ENoLL News

Interview with Kristel Van Ael: on systemic design tools and co-creation

Kristel Van Ael


We chatted with Kristel Van Ael, a partner at Namahn design agency – one of the world’s leading agencies when it comes to digital, user experience and service design. While specialised in human-centered design, the agency is also actively involved in development and promotion of new design forms. Kristel Van Ael’s role is knowledge development. Our collaboration with Kristel began in May, when we used her methodology and tools for a workshop at a networking event. Impressed by the innovative approach and having received good feedback from the participants, we chose to use her methodology once again – at the Learning Lab day (taking place on 21 August 2018). We wanted to know more about the work of a person who was described as a “trendsetter” by the jury of Henry Van de Velde Awards. 


We have used your templates during a networking event “Mediterranean Innovation comes to Brussels: Bringing creative minds together” featured by the Interreg MED project TALIA. At the event Belgian and Mediterranean design communities were introduced to the Systemic Design and Co-creation workshop for which you used two systemic design tools. Could you tell us more about these tools – why were they developed and how do you use them?

In 2012 I was asked to help teaching the course product-service systems at the University of Antwerp. I started with combining the school’s product design methodology with the service design methodology we developed in 2010 but I missed a systems approach.  In 2015 I started to explore the vast field of systems thinking and since then I’m developing tools and a methodology, based on the underlying principles, that allow designers to co-create complex solutions together with stakeholders.


The tools are meant to be used in co-creating workshops. They help the participants to understand complex issues and to find interventions which foster a systemic change.


Could these tools be used outside of the design community?

Yes, a lot of communities could benefit from them – especially policy making.

Systems thinking has, by the way, already been adopted by a number of communities such as urbanism, sociology, psychology, … The design community is rather late in adopting them.


In what way would you say the systemic design tools you developed are unique?

They are unique because:

  • They provide a grammar to the existing vocabulary (bringing the different insights together)
  • They make systems thinking very tangible and practical, fostering dialogue in workshops.
  • They merge design thinking and systems thinking.


For what purposes could Living Labs use the tools you have developed – that are published on Namahn’s website (for example, the Service Design Toolkit)?

The systemic design tools can help to develop a more impactful eco-system. The service design tools can be used in a following step, to make the service offering more beneficial and engaging.




For more information on Kristel Van Ael, Service Design Toolkit and other methodologies, see Namahn’s website. 

The interview was conducted on 1 August 2018.


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