Just Do Good

In October, Strategy Director of STBY, Geke van Dijk, and myself, Katy Barnard, a design researcher at STBY, attended the Service Design Global Conference in Copenhagen held by the Service Design Network. The theme of the conference was: Courage to Design for Good. We heard talks about climate change, bias, capitalism, gender-equity and more – each speaker telling stories about when they have had to be brave in their work to stand up for what is good.

It was refreshing and exciting to see the service design industry speak so explicitly and honestly about such impactful topics. These ideas trickled into conversations amongst colleagues attending the conference and those back at the office.

Nyhavn in Copenhagen. Photo Courtesy of Katy Barnard.

I see a shift – or an awakening, rather –  emerging in design that pushes practitioners to take responsibility for creating…

Hybrid research: a way to provide more inclusive and meaningful participation

Hybrid is commonly defined as a combination of two different things. A mixture of different elements, like with plants (combining seeds) or fuel (fossil/electric) or the arts (physical and digital elements). At STBY we have started defining Hybrid Research as a mix of in-person & remote contact with people involved in research. 

With studios in both the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, a number of international clients and being part of the global Reach Network, STBY has been working in a hybrid way for many years. During the pandemic we had to intensify our remote working skills, which provided both new opportunities and challenges for doing hybrid research. Today hybrid research is even more deeply embedded as a way of working and, because of this, we want to make some of these practices explicit to colleagues and share them with other designers and researchers.…

What user-centred design can bring to public consultations

Some in the infrastructure, architecture and construction worlds don’t like or trust consultations. They can be seen as tick-box exercises that get in the way of a good design and build. But we think they’re great. Done right it’s an opportunity to learn from the community in a way that will reduce the risk of future failure. What’s more, doing consultations in the right way can build understanding and buy-in with the community.

Co-creative consultations build understanding and consensus

With big projects in the community strong feelings can arise on all sides. But these feelings often deepen and entrench because people don’t feel like they’ve been heard as things progress.

When we run consultations we make sure to get to the heart of the matter for each person who participates as quickly as possible. Once people have said their bit and we’ve made a record of that they’re suddenly…

Let’s talk about meaning and purpose rather than impact and results

When we are asked to present our work and talk about the ‘results’ and ‘impact’ of projects we work on, it is often difficult to pinpoint and demonstrate. I’d like to make a case for embracing an alternative perspective: let’s talk about purpose, intent, direction and meaning. This is a suggestion I recently made when I was invited as a guest speaker at the Service Design Drinks Berlin. We had a good conversation about it, so I thought to follow it up with this further note.

We need to learn how to better speak about the purpose and meaning of our work. We need to get better in embracing the fact that we don’t ‘own’ the impact and results of the projects we work on. Although we are often very engaged with the projects we work on, it’s the client organisations commissioning the work who are the owners and implementers of the results. However, as committed and highly involved actors in the projects,…

Reflections on our series of published books

Our latest publication Catalysts: Thoughts on Design Research for Meaningful Change is part of a series of books. It is the fourth book about design research we published over the years. What do the four publications Pioneers, Viewfinders, Explorers, and Catalysts have in common? 

1) They are all filled with reflection, stories and insights derived from real-world cases and hands-on project experience.

2) They are meant to spark a conversation among our fellow design researchers around the globe, and at the same time engage those working outside of this field, to consider the benefits of embedding design research in a wider (global) innovation strategy.

3) It shows how design research developed over the years, and how pioneers around the world lead the way.

Our motivation for publishing books about design research has always been to share knowledge and experiences…

Catalysts: A Reach Network collaboration

In collaboration with partners from the Reach Network for Global Design Research we published: Catalysts, Thoughts on Design Research for Meaningful Change. The essays in the publication do not represent a monocultural view. Nor do they agree on a specific notion of design or research. They rather offer a surprising wide range of observations on the various ways that design and research are contributing to many different meaningful change processes.  

The co-authors of the various essays in this publication are all partners in the Reach Network. A global network of agencies specialised in human-centred design research and service innovation, working with businesses and non-profit organisations around the world. With this publication, we provide an inside look at how research and design practices are contributing to meaningful and positive change around…

The books we read

At STBY we all love to read. Reading widely is not only pleasurable in itself, it also enables us to learn new things which often helps us to excel in our work. As design researchers we are often working on a broad range of topic areas, which to an extent is reflected in our personal book preferences. Below you can find some of the books that the STBY team are currently enjoying reading. We hope that within this selection you too find some inspiration for the next book to add to your reading list. Happy reading!

What Geke reads: The new reason to work. By Roshan Paul and Ilaina Rabbat

“This book is about the purpose of work. How does our work contribute to meaningful change? This is something I care about a lot, and a topic we have discussed a lot in STBY as well. The authors are both experienced and committed changemakers. They have worked in different sectors (international development,…

Designing our research deliverables

Last year we had an interesting discussion at STBY about how we design our research deliverables. The conversation was inspired by a presentation from Joanna Rutkowska, where she presented a toolset developed as part of her PhD project. In her research, one of the key questions she asks is: If your research deliverables are design objects, what would they be?

Jonanna offered a set of metaphors to help approach this in her thesis in the image below:

Image created and shared by Jonanna Rutkowska as part of her presentation to STBY.

What Jonanna offers is a simple and lovely way to shift our viewpoint to look at our deliverables. What quality do we want the ‘things’ we deliver to present? What else can we deliver to the design team alongside a report to make our insights playful, experienceable, or inspiring? When we emerge from analysis and synthesis after days of fieldwork, what can…

Getting Started with Policy Co-design

We have recently completed the Innovation for Culture project alongside British Council Mexico and Cultura Jalisco with the aim of exploring future policy options and opportunities for the state of Jalisco using a co-design approach. We used various forms of participation along the way, including stakeholder and policy mapping, expert interviews, multiple activities with a 25 person citizen advisory group, and a community survey. The project lasted 6 months and resulted in a set of policy recommendations and a Playbook summarising our approach and key learnings. 

Pages from the Policy Co-Design Playbook (bilingual in Spanish and English)

When we started the project, we were overwhelmed by all of the different approaches out there in terms of opening up the policymaking process at its early, strategic stages. In the UK and Australia, organisations like Nesta,…

How to not become (too) cynical

As design researchers at STBY we are dealing with lots of complex issues and data. We are diving into root causes, problem areas and, luckily, also opportunities for change of issues that sometimes threaten us in our own existence (climate change!). When dealing with so many problems for months in a row, it is easy to start feeling down. How to not become cynical seems a challenge sometimes. But being cynical is not necessarily a bad thing. A healthy dose of cynicism can actually become a call to action, an incentive to fight for a good cause. But we have to choose our battles wisely, because there are things we can change, and things we cannot. 

Being realistic about the limits of what we can do, helps us to keep some peace of mind. However, we do want to be a piece of the puzzle, and we think we definitely can. Something we can contribute to as design researchers is knowledge creation,…

‘New’ Tools for Surveying in Design Research

While we tend to sway toward more qualitative methods at STBY, we have been increasingly doing more mixed-methods research. This includes incorporating a lot more surveys into our research process. New tools are making it easier to design mixed-methods studies where qualitative and quantitative can both shine in complementarity. Below is a reflection on three surveying tools we have been using recently, how we have used them, and some pros and cons of each. 


Though not marketed as a Survey builder, dscout allows researchers to conduct diary studies at scale with ease and efficiency. Participants in these studies (called Scouts) complete a number of tasks throughout a fixed period of time. The nature of these tasks can range from completing simple multiple choice questions, to recording small selfie videos. We have used dscout for a few projects now, and it …

Zooming out of User Journeys: Timelining in Design Research

During a recent team ‘Inspiration Session’ I trawled the backlogs of our team ‘SlackTack’ channel, where we share all things inspiring, thought provoking and (somewhat) relevant to our Design Research practice. I stumbled upon a link I shared at the beginning of Lockdown 1 to a platform called https://histography.io/

The platform brings together so much of what I love: timelines, history and interactive websites. It’s essentially an interactive timeline that spans across 14 billion years of history, from the Big Bang to 2015. Pulling historical events from Wikipedia, the timeline self-updates daily with new recorded events. It was a huge source of inspiration in terms of using timelines in Design Research and made me reflect on how and why we have used timelining across various projects at STBY. 

Maps of Time in Design Research

As I argue in our book Explorers:

The books we read

At STBY we all love to read. Reading widely is not only pleasurable in itself, it also enables us to learn new things which often helps us to excel in…

Designing our research deliverables

Last year we had an interesting discussion at STBY about how we design our research deliverables. The conversation was inspired by a presentation…

How to not become (too) cynical

As design researchers at STBY we are dealing with lots of complex issues and data. We are diving into root causes, problem areas and, luckily, also…

Where do you live on Dollar Street?

Are you bamboozled by the daily pandemic statistics of your country? Or have you even tuned out? These numbers are designed to be super clear, and…