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The roundtable is dedicated to a conversation about the state of mapping in systemic design, the various styles and applications, and new approaches and uses. RSD12 Chair Evan Barba centres the discussion on emergence and entanglements with colleagues from four design schools that include mapping in their curricula.

Facilitator | Evan Barba | Georgetown University and RSD12 Chair

Opening questions:

  • How can we ensure that our maps function as sites of emergence; inspiring, incubating, and testing new ideas about how a system can and should operate?
  • What do we see as emerging techniques or uses of maps in the next few years?
  • What limitations of mapping have emerged, and how can we address these?
  • What types of emergence are maps unable to capture and how do we account for this?


Praveen Nahar & Sahil Thappa | metaphor maps | National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad

Peter Jones & Lorraine Randell | synthesis maps | OCAD University, Toronto and Tec de Monterrey

Jotte de Koning | TU Delft

Mari Souheimo & Birger Sevaldson | gigamaps | Oslo School of Architecture & Design

Host | Aakash Bhadra |

Organiser | Cheryl May |

Note: This is an audio recording with the speakers’ names and their maps. It is primarily best for listening (there is a short segment of introductory music).

I just want to say I’m very much in line with Praveen and Sahil. I was very worried about the gigamaps being stable or non-dynamic, but the maps are not necessarily where emergence happens—it’s in the social system and in the conversations, the rivers of conversations in the process and the social system that is producing the maps. And that reflects back on the process and reflects back to the map. So the map is changing—registering those changes and playing back on that. For example, we observed a lot of mapping across silos, it’s, it’s really, really useful for talking across silos with people who have totally different backgrounds, different expertise, and try to understand each other. So yeah, I mean, I totally agree with them—and I’m not so worried about the maps being being studied anymore. —Birger Sevaldson

Mapping Roundtable Summary

AI-generated, human-edited by Cheryl May

Emergence and mapping, focusing on its limitations and potential for funnelling thinking.

Evan Barba opens with thoughts on emergence as a fundamental characteristic of systems, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Emergence can be captured in a systemic design process through gigamapping, synthesis mapping, and other techniques.

Emergence in design education: diverse perspectives lead to unexpected outcomes.

Designing services for refugees in Norway. 7:24

Mari discusses designing services for Ukrainian refugees in Norway, highlighting sudden policy changes and emergent complexities.

Birger agrees with Praveen and Sahil and shares similar concerns about the stability of maps but highlights their potential for emergence and cross-silos communication.

Emergence and mapping in design education. 11:05

Lorraine shows students how to map systems using lo-fi prototyping materials, overcoming formalism and content-related challenges.

Lorraine observes that students’ Lo-Fi mapping process led to unexpected insights and creativity despite initial challenges with understanding the task.

Teaching systems thinking in universities. 15:17

Jotte and Lorraine discuss the importance of considering social and mental models in system mapping. These models often emerge during the mapping process and can help identify patterns.

Jotte shares an exercise where students use tracing paper to layer different patterns on top of a physical map, creating a messy but insightful process.

Using synthesis mapping in systemic design courses. 17:29

Discussion about experience in a systemic design course at OCAD, where students learned formal models and how to apply them in a project.

Peter highlights the importance of intrapersonal and interpersonal variability in learning formal models and how teams can use these models to sketch and work with different spatial representations.

He shares an example of a visual narrative that emerged during a course on formal models. In it, the brain is plugged into a wall, and the expression “it’s time to pull the plug” emerges.

The visualisation of the brain and rendering did not come together until 10-14 days left in the class, highlighting the importance of graphic design confidence in forming a map.

Mapping process and emergence. 23:30

Peter highlights the importance of incorporating the patient perspective in the visualisation of a healthcare system. During the learning process, it emerged that the patient’s flow within the system is nonlinear and emotional.

The visualisation process expanded the team’s visual vocabulary, providing a toolkit for new mappers to build upon.

Maps created by the mapping team can continue to evolve and take on a life of their own after they are delivered to clients or sponsors.

The group discusses the challenge of letting go of the map and allowing clients to take ownership of it while still continuing to learn and improve it.

Dynamic maps and transferring knowledge. 28:45

Jotte and Birger discuss the limitations of transferring knowledge from mapping exercises to real-world problems.

Using artefacts as narrative sites. 31:01

Concern about clients using artefacts as a site for narrative, potentially canonising them as truth.

Mapping skills and democratisation. 32:32

Developing a gigamap in two weeks with a team of 3-4 people surprisingly leads to interesting opportunities for growth.

Francis seeks to scale the intangible capability of mapping to democratise processes and avoid toxic consulting practices.

Mapping techniques and their limitations. 37:00

The decoding empathy project involves creating a playbook for teachers to make children more empathic, focusing on local context and replication.

Lack of understanding hinders mapping as a process, democratising making as a form of knowledge.

Jotte highlights the importance of considering the maker’s perspective and standpoint in mapping processes.

Mapping and modelling in design processes. 44:37

Birger emphasises the importance of using multiple perspectives and models to understand complex systems, as single approaches can only provide a partial view.

The group debates whether there’s value in creating and discarding maps in the design process, with Evan questioning the time and resources needed for this

Democratisingtizing systemic design methods. 48:49

Discussion about the aim to democratise systemic design by developing simple, visualisable models.

Peter emphasizes the democratic nature of the methodology and its accessibility to a wider audience.

Systems mapping and design with a focus on interdisciplinary approaches and real-world applications. 52:38

Challenge of time management when facilitating workshops, finding it challenging to engage stakeholders in a long process.

The graphic development of a map can be a thinking process, helping to reorganise and rethink information.

Discussion about interdisciplinary methods with neuroscience and gaming engines for advancing visual-spatial understanding.

Mapping and problem-solving in various fields. 58:46

Mari shares her thoughts on the political impact of Ukrainian refugees in Finland, mentioning the ongoing debate and potential changes to healthcare and social services.

Cheryl May:

Thanks to 33 donors and 5 supporters who contributed 110 CDN, we will exceed our goal to support hosting online sessions throughout the year.

Acknowledging Systemic Design Association board members in attendance—Ryan Murphy and co-founders Peter Jones and Birger Sevaldson—for their continuous care for this community and for establishing a systemic design corpus.

Chatting about games

01:17:41 Sahil Thappa: Maybe using tools like games which can support the map’s core could also help it be dynamic and tweakable.01:22:08

Claudia Brenner: @sahil thappa – games seem very promising. what have you found?

01:22:58 Birger Sevaldson: Replying to “@sahil thappa – game…” our last master course resulted in a theatre play. Not exactly a game but…

01:23:05 Kai Costantini: Replying to “Maybe using tools li…”Excellent – throwing away the maps !!!! is a  very strong concept in and of itself – – the game comment is great here because it is already ephemeral – dynamic – has a ‘reshuffle part to it’ socially – rules…might be open for change or negotiation as a rule of the mapping -in games you can rebuild the board – if you create a game that builds the board/map…. – ….there is a lot here to explore….(goes also with the serious games link before)

01:23:06 Evan Barba: my playable systems group has been using games in place of maps

01:23:16 Kai Costantini: Reacted to “Maybe using tools li…” with 👏

01:23:24 Kai Costantini: Reacted to “my playable systems …” with 👍

01:23:48 Sahil Thappa: Replying to “@sahil thappa – game…”

We use different games of Perspectivity in our classroom which helps student understand that it’s possible to simulate complex and interconnected issues and problems.

01:23:59 Lorraine Randell: Reacted to “my playable systems …” with 👍

01:24:02 Jotte de Koning: Reacted to “We use different gam…” with 👍

01:24:12 Cheryl May: Replying to “Maybe using tools li… “Gamification is an emergent direction I’m seeing in mapping. Thanks for raising it.

Mapping roundtable sketchnote
Sketchnote courtesy of Aditi Shinde. @ditiiee


Final submissions are due on
April 30

Open call for Reviewers
April 1–30

Feedback to authors
June 30

sessions OCTOBER 16–18

RSD13-OSLO & Nordmarka Forest October 22–26

Lidar-derived image of the Danube River and floodplain near Tulln, Austria. Daniel Coe. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED