SystemViz is a research project by Peter Stoyko exploring how visuals can enhance systems thinking, especially as it relates to inter-disciplinary, collaborative design. Findings are expressed as visual tools and detailed writings. There are three pillars to the project. The first involves surveying the systems literature across fragmented disciplines to develop unified frameworks for systems thinking. The codices below are the first outcomes of that research. A forthcoming book, How Small Players Change Big Systems (2024), will turn some of those findings into practical advice for systems change. The second pillar surveys notation and diagraming methods for mapping systems. A new information-design framework for mapping systems will be proposed in the near future, among other outputs of that research. Finally, the project explores ways of adding motion and interaction into systems mapping activities. For e-mail updates on the SystemViz project, sign up using the form at the bottom of the page.
The Visual Vocabulary of Systems is a codex that corrals together the main elements and dynamics of systems. A codex is a formal collection of related items. A visual codex adds an illustrative icon to each item. The Visual Vocabulary was assembled from an extensive review of the literature of various disciplines within the natural science, social sciences, design disciplines, and managerial disciplines. Many aspects of systems go by different terms and are understood differently across disciplines. The intent is to provide a shared language for interdisciplinary teams to explore the detailed workings of both natural- and human-made systems. The Visual Vocabulary is free to use and modify. It is released under a Creative Commons Free Culture license that only requires attribution. The codex and additional documentation can be downloaded by clicking below.
Amalgams of systems (such as a society, economy, ecosystem or organization) can be thought of as complex, messy entanglements. The Pattern Atlas of System Vulnerabilities uses the tangle metaphor as a foil to explain the weaknesses inherent to elaborate, human-made systems. Some 30 types of systemic vulnerability are identified across four levels of scale. The Atlas sheds light on a number of challenges facing society. It explains why our increasingly systematized world is becoming more susceptible to break-downs, both large and small. It provides a framework for understanding how small faults can cascade into major disasters. That framework adds clarity to the paradox of why tangles of systems seem to be always changing, yet also staying the same in general. A poster provides a detailed version of the Atlas that is drawn from Peter Stoyko's forthcoming book, How Small Players Change Big Systems (2024). An open source version and other materials can also be downloaded by clicking below.
ATLAS VERSION 1.0.0. The Pattern Atlas of System Vulnerabilities is released with posters and presentation at RSD11 Conference, University of Brighton, UK. The main Atlas poster contains tracts of text from the forthcoming SystemViz book How Small Players Change Big Systems and is subject to copyright. However, an open source version containing the basic elements is also available. [12.10.22]
VV VERSION 1.5.1. Goal drift changed to goal shift to remove negative connotation, with boundary movement changed to boundary shift to add consistency. Reappropriation changed to (re)appropriation, affecting alphabetical order, with wording changes that broaden the concept slightly. Description of support structure expanded. These changes coincide with a presentation at the 65th meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (slides). [02.07.21]
VV VERSION 1.5.0. The final expansion of Version 1 of the Visual Vocabulary, rounding out the set to 200 elements and dynamics. Future expansions will be labelled Version 2 (small modifications will all be under 1.5.X.). Additions include: turbulence, tolerance, translation, correspondence, observer influence, period, dissipation, and exaptation. A few icons have been revised to make more consistent with the icon composition rules: integration, reappropriation, and multi-function. Risk asymmetry has been turned into a more general asymmetry element that includes risk, among other things. Some rewording took place for instruction, disruptor, parallelism, lag, amplifier, (de)activation, trail, and equilibrium. Self-similarity was removed because it mostly referenced an overall system pattern and the core dynamic is contained within holon. [01.02.21]
VV VERSION 1.4.0. The largest expansion of elements to date: load balancing, expulsion, recursion, derivation, entrainment, objectile, and risk asymmetry. Peter Jones suggested recursion and "entailment," the latter of which is broken down into several elements depending on meaning (enabler, parallelism, and cascade, with derivation and entrainment rounding out the potential variations of the concept). [26.09.20]
VV VERSION 1.3.0. Addition of three elements: field, diversion, and check. Changes coincide with webinars held for the United Nations Development Programme's Accelerator Labs. [09.06.20]
VV VERSION 1.2.2. A minor clean up of wording in anticipation of translation of the visual vocabulary into other languages. [24.03.20]
VV VERSION 1.2.1. Workshops revealed the lack of a basic domain-space element is an oversight, so that element was added in anticipation of a virtual session at OCADU, Toronto, Canada. [22.03.20]
VV VERSION 1.2.0. Addition of three elements: reactivity, dynamic balance, and reappropriation. Changes coincide with lecture and workshop held at Centro de diseño, cine y televisión, Mexico City, Mexico. Workshop exercise notes are available here (PDF). [08.03.20]
VV VERSION 1.1.0. Addition of three elements: accumulation, dampener, and cross-domain risk, with added footnote. New elements propagated to other downloads. Office chips have major categories placed on separate sheets to make color coding easier with printing on colored paper. [02.12.19]
VV VERSION 1.0.2. Minor clean-up of text to remove awkward grammar. [21.11.19]
VV VERSION 1.0.1. Modifications: spelling corrections, colour adjustments to chips, and change of Symbolic Milieu icon. Release of open source packages. [06.11.19]
VV VERSION 1.0.0. Launch of the Visual Vocabulary poster at RSD8 Conference at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, USA, plus the first public trial of the chips in a conference workshop. [18.10.19]
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