Con-Syn-Sys : Contributing Synthesised Systems

Jesse Mallen

I) The Way I Think

I think through Pattern recognition. I construct thoughts in replicable patterns and learn through connecting dots between patterns. This is great for geometry and geography, but also for understanding complex ideas very quickly. I therefore design with and through patterns in all forms.

I also design with my own ethics in mind. Unlike some designers, I recognise that the garbage crisis, or climate change, will not be changed by small boutique artisan design, instead by a system change. By redesigning part of the global system itself. This is probably why I study Sustainable Systems Engineering. It has a unique approach to design within Engineering, that both aligns with and informs my way of designing. Because it considers the skills of the design process so closely, it is a snug academic fit to Industrial Design as a double degree.

II) What’s the Tactic: Designed Systems

Consensus is three different fields of thought:

Systems Design: The design of a system’s architecture. Wholistic Product design. Design of product at all stages, including manufacture. Design for disassembly but design for Assembly.

Systems Engineering: Soft Skills – Reliability, team coordination, logistics, risk management. Determining and then evaluating requirements. Rather than repetition and manufacture, seeks to understand a whole project or system, identify “real problems”, and then seeks the best way to resolve them. Systems Engineering also considers the effectiveness of components together, rather than as individuals. The best part A and the best part B may not actually yield the most effective system when coupled together. There are a lot of patterns in Systems Engineering

Sustainable Design: Social, Economic and Environmental Sustainability – the Triple Bottom Line

  • Insist on the right of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.
  • Recognize interdependence.
  • Respect relationships between spirit and matter.
  • Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems and their right to co-exist.
  • Create safe objects of long-term value.
  • Eliminate the concept of waste.
  • Rely on natural energy flows.
  • Understand the limitations of design
  • Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge.

eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skilful, sensitive design“.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainability models: idealistic Good (left) and realistic/present Bad (right)

III) combining the three

Plan from the outset to have specific design goals (both functional customer requirements, as well as sustainable goals), and then intend to revisit those goals during and after the design is complete. It is the only way to know whether the design was truly successful. Start designing with the end in mind. Study the impacts of the system and target optimisations at the highest contributing factors with the most potential for improvement. Their savings will cascade into additional savings in other areas (eg the graphic below, a small saving downstream will have massive savings in energy use upstream because of cascading losses, especially in the energy used in initial production!)

Spending additional time in conceptional design and system design instead of implementation also reduces risk of problems later in the design process. Since the cost of fixing mistakes gets exponentially higher further in the production process (eg into tooling and manufacture, if a change must be made, or a recall), eliminating those mistakes early on when changes are cheap are an effective way to save time, money and damage.

Therefore, ContributingSynthesised Systems

Parts of a system are combined together (synthesised) under the right pretences and considerations to contribute to the betterment of the whole system. Systems thinking has a larger impact on the economy and ecology than product thinking because of the interconnections and scope.

This design tactic drives Consensus in design, to reach effective, measurable and significant impacts on the design world.


Designing for Sustainability: “Begin with the end in mind”

A lot of those resources and thoughts are informed by 300CP of RMIT Courses, but they’re also reflected in a number of online resources in the automotive, energy and computing sectors. This source describes a case study which pits conventional business thinking and measures of performance and success against sustainable design measures of performance – how the new (this) is different yet so better than the old.


CASE STUDY 1 : Hypercar xl1 Amory Lovins et al, Rocky Mountains Institute (RMI), 1994.

The Hypercar started as a concept car by the RMI in 1994, looking at how savings in aerodynamics could allow a less powerful powertrain, contributing to weight and size reductions, leading to further aerodynamic savings, etc. The expectation was that while the upfront cost of this design would be more expensive, the ongoing lifetime costs (especially in fuel economy and upkeep) would pay back the investment several-fold. This same principle is true of all systems-based improvements. The Hypercar also pioneered technological thinking such as regenerative braking and lightweight chassis’.

The Hypercar as a concept vanished from development in the early 2000s, but most of its technology was adopted by VW in 2007 and led to the development of the XL1 in 2013. The XL1 was a limited run (250 units) proof of concept, diesel-hybrid car that had a fuel economy of 1.0L/100km. Because of the limited production run, the cost was $140,000 USD but the expectation is that the cost would reduce with scale. Others have suggested that the XL1 was too ambitious and saw diminishing returns with its efficiencies; that a vehicle of 2-3L/100km would be cheaper and also transferrable to alternative power sources (such as hydrogen or solar), while fitting 4 people (the XL1 fits 2)

CASE STUDY 2: Solar Pura: Michael flood, RMIT, 2017

Michael Flood is the first graduate from the Sustainable Systems Engineering/Industrial Design double program, and this is the contents of his honours thesis. Flood proposes a small, portable solar still for water purification that can be installed in remote or needing communities, that is far more effective and productive than other competing technologies. The water inside passes through layers progressing towards the front face, as the heat it offers becomes increasingly important to the treatment’s effectiveness. Thermodynamic flows through the device means it operates passively. Mirrors on the front maximise the solar potential of the treatment process.

The Solar Pura should generate enough fresh water per day in a sunny climate to satisfy a small family, which for no fuel or inputs, for a device of this size, is an effective achievement.