Closing the loop

Systems thinking for designers

by Sheryl Cababa

What does it mean to serve people in today’s converging world where change is a constant? If the last few years have shown us anything from COVID-19, societal imbalance, and climate change, the playbooks that explain how we should serve people need to change. How might we revisit our institutions and industries to instigate systemic, positive change?

Despite advances in the proliferation of design thinking and human-centricity over the last couple of decades, the business world continues to suffer from a cloud of ambiguity concerning design’s application in business. This ambiguity is exacerbated when the speed of the clock becomes exponentially faster, thanks to digital technology and increasing global connectivity.

Enter Closing the Loop, where Sheryl Cababa leverages her more than two decades of diverse experiences to offer us clarity about this dilemma. While many design practitioners cite the virtues of being human-centric and making the end user the hero, Sheryl helps us understand the potential cascade of unintended consequences from every design and business decision. She opens our aperture.

As a design practitioner myself, I love that Sheryl implores us to question our own positionality, power, and privilege with a healthy dose of humility. Because, if we resort to the typical design-thinking process of empathizing with “end users” and imagining “solutions,” we probably filter what we hear from people through our own myopic biases and create further harm.

Instead, by integrating systems thinking into our approach, we can leverage alternative techniques, like using causal loop maps to study counterintuitive effects to really test our foundational assumptions. We can also push back on the prevalence of techno-optimism that doesn’t consider unintended consequences, by leveraging tools like the futures wheel to study first- and second-order effects.

To rise above the fray of marketers marketing and consumers consuming, Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers provides us with a plethora of accessible frameworks to systematically address the “who, what, why, and how” behind our work. Consequently, we stand a better chance of shaping our preferred futures with better tools in hand through the rubics that Sheryl provides.

The bottom line: This is probably the best body of work on systems thinking that I’ve run across in quite a while. Kudos to Sheryl!

—Kevin Bethune

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