This article investigates transitions at the level of societal functions (e.g., transport, communication, housing). Societal functions are fulfilled by sociotechnical systems, which consist of a cluster of aligned elements, e.g., artifacts, knowledge, markets, regulation, cultural meaning, infrastructure, maintenance networks and supply networks. Transitions are conceptualised as system innovations, i.e., a change from one sociotechnical system to another. The article describes a co-evolutionary multi-level perspective to understand how system innovations come about through the interplay between technology and society. The article makes a new step as it further refines the multi-level perspective by distinguishing characteristic patterns: (a) two transition routes, (b) fit-stretch pattern, and (c) patterns in breakthrough. © 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.