income markets
4.3 Systems-oriented product-service system design for low-income markets
4.4 Methodology for the educational experiment
4.5 Results
4.6 Discussion
4.7 Conclusion

5 Capacity building for a systems design approach to complex societal problems
5.1 Capacity building for complexity
5.2 Capacity building for complex societal problems: key factors
5.3 Methodology for the educational experiment
5.4 Results
5.5 Conclusion
6 Conclusions, contributions and recommendations
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Main research findings
6.3 Research limitations and recommendations for the future

About the author



04. Dissertation

Accelerating the Transition to A Systems Design Approach

A systems design approach strives to achieve a holistic, multilevel, and pluralistic perspective that embraces the complexity within the system in place.

To cite this document use (APA):

COSTA JUNIOR, J. (2020). A systems design approach to sustainable development: Embracing the complexity of energy challenges in low-income markets. (Doctoral dissertation, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands). Retrieved from https://systemsdesignapproach.com

05. Presentation

A short presentation for non-academic audience

This presentation is a short 10-minutes explanation of the essence of my doctoral dissertation, which is meant to be comprehensible to non-experts.

Presentation in English (10MB)
– Available Soon –

06. Publications

publications from the authors

COSTA JUNIOR, J., Diehl, J. C., & Secomandi, F. (2019). Towards Systems-Oriented Energy Solutions: A Multilevel Analysis of a Low-Income Energy Efficiency Program in Brazil. Sustainability, 11(20), 5799. doi: 10.3390/su1120579 ★★★

COSTA JUNIOR, J., Diehl, J. C., Snelders, D. (2019). A framework for a systems design approach to complex societal problems. Design Science, 5(e2), 1-32. doi: 10.1017/dsj.2018.16 ★★★

COSTA JUNIOR, J., Diehl, J. C., Secomandi, F.(2018). Educating for a systems design approach to complex societal problems. Journal of Engineering Design, 29(3), 65–86. doi: 10.1080/09544828.2018.1436162 ★★★

COSTA JUNIOR, J., Santos, A. L. R. and Diehl, J. C.(2017). Introducing systems oriented design for complex societal contexts in design engineering education. FORMAkademisk – Special Issue Systemic Design III, 10(1), 1–20. doi: 10.7577/formakademisk.1460

Santos, A. L. R., COSTA JUNIOR, J., and Wauben, L. (2014). Designing products and services for challenging societal contexts. Proceedings of the Relating Systems Thinking & Design Symposium RSD3: Oslo, Norway.

COSTA JUNIOR, J. and Diehl, J. C. (2013). Product-Service Systems design approach for the Base of the Pyramid Markets: Practical Evidence from the Energy Sector in the Brazilian Context. In M. Schaefer, N. Kebir, & D. Philipp (Eds.) Proceeding of the International Conference on Micro Perspectives for Decentralized Energy Supply, (p. 48–51). Berlin: Technische Universität Berlin.

COSTA JUNIOR, J. (2016). Power to the people. Form Design Magazine – Special Edition Design and Energy, Frankfurt, Germany. n 263 – Jan/Feb 2016, p. 65-67. (Interview)

See also:

Santos, A., Sampaio, C. P., Silva, J. S. G., & COSTA JUNIOR, J. (2014). Assessing the use of Product-Service Systems as a strategy to foster sustainability in an emerging context. Product Management & Development, 12(2), 99–113. doi: 10.4322/pmd.2014.012


07. About Us

Jairo da Costa Junior

Jairo da Costa Junior

PhD in Design for Sustainability

Deoartment of Design Engineering (TU Delft)

PHD candidate

Jairo da Costa Junior is a product designer with over 10 years of experience in Design for Sustainability and Development. Throughout his doctoral research, he worked in multicultural environments and engaged in teaching and learning activities in Brazil, Uganda, the Netherlands, China, and Australia. In the process, he cultivated a desire to inspire people to design products, services, and entire systems dedicated to improving lives, lowering negative environmental impacts, and contributing to design theory and practice. Ultimately, he sought to empower designers to take part in finding solutions to problems faced by individuals, communities, and organisations to which they relate, live, and work. While finishing his PhD, he worked as Assistant Professor in Product Design and Manufacture at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC). At UNNC, he also was appointed Course Director of the BEng in Product Design and Manufacture.

MORE INFORMATION: https://linkedin.com/in/jairodacosta

Jan Carel Diehl

Jan Carel Diehl

Associate Professor in Design for Sustainability

Deoartment of Design Engineering (TU Delft)


After finishing his study in Industrial Design Engineering Jan Carel Diehl worked several years as a consultant in Ecodesign. In his present position, he is an Associate Professor of Design for Sustainability (DfS) at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands.

Within the DfS program, he is managing international projects on sustainable product innovation, especially in emerging markets. The main focus of his research is the know-how transfer and implementation of sustainable product innovation into an international context. Besides, his research has a particular interest in cultural differences in product design and developing products for the so-called ‘Base of the Pyramid (BoP)’. Next to his position at the TU Delft he is a consultant for UNIDO and UNEP and invited lecturer at several international universities. He is the co-author of the UNEP Design for Sustainability (D4S) manual for Developing Economies (D4S EE).

MORE INFORMATION: www.jcdiehl.nl | www.d4s-de.org | www.d4s-sbs.org

Dirk Snelders

Dirk Snelders

Professor in Organising Product and Service Development

Department of Product Innovation Management (TU Delft)


Dirk Snelders is head of the section Management and Organisation (M&O); this is a group of educators/researchers wit interest in (cross-)organisational practices for the design of products and services. This includes topics of design creativity, design management, design entrepreneurship and collaborative innovation. Dirk has a background in psychology and marketing, and it is from these fields that he has developed his research interest on the role of design in business.

Since 2011, his research is part of the CReative Industry Scientific program (CRISP); a large Dutch research initiative that aims towards a better comprehension and mastery of the design of product-service systems. In a sub-program focusing on work-related stress (CRISP-GRIP), the question is raised whether and how social interactions between people in product-service systems can be ‘designed’. The results from this work have been exhibited at Dutch Design Week and Helsinki Design Week (2012), and they are currently being published at conferences (IASDR 2013, ServDes 2014). Dirk’s earlier work has focused on the decision-making of tourists, aesthetics and product styling, novelty and surprise in design, and service design. This work has appeared in journals such as Annals of Tourism Research, The British Journal of Psychology, Design Issues, Design Studies, International Journal of Design, and the Journal of Product Innovation Management.

MORE INFORMATION: https://www.tudelft.nl/en/ide/about-ide/personal-profiles/professors/snelders-hmjj/

Fernando Secomandi

Fernando Secomandi

Adjunct Professor in Design

Department of Product Design (Esdi)


Fernando Secomandi is redefining the field of service design. In order to get to the heart of this emerging discipline, the design researcher adopts a philosophical perspective, reflecting on how the human experience of the world is mediated by technologies. With a primary focus on strategic design issues in product-service systems, Secomandi explores the impact of technology in daily life by applying ideas from the philosophy of design arena in the study of service design.

Following the completion of his undergraduate degree in Industrial Design at the Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial, UERJ, Secomandi pursued his Master’s Degree in Strategic Product Design at Delft University of Technology. He then went on to become the first Doctor in Design at the university to complete his dissertation on service design, conducting part of his research on the Philips DirectLife product-service system. In 2013, Secomandi returned to Brazil to serve as an Adjunct Professor at the Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora before taking on a similar role at his undergraduate alma mater.

MORE INFORMATION: Curriculum Lattes

08. Contact Us


Your email will be forward to the main author at jairo.costa.juniot@gmail.com


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