The Firma Model: A Tool for Resolving Complex Societal Problems



Design Education Research


  • human-centred design, teaching approaches, research approaches, ethics


As the focus of design broadens to include problem solving located in complex societal systems the emphasis in design education must shift accordingly. Knowledge of and competence in conducting research within the scope of design practice, and using insights gained from research to conceptualise appropriate solutions is a necessity that design students urgently require.  In support of this need, this paper  will  introduce  and  describe  the  Firma  Model,  a  meta-framework  that  spans  the  human- centered design process, which aims to assist the design student and educator in grappling with complex problems.

The first section of this paper presents a description of the Firma Model, which is supported by a theoretical rationale.   This description explains how the model can be applied to frame design research, orientate design strategy and evaluate solutions.

The second section provides an account of how the Firma Model evolved as a teaching tool and how the model has been applied in two different educational contexts. This second section concludes with a critical reflection of the application of the Model in our teaching practice over the last eighteen months.  This reflection details concerns that arose, considerations for use, as well as a brief discussion of how lessons learned will be in incorporated into future teaching activities using the Firma Model.

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