When adding the lenses together to form a coherent framework, we strive for two outcomes. First, the limits of one lens should be answered for with the presence of another. Second, a hybrid framework provides a novel approach to researching the subject matter. It should give colour to the research question, thus offering a high potential for generating new knowledge. The following paragraphs will demonstrate how we have arrived at both outcomes.

Counter balancing Limits

The design process is limited by the actors and the context in three ways. First, the actors and the context can limit the quality and availability of information in the problem space. For example, if the organization doesn’t collect information from its users or if it doesn’t include stakeholders in the design process. By taking a practice approach, the design process is situated within the existing limits of the organization. The practice perspective won’t solve this limit, but it will offer a means of characterizing and situating it with nuances.

Second, the actors and the context evolves with time. What was satisfying yesterday, might be seen as unethical tomorrow. With a complex point of view, the design methodologies have evolved to include more of the instability and relationships created in everyday life (Jones 1992). Again, complexity can’t solve the limit of evolving situations, but it will offer an approach to describe it.

Third, the actors and the context can limit the design process in its capacity to formulate realistic solutions. For example, if an organization has little innovation experience or if there are no means to prototype concepts. This idea of achieving goals and intent comes with a caution as Lave (1988) demonstrated that means and ends are constructed simultaneously in practice. This constitutes the basis for what we call the evolution of practice. So, we see using the design process as a potential to evolve the practice of solving organizational problems. Simply put, practice makes design perfect.

In the end, the design approach can be augmented with systems thinking and a practice perspective. As Ackoff (1981) suggests, it is no longer possible to understand the world using only analysis and synthesis. A complex systems’ approach can broaden the understanding of the situation and a practice approach will characterize the limits of the actors and the context. Both will provide nuances for success or failure of the design process.

On the other hand, a limit of complex systems and a practice perspective is that they are not concerned with power. A practice perspective is not blind to struggles and conflicts, although it isn’t used to explore control and resistance. This approach thus comes with the requirement of actors to be deemed with the freedom of choice. Moreover, actors are expected to have goals and to be engaged in the context. Even though practice theory does not expect rule-following behaviour like complex systems would, it is not an approach for studying notions of self-righteous individual behavior nor notions of structural conflict. This is where the design process comes in to search for integrative solutions that can rise above critiques. This is not a perfect answer to the limit of understanding power. But with actors whom are free of choice and engaged, the design process can harness power struggles by channelling theses forces towards reaching a common outcome.

As we have argued, each approach comes with a set of limits, but that is where the complementary approaches fill in the gaps. In the long run, no hybrid approach is perfect and there will be space for future research.

A novel approach to build a research question

To arrive at a research question, let’s retrace our steps from the top. A business model is an understanding of how to create value for clients. The first action in business model innovation is concerned with the generation of new business ideas. Our research proposes to use design methods in a creative process by moving from the problem space to the solution space, in an iterative fashion that leads to the integration of multiple needs in a coherent business model.

We also choose to describe a business model and sustainability as a complex system made of many dynamic parts. In addition, a complex system’s approach can focus on the relationships represented in the business model canvas. Next, the business model canvas should be modified to address the sustainability of the relationships it builds. In addition, we hope to make explicit the currently tacit practice of designing business models, informed by a practice perspective. The adapted business model canvas can be used as a tool for communicating and visualizing amongst the actors in the design process. This practice perspective will also focus on building the coherence between the actors, actions, the context and time.

An approach of evolutionary practice is what we would like to propose when designing strongly sustainable business models. According to Wittington (2006), such practices can have repercussions all the way to the societal level. He touches on the role of consultants and educators in shaping the practices of tomorrow. He speaks of how detailed activity and societal context are closely linked while building on Shatzki’s (2005) arguments that practice overcomes social theory’s ancient dualism in individualism and societism.

We hope to build a practice that is new to organizations, but it is also new to design. We endeavour to continue the evolution of design to a 4th order level of business model innovation. Much in the same way Raymond Loewy (1963) is considered to be to have created the first practice where design meets industrial production. Another first came when Bill Moggridge (2007) built the practice of interaction design with the first computer companies. Today, we see an opportunity in designing strategy for organizations embedded in a business model.


Figure 7: Joyce (2013)

When it comes to synthesizing this hybrid approach with a question, we are also inspired by a gap we find in the current research in the field of sustainable business models. For example, Sommer (2012) has studied the management aspect of a business model transitions of incumbent firms. However, managing change and creating it are two different approaches. There has not been an emphasis on a design approach in the field of business model innovation. Therefore we ask: how can a design process facilitate organizations in creating strongly sustainable business models? What actors and context are required to create business models into sustainable systems ? What actions, methods and tools can initiate such a transformation?

In all, our theoretical framework based on design, complex systems and practice situates actions by wilful actors with the objective to generate integrative insights into the future of the organization. By combining our hybrid approach with action based research methods, we can explore how the design process generates business models towards a strongly sustainable future.


 A business model based on selling more goods has been at the heart of the industrial revolution and the material economy of the 20th century. That business model of organizations relies on the design of novelty. But as time passes, this approach is reaching the limits of our planet’s capacity to answer society’s needs. In our research, we wish to use the strength of design to imagine new models for organizations that don’t thrive on increasing consumption. There are many existing businesses that could benefit from establishing a practice of design to continuously improve their business model. As we begin to address the complexity of strongly sustainable business models, we turn our attention to providing services and shared value in a form of conscious capitalism. If such a transformation is putt off, organizations will fight for survival, and so will society as a whole. But if the design process begins early enough, organizations will adapt and renew themselves to take on the challenges of the 21st century.


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