This site is the syllabus and course schedule for the Transition Design Seminar in The School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. This syllabus is presented in an open source format as a resource to other design educators and interested researchers. An international network is emerging, comprised of design programs integrating Transition Design into coursework and research strands: The University of Palermo, Argentina; EINA University, Barcelona; Schumacher College/Plymouth University, UK; University of Technology, Sydney; RMIT University, Melbourne; Aalto University, Finland; Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway; The American University, Cyprus; The University of the Aegean, Greece.
This course aims to familiarize students with the concept of ‘transition,’ ‘transition theory,’ and ‘systems-level change,’ which can now be found within many fields, disciplines and grassroots movements and initiatives such as: The Commons Transition; Just Transitions; Transition Town Network; The Great Transition Initiative; Sustainability Transitions Research Network; The Next Systems Project; and the School of Systems Change, to name a few. Transition Design is a new field of design research, study and practice that proposes design-led transition toward more sustainable futures.
There are 5 components to this course: 1) topical lectures; 2) readings; 3) in-class discussions; 4) in-class exercises; 5) five assignments.
Topical Lectures, Readings & In-Class Discussions: This is a seminar class based upon topical lectures and extensive readings that inform class discussions. Each class has a list of both required and supplemental reading. Required texts should be read thoroughly and we recommend giving the supplemental texts a quick skim to see if there are subjects that may resonate. We strongly recommend that students use either paper print-outs or annotated PDFs to highlight key areas of texts and take notes that will inform class discussions. Students are expected to be able to spontaneously summarize the assigned texts, build upon the ideas represented in them and pose questions for further reflection. This will require that each student develop a rigorous practice for reading and note taking to fulfill the requirements of the course.
Discussion Formats: Because this is a relatively large class, there will be only a few discussions with the entire class. Instead, you will break into small groups to discuss the readings and the issues, questions and take-aways that arise out of them. These will be shared, through a variety of approaches, with the larger group and will provide insights and content for your Medium posts.
In-Class Exercises: Instructors and the teaching assistant will, throughout the semester, develop a range of in-class exercises designed to challenge students to engage more deeply with the topics being discussed. Because of the large class size, these exercises and some discussions will take place in small groups to provide an opportunity for deeper engagement with the text and ideas.
Five Assignments: Instructors will assign five group-based assignments that will require work outside class. 1) Mapping wicked problems and identifying stakeholder groups; 2) Mapping a socio-technical systems transition; 3) Developing future visions; 4) The spatio-temporal matrix; 5) Designing systems interventions. Collectively, these 5 assignments are intended to introduce students to an emerging Transition Design approach to solving wicked problems and seeding/catalzying systems-level change. Assignments will be introduced in class, but will require homework outside class. Some assignments will have final presentations during class time and others will not. Large project canvases will provided to each group to fill out in analog form. These may be photographed and uploaded to the Group’s Medium site: All assignments will be documented/submitted in a team medium site. More information about these assignments can be found in the Assignments and Requirements and Grading pages of this website. The course schedule and content will be updated on a regular basis so please check the appropriate class page prior to each class.
Accessing Readings: There is a dedicated website page for each class in this course that contains a description of the content, a reading list and discussion prompts. Whenever possible, external links to the readings have been provided. Readings that are not publicly available are indicated with an asterisk and can accessed by CMU students via the class BOX folder, organized by the class TA. Readings may change slightly throughout the semester, so please do not download the entire box at once. Check back frequently to look for changes and updates. (External educational partners who are unable to access some texts should contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be sent directly).
More information can be found in the Requirements and Grading section of this website.