I hope you’re having a restful holiday! I've taken a couple of days off in the last week, but I'm about to get very busy.
In little less than a month, I start teaching my graduate systems studio course at CCA. This semester will be the fourth time I teach this course, and I’m confident about the material. However, the current context (i.e., 100% remote) changes the experience: among other things, we must eschew in-person exercises. As a result, I’m revising the syllabus. It’s an excellent opportunity to review the basics and think anew about how to introduce the subject.
Thinking in terms of systems is fundamental to good design. The thing you’re designing is never an end in itself; it’s always part of something bigger. Conversely, the work’s subject isn’t monolithic but composed of elements smaller than itself. At all levels, components interact with each other to accomplish particular purposes. Whole > sum of the parts.
It sounds basic, but students (and professional designers) are more drawn to the parts than the relationships between them — or, more importantly, to the whole. The more tangible the element, the easier it is to grok. Wholes are much harder to grasp. We fawn over elegant screen layouts and lose sight of the fact they’re hurting the bottom line, contributing to unhealthy user behaviors, or worse.
My job in this course is to help students understand their work in terms of wholes; to see and articulate the distinctions between system components and the (dynamic) relationships between them. The subject can be very abstract, and many people have a hard time with abstraction. The classroom (whether physical or virtual) provides a safe environment to practice mapping and modeling systems, skills that are increasingly (and I’d argue, urgently) relevant.
As I prepare for the course, I would love to hear from you on this subject. Are systems thinking/mapping/modeling part of your work? Are they valued in your organization? Is your work environment conducive to designing at these higher levels of abstraction? How do you discuss these things with your colleagues, managers, and stakeholders? Please let me know by replying to this email.