Systems thinking

Step Two: Map out the design problem

Create a big beautiful visual map(s) on a whiteboard or on large sheets of recycled paper with various colors of pens, pencils, and sticky notes. You will zoom out to look at the big picture and zoom in for the details of the problem(s).*

*Do not think about or map out any solutions yet! That is the focus of Step Three.

In Step Two, the process that works best is messy. Messy in the sense that you and your team will be starting, stopping, questioning, adding, erasing, researching, calling experts, and eventually creating a visual map (think a mind map on steroids) of the design problem(s) that will need further clean-up and refinement post session. You and your team will explore not only the surface level design problem, but also, most importantly, the root cause, who is affected.

Key items to add to your visual map:

  • The problem(s) you are trying to solve through
  • The factors that cause this problem (in great detail)
  • The stakeholders
    • Earth (atmosphere, land, water), specific groups in the local community, client, users, and etc.

To learn more about how to complete Step Two, you’ll need the full Toolkit below.

Design to Renourish


We go into much greater detail on how to use systems thinking in our new book “Design to Renourish: Sustainable Graphic Design in Practice.” The book offers solutions to the real life challenges of working with the client to create sustainable work. Through ten case studies that feature interviews with international design teams who embrace a sustainable systems methodology, the reader will gain valuable insights on how to design to renourish.

Learn more

Print & Packaging Design

More and more, print designers are taking small steps along a new, more sustainable path. We’re discovering that small changes become large when multiplied by thousands of other designers making similar decisions.

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UI/UX Design

Creating for the web or mobile device can provide many opportunities to connect, educate, and mobilize. However, it is important to remember that even though paper is not involved, UI/UX work does still have significant environmental and social impacts.

Learn more