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Selected to present at:

Racial Discrimination in Pittsburgh

Design Research 


A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of its complexity and ever-changing nature. In this project, in small teams we created a systems map of a wicked problem and present potential solutions. 

 May 2019 

Our project was chosen to be presented at the 2019 RSD8: Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium by the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago. 

The Problem
Where to start when finding solutions for a complex problem

There are innumerable components to a wicked problem, so by creating a method to try and portray as many of these factors can create a clearer visual presentation of the topic. 

The Goal
Finding solutions from systems thinking

It is important to learn the process of systems thinking as a designer in order to create an accessible way to show others the entirety of the wicked problem, understand the multiple perspective of stakeholders involved, and to be thorough when trying to find areas for design intervention. 

Putting everything down on paper
Mess Map 2.jpg

In our team, we brainstormed main topics that influences the discrimination in Pittsburgh (in yellow sticky notes), such as the 'environment/nurture' of individuals. Then we added more detailed subtopics under these categories, such as a 'lack of good education'. These topics and subtopics eventually became their own clusters that related to each other directly and indirectly. Therefore, we added these connection using lines and included evidence we found online to further support our choices for the placement. 

Mess Map 3.JPG

We added more historical events into our mess maps that would have impacted the racial discrimination in Pittsburgh and included the stakeholders of each major topic. By laying out our ideas, we realized that history is a crucial factor in this topic, however, as designers there is not much we can do to intervene with events of the past. Therefore, we decided to include a separate timeline of historical global events and events solely from Pittsburgh. This helps viewers understand how the past has shaped the current state of the problem and allows us to find intervention points. 


We transferred our content to a digital platform and cleaned up our map to make our map clearer. I decided that the major topics would be inclosed in the colored box in the background and the smaller outlined boxes are subtopics. Stakeholders are at the bottom of each subtopic and lines are drawn between major and subtopics with explanation of the connections we made between them. This could easily become complicated, thus, I also added a key on the left to describe the content. 

Our timeline is at the bottom and events are place above and below the line according to whether they are positive or negative influences in history. 

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Local scale intervention

We added our interventions at the end, taking the perspective of multiple stakeholders and creating potential solutions from a local to global scale. From the feedback from others, our solutions seemed disconnected from our map. Thus, I thought to integrate these solutions more into our content, I wanted to include a relationship map for our interventions to show how closely related our major topics of the wicked problem are to each other, and to create a fuller understanding. For example, racial discrimination is impacted by a person's housing location, which relates to one's economic status and economic power. On a local scale, having community events can integrate communities of different areas, including police of these areas, can increase more mutual understanding between different backgrounds and races, and even lower police brutality. 


racial discrimination map2.jpg

^Click image to enlarge

I learned through this project the theory behind systems thinking and the process of applying it to real world problem. This will be useful in my design journey as it helps guide me through thinking about how to approach complicated problems.