Using systems mapping to understand design framing
MetadataShow full item record
Design is a cognitive activity that involves an iterative process of problem definition, analysis, solution synthesis, and evaluation. These are necessary for grappling with the complex and ill-structured nature of design problems, that are shaped and focused by those who attempt to solve them. Early parts of the design process require designers to select into view elements of the problem that they deem important for generating solutions. These elements are interconnected and dynamic, shifting criteria and constraints that the designer must consider as they explore the design space. This exploration process is commonly referred to as problem framing, which is essential to the success of creating solutions to design problems. One useful way that designers can understand the complexity inherent to design problems is by using systems thinking. Systems are commonly thought of as sets of components or parts with interrelations between them which, when arranged in a particular way, carry out a specific purpose. Systems thinking is the way that we understand those system components and the interrelations in order to create interventions, which are often used to move the system outcomes in a more favourable direction. As such, systems thinking has emerged as a promising approach to aid in designers’ understanding of complex design problems. This thesis proposes a novel research approach to understand design framing activity using a system thinking lens. In particular, I use a common system thinking tool – systems mapping – which is often used to visualize complex situations in order to gain clarity of the elements that are important. I use the systems mapping approach on verbal protocols of designers engaging with design problems in two separate design contexts, in order to retrospectively understand their framing activity. The system map visualizations are analyzed from a wide variety of perspectives, highlighting the novel approach’s use to understand design behaviour. The method and analyses conducted suggest that these system maps offer a representation of the design framing activity that occurs in each session. Furthermore, small communities of related nodes could represent design frames, used by the designers to create targeted solutions to the design problem. In addition, a temporal analysis on the development of nodes and system dynamics indicates these elements are developed mostly in the early parts of the session, highlighting when framing of the problem occurs. Finally, by assigning ownership of each element added to the system map, the contributions made by each participant can be visualized and analyzed to demonstrate the group’s collective understanding of the problem. In conclusion, the efficacy of the approach for understanding design framing activity in particular stages of the design process is emphasized. That is, the system mapping approach is well suited to visualize the framing activity that occurs in open-ended problem contexts, where designers are more focused on problem finding and analyzing rather than specifying details of their solutions. Several future research avenues for which the approach would be useful are proposed, with the goal of testing systems mapping in a wider range of problem contexts.
Cite this version of the work
Gregory Litster (2022). Using systems mapping to understand design framing. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18195