Reflections on ‘Embracing Change’

STBY is actively taking part in the Service Design Network and was therefore keen to virtually attend last year’s Service Design Global Conference (SDGC) in October 2020. The theme of the conference was ‘Embracing Change’, which was approached through different perspectives; from change in organisations, change in people’s attitudes and change through service design. Attending conferences allows us to reflect on our own work as design researchers and to get inspired by the work of others. The theme of the conference ‘Embracing Change’ is a core aspect we consider in our work at STBY when approaching key issues in contemporary society, technology and business. We see that many organisations including our clients engage with design researchers to help them transform from being internally focused to interacting more collaboratively and sustainably with the outside world. 

Two conference talks inspired us to reflect on how we at STBY embrace change. The examples below illustrate how service design is used in different contexts of transformation and change: 

Understanding the transformative role of designers in today’s complex world

Marihum Pernia, from OpenKnowledge, Milan, outlined a collaborative research by Service Design Drinks Milan – Transforming Designers – to assess, discuss and envision the evolution of the role of design around the world. This conversation emerges from the observation that design is serving different types of realities where designers are expanding their roles, they don’t just design. The key takeaways from her talk were:

– Design is going into new contexts and reaching new sectors like large enterprises, transforming the way designers work in business contexts and innovation.
– Designers are able to manage complexity in creative ways, while also offering simplification by bringing new angles of looking at things.
– Designers are becoming more hybrid. There is a continuous upgrading of knowledge and skill set in order to provoke change and learn the language of an organisation.
– Designers are building their own story connecting purpose to fluid design identity.

This current research would be valuable as an ongoing exploration within a global design community to unpack how designers are evolving and what this means for the future of the design discipline. This global research from Marihum Pernia isn’t trying to define design but rather encourage the evolution and ‘hybridness’ of designers as design principles and methods move into new domains. 

Image: Marihum Pernia at Service Design Network.

Understanding the unintentional harm of doing design research

Cassie Jiun Seo from the Norwegian Refugee Council shared her experiences of practising Ethical Service Design within a humanitarian aid context. Humanitarian Aid workers operating as Service Designers in the displacement context (e.g. refugee camps) have to respond very quickly to complex needs with limited resources. They are forced to be creative and engage closely with the local community in order to understand their needs. Therefore it is important to act responsible, considerate, less harmful and effective but unfortunately there is a risk of doing unintentional harm and therefore she shared some of her insights from previous case studies:

– Be aware of the assumptions you have and check if they are actually validated within the community
– Be aware of the stress context to minimise the severity harm from it
– Think about unwanted consequences for the most extreme user
– Provide an opportunity for the most silences users to be included
– Examine the context and the power dynamic including your own role within the system

Reflecting on most of her examples it is important to be aware and respect the gender inequalities that often exist in refugee camps. You have to find creative ways to be inclusive when doing field research and this perspective makes us even more aware of our own role and bias when engaging together with users doing fieldwork. 

Image: Service Design Network 2020. Sketchnotes talk Cassie Jiun Seo.

What does it mean to embrace change?

Both talks emphasized on embracing the changing role of designers, either grounded in organisations or in the humanitarian field, but it also emphasized on the increasingly complex challenges we face nowadays. Transformational change is not something you can do overday therefore Hilary Cottam prefers to describe it as ‘to pivot’ (Radical Help, 2018, p. 142-144) which not only involves a new vision, a different solution or a new business model but it also addresses the emotion that comes with it. To pivot takes immense courage and bravery, to change direction and to embrace this change but it is definitely necessary to make things better in this ongoing transformative world. At STBY we aim to enable meaningful change – how small or big they might be – but are also learning to navigate between the many emotions that comes with it (e.g. ambitious but also critical, experimental but also grounded, or disruptive but also inclusive). 

To conclude we are curious how others experience this changing role of designers in our field and how you deal with adapting and/or embracing change?

Let’s learn from each other and keep this conversation ongoing.