The broad research domain of design for sustainability has evolved considerably from its early days of “green design” to currently emerging stream of “design for system innovations and transitions”. Design for system innovations and transitions integrates theories of design and design-led innovation with theories of system innovations and transitions. In this paper we investigate this emerging new area of design research and practice in the context of exploring desirable, resilient and low-carbon city futures, particularly focusing on Visions and Pathways 2040 (VP2040) project as a case study. VP2040 is a four year long multi-university, multi-stakeholder project aiming to develop visions, scenarios and pathways for resilient and low-carbon futures for Australian cities. The project is led by Victorian Eco-innovation Lab (VEIL) of University of Melbourne. Based in Melbourne School of Design, VEIL is a design-led laboratory for design, research, engagement and action. VEIL understands design as being “equally concerned with probing the limits of our current reality as it is with making new realities possible” (Boyer, Cook and Steinberg 2011). We identify and distinguish tangible and intangible qualities of design research and practice that informed conception, design and implementation of the VP2040 project. These include facilitative qualities, synthesising qualities, community centeredness as an extension of user-centeredness in design, and qualities that bring forth particular design skills including but not limited to visualisation, concept generation and prototyping. In the paper we discuss how these qualities are materialised in future focused, vision-led project contexts.