Sheryl Cababa - Systems Thinking for Designers


Wondering how systems thinking impacts designers? Sheryl Cababa shares her insights on systems thinking for designers. With tips on introducing the concept to your organization and a few visual frameworks to employ in your practice, it was an enlightening discussion that will prepare you to dive into systems thinking. Learn more about systems thinking with Sheryl Cababa's tips and gain value from the discussion on The Product Design Podcast.

📢 Understand the three concepts of systems thinking.

Approach all new projects with a new mindset using the three concepts of systems thinking: interconnectedness, causality, and wholeness. This practice will allow you to view your project holistically and think through the impact beyond just creating your design.

💡 Unlock the potential of your design team with systems thinking.

  • Start with design research to gain insights into the current system landscape.
  • Analyze problems and think up creative solutions by ‘peeling back the proverbial iceberg’ with an iceberg diagram.
  • Create multiple potential outcomes and scenarios using ‘future wheel’ diagrams.
  • Finally, brainstorm with your design team to engage in systems thinking and dive deeper into the analysis and ideation process.

Systems Thinking for Designers

In episode 54 of The Product Design Podcast, Seth Coelen interviews Sheryl Cababa, Author of Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking For Designers and Chief Strategy Officer at Substantial. Her book dives into how powerful a systems thinking mindset is for designers and provides tools and frameworks to help define the systems that surround your work.

During our chat, Sheryl provides us with an overview of the three concepts of systems thinking for designers, the cascading impact and barriers of systems thinking, and her take on the shortcomings of user-centered design. This episode will help you think deeper about the impact of the products you work on and understand the systems and context that can surround your design decisions.

Sheryl Cababa and Seth Coelen on The Product Design Podcast

This article will focus on Sheryl's approach to systems thinking for designers and her advice on bringing systems thinking to your organization.

Closing the Loop

Sheryl Cababa is a creative visionary in the world of design, dedicated to helping designers close the gap between ideas and implementation. Her book Closing The Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers offers invaluable insight into how designers can use systems thinking as a tool when creating projects. Sheryl provides readers with an engaging introduction to the power of systems thinking in her book.

Not only will readers be inspired by Sheryl's advice and knowledge, but they'll also learn how to use systems thinking in their own creative projects, from understanding the existing landscape to envisioning the future. During our chat, Sheryl shared the three concepts of systems thinking to consider as you shift to a systems thinking mindset. Grab the coupon code below and get your copy of Sheryl's book!

🧩 Interconnectedness

Recognizing that everything is interconnected, including entities outside of what you're designing, such as stakeholders and the regulatory environment.

⚙️ Causality

Understanding that there are both intended and unintended consequences to the thing you're designing that might be out of your control but should be considered.

🌎 Wholeness

Thinking about the system in a holistic way, considering how far out it extends and what points of innovation might be present.

“One of my goals, when I was writing this book, was to try to make some of these things that embody a systems thinking mindset accessible for people. You can actually do this tomorrow at work if you're embarking on a project.”
Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers by Sheryl Cababa

How to Bring Systems Thinking to Your Organization

You don't have to be a senior leader to implement systems thinking at your company. In fact, you can get started right away! Grab your design team a copy of Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking doe Designers, and begin utilizing systems thinking today to progress your project or organization.

📊 Design Research.

Do design research and model existing systems. Get to know the current system landscape, analyze problems and think up creative solutions.

🤔 Analyze the iceberg.

Analyze and uncover patterns of behavior, structures, and mental models! Map hidden structures and behaviors by peeling back the proverbial ‘iceberg’ with the help of an iceberg diagram.

🔮 Look to the future!

Envision a better tomorrow with the use of ‘future wheel’ diagrams that consider multiple potential outcomes and scenarios.

💭 Brainstorm with your design team.

Engage in systems thinking with your design team, utilizing their collective skillsets to dive deeper into the analysis and ideation process.

Sheryl Cababa
“Designers have a really good superpower in terms of being able to think visually and to be able to depict things visually. There are quite a few visual frameworks that can be employed to actually engage in systems thinking in your work.”

Thank you so much, Sheryl!

Thank you, Sheryl, for joining us on the show and taking us through the concepts covered in your book. From the three main concepts to the cascading impact and barriers of design systems, it was a fascinating discussion that will bring so much value to our listeners. Shery's advice on getting systems thinking started right away can help you to make an impact with systems thinking regardless of your role at the company you work for.

Listen to the complete episode on The Product Design Podcast, which includes Sheryl's take on the shortcomings of user-centered design and how she landed a job at Microsoft earlier in her career. Don't forget to follow Sheryl on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Medium blog. You can also grab a copy of her book Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers for more information!

Where to find Sheryl

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