Systems Thinking: Broader Impact on Product

At Artefact, we’re developing systems thinking and causal loops methods. Our work focuses on healthcare, education, technology and emerging tech. We believe design, technology and innovation can lead to a better future. Still, everyone must consider the broader impact of our products now more than ever.

Do you ask the right questions, understand the right context and know what you want to change from the status quo? Most of the time, we don’t explicitly design for the outcomes we want from a societal perspective. Instead, most of us design directly for benefit of use. 

Over the last century, design had been conducted with a product-oriented approach. People designed things that were appealing and easy to use (a chair, radio, etc.). In the digital age, we begin to design around the creation of the desired experience – like online banking. More recently, systems thinking considers designing explicitly for positive societal outcomes.

Tweet About It

Twitter is a great example. A couple of years ago they did an app redesign. They said it would be lighter, faster and easier to use. As a result, interaction was more fluid and new shortcuts were implemented. Personally, I found the changes appealing. However, the public response was dramatically different. What they wanted was for Twitter to respond to the problem of online harassment, not new swipes and buttons. 

At that moment, Twitter didn’t consider the broader goal of making their platform safe. They considered the individual instead of the broader context of how their app works in society. So when we consider system thinking and outcomes, it forces us to think beyond the direct benefits of use. 

We Must Be Aware

At Artefact, we came up with the “Tarot Cards of Tech” which remind developers and product people to think about the unintended consequences of their products. This means to consider things like scale, disruption, excess and usage. For instance, what does using your product too much look like? All of this was born of questions we ourselves were asking with our clients, and it resonates across many sectors such as social impact, tech companies, startups and more. 

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