Closing the Loop Cover

Closing the Loop

Systems Thinking for Designers

By Sheryl Cababa

To be published: February 2023
Paperback: 280 pages
ISBN: 978-1-959029-88-5
Digital ISBN: 978-1-959029-87-8

As design continues to impact our products, services, and solutions at scale, it is more important than ever to understand the systems and context that surround design decisions. Closing the Loop will help you make the invisible visible. It will introduce you to a powerful systems thinking mindset, and provide you with the tools and frameworks to define the systems that surround your work.


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More about Closing the Loop

Testimonials

Cababa’s book comes at a crucial moment for design, and points the way toward a more inclusive, meaningful future for our work.

—David Dylan Thomas, author, Design for Cognitive Bias

Cababa reminds us of what design was intended to be: a force for positive impact. Through relatable examples and frameworks for thinking plus doing, this book is a guide for designers to practice the design we all want.

—Masuma Henry, Design Director, Google

Cababa’s timely guide to systems thinking is the catapult that designers need to progress and take on the critical societal challenges that lie ahead.

—Brandon Schauer, Rare.org’s leader of Climate Culture

As an anthropologist, I know the value of bringing a systems perspective to designing for change. Sheryl’s book is a thoughtful guide for designers seeking to bring more systems thinking to their craft.

—Tracy Pilar Johnson, Design Anthropologist, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 

This is a must-have book for practitioners developing products and services at every level.

—Jose Coronado, Executive Director Digital Experience Design, J.P. Morgan 

Design helps people by offering thoughtful solutions, which can also bring unintended consequences. Sheryl’s book urges us to broaden our perspective and provides valuable guidance to bring into daily practice.

—Hung-Hsiang Chen, Head of UX & HF at ConvaTec

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Shortcomings of User-Centered Design
Chapter 2: A Systems-Thinking Mindset
Chapter 3: Systems Thinking and Design Thinking
Chapter 4: Collecting Your Data
Chapter 5: Synthesis and Mapping Stakeholders
Chapter 6: Mapping Forces
Chapter 7: Creating a Theory of Change
Chapter 8: Anticipating Unintended Consequences
Chapter 9: Speculative Design Futures

Foreword

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
Author, Reimagining Design: Unlocking Strategic Innovation, and founder, dreams • design + life

Illustrations