A system is never the sum of its parts, it’s the product of their interaction.


What is System Design?

It is about breaking down a system into its components and further into elements, to understand the problem in a given system. It is a framework for analyzing the interrelationships between elements in a system and how changes to one element affect other elements.

For Eg:

For Eg:

For Eg:

Our body is a system and different body parts are elements that come together to make a whole. Any issue caused by one part might have an influence on another.

System Thinking
Illustration 2
Illustration take from Designstrip

System Thinking in Designing

Design intervention is always assumed to be aesthetically pleasing, but it’s more about coming up with a solution that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also solves the problem with a lasting impact. It is seen to bring forth solutions that are human-centric in nature. As designers, the first thing we should keep in mind is that making someone’s life easier should never come at the expense of another system component.

Designers should always put themselves in the shoes of their target group and constantly seek validation from them, to understand the effectiveness of their design. We have a tendency to limit ourselves to a very narrow problem while we are brainstorming. But the right way to find a solution is to consider the problem as a part of a larger system and try to understand its influence on different elements of the same system. Only by doing so, the solution will be effective.

Illustration 3
Illustration taken from Designstrip

System Thinking in Communication Design

A communication design strategy is about conveying the message or solving a problem with the right set of visuals that appeal to the target group. It holds the potential to influence someone’s decisions or perspective on a given matter.

Lets look at a few examples

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Saachi, a UI/UX designer, had to submit her project before the deadline and was looking at a few guidelines for UI elements. She had to surf across Google, look up at different pages that took up a lot of her time and she ended up being confused and this delayed her work. She wanted a  website that helps her get this information in one go.


For individuals like Sachi, Google Material Design, which was introduced in 2014, is a lifesaver. It’s thorough and covers a wide range of topics, including design concepts like colour, typography, and iconography, as well as user interface elements. It allows designers to style components to meet the needs of their brand. It provided much-needed flexibility to the system by allowing designers to change a single set of components. This resource acts as a way to assist designers who are having difficulty comprehending the guidelines and basic concepts that should be followed when producing a design.

Google Material
Image sourced from Google Material Design

Social Campaigns is also another example of how system thinking helps one in understanding the root cause of a problem. Taking into consideration the fact that a campaign needs to be built for autism awareness, It’s not just about researching about autism and coming up with a campaign. Designers need to break down the whole system on a core level and understand the factors such as, causes, precautions, needs, family history, parents psychology, and many more to build a successful campaign that does not affect anyone’s sentiments.

Autism Speaks is a community formed that is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. They have done a lot of creative campaigns and formulated a system to spread autism awareness.

Autism Speaks poster

Rishab, was traveling to the south on a solo trip. He enjoyed the scenic beauty of Kerala, but he had a very hard time trying to drive from one place to another as most of the signages were written in the local language and he could not read and understand them. He had to stop by near a few local shops to ask them to guide him to his destination.


Way-finding systems  is a blend of communication design and systems in which design helps people and vehicles move more efficiently. The place in which Rishab was staying is a clear example of a poor wayfinding system. A navigation system is supposed to assist you in getting from a source to a destination. A communication designer makes sure this is done in the most effective way possible by taking into consideration different systemic factors such as demographics and different touchpoints to understand the user base and their mental module to give out the most efficient solution. 

Dadar Railway Station, created signages making the facilities available at the station easy to navigate. A thorough process was followed to come up with an efficient system, right from user studies, demographics, languages each factor was considered while coming up with the final output. The railway lines were color-coded so that they are easily distinguishable. 

Dadar railway station
Case Study by Mughda Kale IDC, IIT Bombay

Incorporating a system thinking approach into the design thinking process, I believe, will allow designers and other professionals to empathize with users while also ensuring the larger goal is achieved.