Simple System Mapping

System maps pack a lot of information on a page. A simple, cost-effective approach can make this resource accessible.

System maps can be daunting. After all, they are maps of the entire system, right? Well, yes and no. A simple technique called sketch mapping — which is literally about sketching your system as you see fit — can help make systems mapping easier and more accessible without sacrificing quality. A recent article up at provides an introduction to this method and shows why it’s not all about getting fancy, rather using simple tools and a participatory approach.

Why use this? While many people want to do full systems maps in a sophisticated manner, there often isn’t the time to do them. A sketch map is simple, requires little training, and yields enormous benefits for anyone looking to understand where their program or service fits in a larger context. It’s a great technique for service designers, evaluators, or anyone working in a low-resource (e.g. time, money, focus) environment.

Service Innovation Tools

Lucy Kimbell is one of the most thoughtful writers on service design and visual thinking for innovation development out there. She literally wrote the book on it. She’s also modeled the generosity that makes for a good innovator and made her toolkit available online. The methods and tools are useful on their own, however I’d recommend that you buy the book because the design tools without the thinking tools to support the work limits its effectiveness. It also helps place the methods in the context of systems, which is really what makes these systems mapping resources.

Why use these? Kimbell’s ten tools provide service designers with options. Too often we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t know what to do or our approach doesn’t seem to work. Kimbell uses systems-informed thinking and draws on years of design practice to offer simple, easy to use tools to help visualize systems and relationships to support service design work with groups.

Photo by Danae Paparis on Unsplash and Kaleidico on Unsplash

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