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  • GK VanPatter

Clarifying Crediting Guidelines

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

Welcome back NextD Journal readers. This week a brief clarification post to try to get out in front of some of the modifying and creative crediting we have been seeing online around the NextD Geographies Framework. We are delighted to see others using the framework in their own work and we are not inclined to police its use. We can see that perhaps a little more clarity might be helpful...:-) Ahead of its time, the NextD Geographies Framework has been in circulation since 2005, presented at many conferences around the world. It has been widely adopted/adapted shall we say, with numerous alterations appearing which might be confusing to some readers.

Anyone creating forward thinking, thought leadership related models, and frameworks would be familiar with the experience of other folks reusing, reposting them as well as the experience of having models modified to the degree that the original intention gets lost or significantly altered.

When to speak up and when not to becomes a bit of a dilemma. The good news is that we are still around to clarify the various original intentions of NextD Geographies, perhaps not always understood by modifiers. Some of our readers will know that we have written in considerable detail regarding where the framework came from and the cross-community research behind why it was created as a sensemaking tool that was and is significantly different in focus and implications from any previous framework.

NextD Geographies Framework is not about magic thinking mindsets, not about imagining designers magically shifting their minds to various scales, but rather the practicalities of operational Arenas connected to complexity of challenges in real world practice. Opposite to magic thinking, this is known as skill-to-scale. Since it was introduced, skill-to-scale has been a radical departure from the magic thinking approach to the subject. While magic thinking implied no change in graduate design education was required, NextD Geographies made the need for significant change and new avenues rather clear. At the outset in 2005 not everyone was ready and or happy to see that news arrive. That did not deter us, and a decade+ later much of the community is arriving into that realization. A complete set of accompanying diagrams was included in our last book Rethinking Design Thinking, Making Sense of the Future that Has Already Arrived, 2020.

Of course, it is great when modifications by others don’t conflict with or narrow the original vision of the framework. It can be a little troublesome when modifications are published that redepict the intention and change the framework architecture to suit the strategic positioning preferences and interests of various design neighborhoods. Unfortunately, most of the modifications appearing tend to narrow, by altering the original architecture and the activities within.

To help clarify crediting we do make a distinction between folks republishing the framework and those making modifications, so below are suggestions for crediting in the various contexts. We also have included a few modification examples to provide a sense of what is going on and how some folks have in mind redepicting the architecture to better suit their interests.

What gets confusing is not only the modifications, but improper crediting often implies the modified versions are coming from us when that is not the case.

Sometimes we are contacted by folks seeking to use the NextD Geographies material and asked to take a look but most often folks are taking liberty to modify and publish altered versions without any coordination with us. We do not see most modifications until they appear online.

In the spirit of being clear, here are 3 crediting suggestions followed by 3 modification examples.


PROPER CREDIT TYPE 1: Republishing

If reposting the original framework without any changes, please use this credit:

NextDesign Geographies Framework, GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor, Humantific, 2005-2020.


If you have modified the original framework, please use this credit:

Modified from NextDesign Geographies Framework, GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor, Humantific, 2005-2020.

PROPER CREDIT TYPE 3: Modifying/Modified

If you have modified an already modified version of the framework please use this credit:

Modified from NextDesign Geographies Framework, GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor, Humantific, 2005-2020.


Optional footnote credit text for those so inclined:

*See note at the end of this post.


Below are a few versions of NextD Geographies Framework, modified by others. Each contains numerous modifications not coming from us.

Example (A): Modified

In this modification, where no crediting to Humantific appears in “Figure 1” several redepictions are present. Arena 4, Societal Transformation in the original framework has been creatively redepicted as “Systemic Design”. That flies in the face of the original open intention. “Systemic Design” is one approach to Arena 4, Societal Transformation, NOT the approach. In that force-fit switcherooo “Social Innovation” has been delegated to Arena 3, also not the intention in the original and makes no sense. In addition, oddly Experience Design has been omitted from Arena 2. In this modification Geographies are redepicted as “boundaries”, also not the original intention. This is an example of what happens when folks bend the framework to suit a specific set of neighborhood strategic ambitions, not aligned with the carefully considered intentions of the original framework. Difficult subject but certainly going on. The result tends to be a form of overwriting, confusion-making, not sense-making. This modified version not coming from us.

Proper Credit: Modified from NextDesign Geographies Framework, GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor, Humantific, 2005-2020.

Example (B): Modifying a Modified

This modification of a modification became known to us only after it was published online. Not only was crediting not correct but it redepicts and narrows from the original framework. In NextD Geographies Arena 3 was never intended to be just “Business Design,” as not all organizations are businesses. Arena 4 was never intended to be “Systems Thinking” as systems thinking can also be applied in Arena 3, Organizational Transformation. Arena 4 is intended to be Societal Transformation not just “Policy Design”. In the original, Arena 2 is Product/Service/Experience, not “UX Design”. This an example of what happens when modifications are knowingly or unknowingly built on modifications with much of the underlying logic, regarding methods lost.

“Systemic”, is the new flavor of the year word in the design community, however presently “Systemic Design” is one particular approach to Arena 4. Other appoaches already exist. There is no unified view on the role or positioning of systems thinking within the concept of design. We are not inclined to be changing the Geographies Framework architecture, meaning or intentions within to suit any one neighborhood of design. The prescriptive narrowing seen in this modification is not coming from us.

Proper Credit: Modified from NextDesign Geographies Framework, GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor, Humantific, 2005-2020.

Example (C): Modified

In this modification the activity of Product Design has been shifted from Arena 2 to Arena 1, contrary to the original NextD Geographies Framework. The notion of “Strategic Design” has snuck into Arena 3, however there is presently no unified view on what strategic design actually is. Perhaps unbenounced to some modifiers there are method implications behind the original framework architecture. The mixed up shifts in this modified version do not appear in the original framework so might be confusing to some readers.

Proper Credit: Modified from NextDesign Geographies Framework, GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor, Humantific, 2005-2020.


Unfortunately, some of these narrowing modifications have taken on a life of their own so we decided it was time (overdue) to speak up and be more clear. Part of the complexity of the community is that lots of messes get created. Everyone now has the capacity to publish and so be it. All we can do is clarify the intentions of the original Geographies Framework as well as participate in the Design for Complexity movement itself, which again, is bigger than the single stream being branded as Systemic Design and completely different from Service Design. Design for Complexity deserves and already involves a wider range of considered possibilities.


Perhaps this might be a good moment to mention, to clarify, that we have learned a lot about the design community via the NextD Leadership Initiative and NextD Journal launched in 2005. When we created NextD Geographies Framework we did not have in mind that it would have political dimensions to it. Our interest was in community sensemaking, bringing clarity, not politics, to a very mixed-up subject. No one else seemed to be stepping into that void, certainly not the graduate design schools.

Unfortunately, we learned on the fly, that due to several community dynamics, politics was in the mix as soon as the NextD Geographies Framework appeared. What we saw was that due to rather slow adaptation to external world changes, several high-profile graduate design schools had missed the design for complexity train and were still out selling Service Design as meta, suggesting it was perfectly suited for organizational and societal transformation when Geographies was published.

That marketing did not align with the architecture of NextD Geographies where Service Design is part of Arena 2, accompanied by text explaining, from a methods perspective, why that was and is the case. You might think that politic has waned since 2005 but from what we see still often being posted online that would not be a correct assumption.

The NextD work including NextD Geographies made it rather clear to us that much of the confusion around the subjects of design and design thinking often tends to be generated and then insisted upon by the design community itself. Like the shoemaker going barefoot, slow adaptation to realities facing practice is often behind this, with the temperatures running high on-line. One of many lessons learned is that making things more clear can, in some contexts, be problematic and even unwanted by some. Never-the-less we are still here! More about this in an upcoming post on 10 things we learned via creating NextD Geographies.


Hope this clarity is helpful to our readers. We see that interest in the NextD Geographies Framework continues to rise as more neighborhoods within the design community of communities become more aware of the need to gear up for more complex challenges and seek tools that are useful in such conversations.

Have a good week all!


Optional footnote credit text for those so inclined:

The notion of identifying, visualizing and clustering different levels of problematics’ to be addressed has a long history in the CPS (Creative Problem Solving) community. Early versions were often referred to as Ladders of Abstraction, which was a stream of logic built out and refined by numerous CPS community practitioners 1950s-1980s, (Parnes, Dorval, Treffinger, Basadur, others) and is believed to have some roots in the more abstract logic seen in the earlier work of A. Korzybski, 1933 and later SI Hayakawa,1939. The early Hayakawa visualization of “Bessie the Cow / process of abstracting” logic followed by the more practice oriented “Mousetrap” CPS logic circa 1953 were recognized as logic cascade milestones that have been significantly improved upon by practice leaders over several decades and remain in play today. In a parallel universe, thirty years after Ladder of Abstraction appeared, the design community was struggling to explain its big picture, holistic self. Building on a “manifesting” orientation imported from the field of rhetoric, not design and not CPS, Professor Richard Buchanan created his Four Orders of Design in 1991. Unconnected to actual methodology, Four Orders pitched the comforting notion to designers and design educators that design education educated designers could, in their then present traditional states, somehow magically manifest across the 1991 version of a full spectrum. In the context of NextD Geographies research the former logic became known as skill-to-scale with roots in practice and the later as magic thinking with roots in academia. Education related change drivers were not present in magic thinking but were present in skill-to-scale. Each creates its own dynamics. Today practitioners routinely operate and synthesize key chunks of know-how across communities of knowledge. The hierarchal visualization of challenges, as well as how changes in challenge scale, from simple to complex, impact shifts in needed skill-building remains part of R&D in many innovation practices. Skill-to-scale is a logic that is key to Design for Complexity.

Image Credit: Abstraction Ladder / Bessie the Cow: Language in Thought and Action, 1939, S.I. Hayakawa, Humantific Collection

If you would like to republish NextD Geographies or any of the numerous explanation diagrams from the Rethinking Design book and or make use of it in your own work feel free to write to us as we are happy to engage in such conversations.

kickitup (at) humantific (dot) com


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