Transparency Trust + Agency in Recycling

Dissecting Complexity to Identify Leverage Points

Select a meaningful, "wicked" problem to dissect and visualize as a system map. From the exploration, identify leverage points where intervention might yield positive impact.


  • Collaborative Project with Lisa Otto, Catherine Oldershaw and Sarah Foley
  • Transition Design Seminar, Spring 2015 (Instructor: Terry Irwin, Gideon Kossoff, Cameron Tonkinwise)
  • My Role: Brainstorming, System Mapping, Information Design (collaborative)

Mapping "Wickedness"

As students who recently moved to Pittsburgh, we were confronted by the lack of recycling infrastructure in the city. Despite their legal obligation, several of our landlords do not provide recycling for tenants. We began mapping the issue from this perspective, tracing the relationships between landlords and tenants, and then expanding the map to include the larger social and commercial structures that govern these interactions. This allowed us to identify leverage points (highlighted in orange below) as well as uncover greater thematic issues of lack of trust, transparency, and agency.

Key Insights

What we found particularly interesting is that these thematic issues (trust, transparency, and agency) are distributed throughout each of the categories that we explored, from our micro interactions with landlords to the macro interactions of companies and consumers. Because it's such a pervasive issue, we suggest targeting efforts to build trust - among the community of tenants, between tenants and landlords, and within the commercial exchanges of companies and consumers -  as key leverage points for change.

Research Process

Our process to map the recycling ecosystem began with a list of the tangibles and intangibles we encounter in our struggle to dispose of a plastic yogurt container. We aggregated the elements that were part of our experiences and then spent the bulk of our time organization these concepts into a visually representative map.

Creating these categorizations raised several questions about the activity as well as the system itself. The first subject of debate was deciding how to sort and group the elements within the recycling space. We understood that any organization would be somewhat arbitrary and worked towards the most benign categorization we could envisage.  We then focused our attention on establishing a clear visual hierarchy to ensure that the map's connections emerged more prominently than the groupings we had devised. Like any good “wicked” problem, we also struggled to define the boundaries of our map, a meaningful stopping point. And finally, it proved challenging to incorporate the diversity of perspectives, as well as acknowledge the limitations of our own, in examining recycling as a social, cultural, and technical system.

Coming to America: the Experience of US Immigration

Exploring Complex Interaction within a System

Explore interaction between elements within a complex system through a visual map.  


  • Collaborative project with Julia Petrich
  • Design Thinking Seminar, Fall 2015 (Instructor: Michael Arnold Mages)
  • My Role: Brainstorming, Diagramming, Persona Creation, Visual + Information Design (collaborative)

Visualizing Interaction

Considering the current relevance global immigration, when tasked with mapping a complex system Julia and I selected it as a topic worth exploring. Immigration as a general system proved far too expansive to map, so we limited the scope of our exploration to immigration into the United States, starting from the moment a prospective immigrant applies for a visa up until he or she receives citizenship.

The first step was to capture the system's central axis in one semantic phrase (below). Then, we expanded outwards from this phrase to define the people, places, and things directly involved in the immigration process.


Humanizing Bureaucracy

At that point, we had thoroughly visualized the process of immigration (below, left), but we had failed to consider the experience. From there, we worked to personify immigration, mapping an immigrant's experience along each of the process' major steps: receiving a visa, getting a Green Card, finding employment, and obtaining citizenship. We captured the emotions, thoughts and ideas associated with each major step and mapped their change as an immigrant moves through the process. This experience journey (below, right), which we layered atop our original process map. helped to anchor our understanding of immigration within a more nuanced human story. The resultant map, depicts both a human personal story as well as the complex, systemic "pipes" that lay beneath.


Research Process

The process of mapping immigration began by iterating upon a central, anchoring statement (captured above in the map's central, gray arrow) . Then, we worked to categorize the systems myriad elements, organizing and reorganizing them until they captured the complexity inherent in the system. Finally we explored how an unconventional organization, like a radial structure, might represent the dizzying, back-and-forth an immigrant must face as he or she moves from office to office to office and back. Though we did not ultimately go with the radial design, thinking about our system in this way allowed us to better understand the intricacies and obstacles embedded within process and experience of immigration.