The Content of the book:
Part One: Knowledge Base
Part Two: Flexible Use
Part Three: Spiritual Essence
Figure 0.2 A photo of Liang Ying and Hugh Dubberly and a poster with signatures from his colleagues at Apple company
Under the guidance of Hugh and my thesis advisor, Scott Minneman, I did a lot of case studies and user research around systems knowledge and methodologies. This process has laid the theoretical and practical foundation for the book you are reading.
However, there is an important part that has not been covered. When my thesis is coming to an end, Scott said to me: “Your thesis needs to be taught to designers, and you should listen to their feedback, then it can be completed.” In San Francisco, I had one opportunity of spreading the theories. At the Graduation Design Exhibition, AKQA’s design director saw my thesis exhibition and took the flyer I placed on the booth. (I wrote my contact information on the flyer)Then the secretary of their company contacted me and invited me to their company. I went there and introduced the outcomes of my thesis.
After returning to China, I joined the NetDragon company. I was interviewed by Wu Runjun, who is the manager of NetDragon Beijing Branch. He said to me: “I was very happy to see your resume. We may need you to educate designers here.” I didn’t expect God to arrange a job that was so suitable for me. At Web Dragon, I began to think about how other designers can fully understand the theories and how to impart knowledge in a more attractive way through lectures. This is the unfinished assignment that Scott left for me.
Case studies and teaching knowledge are two completely different mind states and require completely different ways of thinking. Case studies are processes of theoretical practices and hypothetical verification processes. I need to dig deeper into the small point that I am particularly interested in. I just know a little bit about other related knowledge points, just like the stars in the sky. Some of them are clear, and some are dim. Teaching knowledge to others, especially those who have more working experience than me, requires a very solid theoretical foundation. Therefore, the processes of preparing the courses are actually processes of learning again.
When I just started my lectures, I just thought about how to express this knowledge straightforwardly. However, the results were not satisfactory: except for a few students, most of them did not understand the whole contents and felt that they were too theoretical. Yingchun and Wangke (two of my colleagues) repeatedly reminded me how to make the texts(I was writing articles at the same time) and courses more interesting. “Interesting” – is it the same important consideration for user experience design? Yes, introducing knowledge and designing interfaces are very similar – they are creating experiences. Just like the differences between DOS and Apple: Sometimes it has the same function, but people just think that the other one is more acceptable. This is also similar to cooking. The shoddy food and the delicious food can also fill the stomach, but which one has a better experience? I once read an article Yingchun sent to me. After reading the article, I suddenly felt that it was a well-designed cake, and my article was like a compressed biscuit that was eager to fill the stomach. The process of writing a book is also a process in which my writing skills are slowly improving.
During the courses of this year, some students often asked questions that I couldn’t answer at the moment. Sometimes I would email Hugh Dubberly to seek the answers. His reply is often very detailed, even twice as long as my email. I am very thankful for his serious response to a former student from the other side of the earth.
It is often seen that people repeatedly emphasize that their theories are original. In fact, there are no complete “original” theories in the world. Even the scientific research findings are called “discoveries.” The thing that was discovered is always there, but there is a cover on it. The scientist is just uncovering. It is the same as design theories. Theories have their origins, but different people have different understandings of them and different ways of applying them.
Systems thinking has been mentioned and applied in the fields of finance and management. It is rarely mentioned in design fields, especially in China. So I combined the knowledge I learned, the experience I had, and the classes I taught to build a more systematic knowledge architecture with the perspective of product creators and designers. At the same time, I combined the knowledge with China’s economic and cultural backgrounds, pursuing readers’ full understanding and absorption.
After a series of courses, many designers have been able to solve problems in more systematic ways. Some designers can use system maps in real projects, and they said to me: “I feel that the knowledge you introduced is very useful.” I feel very gratified.
During teaching, these theories have been further developed. It laid a solid foundation for this book.
I hope that more designers and product leaders in China can understand and apply systems thinking and can provide valuable opinions and suggestions for the development of knowledge. This is my motive for writing this book.
Someone once said that “you should not read the content only, but read the author’s motives. If you don’t understand the motives behind the book, you will never understand the book.” Our trajectory of writing this book is also a process of managing and reforming our own motives.
There are four authors who participated in writing this book. Besides me, there are Wu Runjun, Xu Yingchun, and Wang Ke. I am responsible for writing most of the book, but my experience and knowledge are limited, so I invited them to write it together. Wu Runjun is responsible for the design management part of Chapter 8. He has rich experience in design management. Systems thinking is very important for any manager, especially for design managers, because the design works contain a lot of management, and few designers work alone. Secondly, with the accumulation of design experience, the management proportion will increase continually. Xu Yingchun is responsible for writing some real examples. She has a keen information capture ability and learning ability. Sometimes I talked about a point, and she can always think of a map. In order to make this book more firmly grounded in times, she has added many examples that are close to everyone’s life so that everyone can better understand the theoretical knowledge in the book. She also has a keen sense of the Internet industry and has many insights into the product-service ecosystem. Wang Ke has rich experience in graphic design and interface design. For designers, visual abilities are very important and necessary. They are our solid basic skills. Therefore, He is responsible for writing Chapter 7 of visual systems.
Throughout the writing process, we strive to let every word be useful and helpful for readers. This is the motive for us to write this book.
Hugh Dubberly’s Forward for this book:
Why Systems Thinking Is The Future of Designing
Over the last thirty years, the practice of designing has changed greatly. Some of the changes have resulted from designers adopting new technologies — new tools, new media, and new materials. Still, more changes have resulted from new technologies infiltrating our personal lives, the business world, and larger social systems — becoming part of the “stuff” designers design. Together, these changes constitute a new “space” in which design work is done (a new milieu of design practice) — perhaps even a new type of design practice (a new métier). A defining characteristic of this new space of design practice, perhaps the defining characteristic, is a concern for systems. For most of the 20th century, designers focused primarily on products and messages. Starting in the mid-1980s, many designers began to use personal computers as production tools — for creating “working drawings,” production artwork, and other specifications for manufacturing — thus reducing time and cost, enabling more frequent iteration, and increasing quality. (These digital production tools invite systems thinking, and they are most efficient when they support larger design systems.) By the mid-1990s, many designers had begun to recognize that computers are not just tools, supplementing the design of products and messages; computers also offer a range of new media for communication. These new media are interactive hybrids of hypertext, movies, and simulations — enabling new ways of telling stories, marshaling arguments, and explaining the world. They began with video games, multimedia experiments, and web pages, and they continue to grow and evolve. (Digital media rely on content management systems and other platforms; designing “for” and “with” them requires systems thinking.) Starting about 2000, the internet became a platform for delivering applications. With the launch of the iPhone in 2007 (and its competitors), “apps” proliferated. “Computers” — microprocessors and the software programs they run — offer the potential for creating new types of “smart” products. Software and the services it supports are becoming a material of design. (Software design — interaction design or “UX” — and service design increasingly involve systems design, which again requires systems thinking.) Over the same time period, the nature of design projects has changed, too. Old patterns from the industrial age have given way to new patterns in the information age. Products once sold in separate transactions are now delivered via services, creating ongoing relationships between consumers and producers. A once isolated “point of sale” is now part of a system of connected “touch-points.” Products that once were “stand-alone” are increasingly smart, connected, and aware — sensing their surroundings and sharing data with systems in the cloud. Where most products could be managed as if they were independent actors, product managers and designers must now think in terms of product-service ecologies — systems of interconnected products and services, each depending on the others. These “systems of systems” are a new material of design. What is more, on top of the many issues affecting daily design practice described above, we also need designers to address the “wicked problems” faced by our societies (existential threats from tangles of interconnected issues for which there are neither clear solutions nor even agreement on how to define the situation) — issues such as climate change, disparities in income and resource consumption, and many other issues of social justice. Wicked problems cannot be tamed in isolation; they must be viewed from a “whole systems” perspective. And they require designers who understand systems. Joi Ito, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, sums up well the changing world of design practice, “Design has also evolved from the design of objects both physical and immaterial to the design of systems, to the design of complex adaptive systems. This evolution is shifting the role of designers; they are no longer the central planner but rather participants within the systems they exist in. This is a fundamental shift — one that requires a new set of values.” It also requires a new approach to designing — an approach that brings systems thinking into design practice and incorporates language, patterns, and models from systems theory into design discourse. Co-authors Liang Ying, Wu Run Jun, Xu Yingchun, and Wang Ke have written a very useful introduction to systems thinking for designers grappling with the changing world of design practice described above. — Hugh Dubberly, Palo Alto, California, June 16, 2019