How to shift a system through design

To change a system is a long term effort. It can only happen gradually, over time. With our research for What Design Can Do design challenges, we contribute to system change. As for all WDCD design challenges, STBY plays a key role in taking a systemic approach to system change. We are the global research partner of WDCD, and provide a solid academic background as well as extensive global experience in doing design research for system change. For the No Waste Challenge we were responsible for building on existing knowledge and creating new knowledge, all to support the design field to move forwards to sustainability. 

Based on our experiences with the foundational research and the co-creation of design briefs for four challenges (among them are three climate action challenges), it is time to share some thoughts on how to work on system change through design: 


Understanding new forms of care in times of an pandemic

Early 2020, the Covid-19 global pandemic quickly spread and affected the lives of billions around the globe, including the members of the Reach Network. We felt a strong need to come together as a community to collectively understand the changes in our societies at this unique moment in time. As a group of design researchers and anthropologists, we quickly realised that we could make use of our professional research skills to contribute to the on-going learning about new forms of care. 

From hearing the news and sharing personal stories about the increasing worries of COVID-19 at both local and global levels we had also seen the development of new forms of care. As a devoted design research community we wanted to understand and explore these new manifestations as a potential force of change in our societies whose weaknesses and inequalities had been exposed even more …

Studying digital product families

Interested in how to do user research on how people use digital product families? At STBY we learnt a few lessons, and think there are increasing opportunities for design researchers and service designers for studying project families in the digital world, so we would like to share some of our reflections. 

The idea of a product family is not a new one 

In the world of manufacturing, companies have long used the idea of a family of products to satisfy customer needs by introducing variety while taking advantage of mass production efficiency (Pine, 1993). In product design, a product family refers to a range of products that offers similar functionalities with small variations of size or certain features, how these variants can be manufactured/assembled with the same components is often the key of design when it comes to cost efficiency (Jiao et al, 2007). For example,…

Beyond Human Centred Design

COVID19 has given the world the time to rest, and the opportunity for us to rethink the way we live. It has also revealed how inseparable we are with the natural world. Not only because we as humans rely on the resources that it provides, but also because of increasing human-wildlife collisions due to overpopulation, urban development, climate change and so on. While looking at all these interrelated issues, we all know that human beings are just one of the stakeholders in a bigger picture. Working in the field of human-centred design, what kinds of questions must we ask ourselves in light of these trends? Which disciplines can inform the way that we think about, and design for, interactions between humans and the natural ecosystems in which we are embedded?

“The earth is more than just a home, it’s a living planet and we are part of it.”  -James Lovelock

We have recently been…

Emerging new rituals at STBY

In times of uncertainty people have a greater need for rituals, anthropologists have long observed. Covid-19 drastically changed the way we live and work around the world, and obviously also at STBY. The way we collaborate and communicate has entirely shifted online. Like many others, we experience that this can be tough and challenging at times, but found new ways of coping with this new reality: by creating  new rituals for the STBY team. 

Watching short films every Wednesday morning  

An advantage of having two studios in two different countries is that we already had an online  infrastructure and routine for online communication. The team in London and Amsterdam did have online calls to discuss project work and catching up on a regular basis, but since Covid-19 we found a new routine of informally checking in with each other each morning. A new ritual…

One of our latest publications: Explorers

Lockdown has been tough in many ways, but it has also allowed us to put our heads down and pull together our latest publication, Explorers: Thoughts on Mapping in Design Research.

As a somewhat bleak winter looms, this project has been a source of fun, intrigue and light (it’s neon orange) for us at STBY. Like many who work in service design and design research, maps bring us a lot of joy. Over the past few months we have been researching and writing about mapping: what it means in design research and service design, how other disciplines approach mapping, and where peers are pushing boundaries. We have by no means doing this alone; generous contributors from around the globe have been exploring the topic with us and many of their mapping projects and thoughts are also featured. With maps of smells, elephant journeys, the Taiwan COVID-19 response, and forests of the future (plus many…

‘No place for sex trafficking’ program

This week the No Place for Sex Trafficking website launches in the Netherlands. This is the result of the What Design Can Do (WDCD) No Minor Thing challenge in 2018, for which STBY, as the research partner, developed the briefs for an invitation-only design challenge. There is a lengthy and collaborative process behind the website for which many contributing partners are responsible. Amsterdam-based What The studio designed the No Place for Sex Trafficking website over the past two years. The website delivers a clear and strong service: providing training to hotel employees, taxi drivers and restaurant staff to spot sex trafficking and know how to respond. Many hotels have already signed up and will get a certificate once 60% of their staff has followed the online training. 

The Dutch ministry of Justice and Security initiated No Minor Thing with WDCD in 2018, because…

STBY at ThingsCon19

On December 12 we went on a field trip to Rotterdam to participate in ThingsCon19. STBY was invited to give a talk about the role of design research in developing human-centric Internet Of Things (IoT) applications. The format we suggested was an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session about Design Research in practice. 

What stood out during this interesting event was the diversity of the audience. We were happy to meet people from many different disciplines and sectors coming together to share their perspectives on this emerging field. It was a very vibrant day, with presentations, workshops, discussions and demonstrations.

The ThingsCon conferences are organized by ThingsCon – a global initiative to explore and promote the development of fair, responsible, and human-centric technologies for the IoT and beyond. Already since 2014 they organize events, and create resources…

Exploring the future of humanitarian work through Design Fiction


Imagine, it is 2035 and the West coast of India got hit by a storm called Lata. How would humanitarian workers deal with the aftermath of the storm? The travelling exhibit HUM2035 shows different scenarios on what this might look like. The project by design consultancy Quicksand explores the future of humanitarian aid in India, intended to question our respective understandings of humanitarian aid and its place in a global landscape. STBY contributed to Quicksand’s HUM2035 pop up exhibit at the Barbican Centre in London, by examining possible futures through the lens of design research, and supporting the framing of the design fiction narrative.

Design Fiction was used to explore what the future of humanitarian work in India could look like in 2035, and how aid communities would come together to tackle these challenges. The story of HUM2035 is narrated through the…

Airtable for Design Research: Perks, Quirks and Pitfalls

At STBY we are always on the lookout for new tools to ease or enhance our work. There are always risks that come with experimenting with new gadgets and apps, and so many factors that dictate the extent to which we fully adopt new tech. Our experience with Airtable, a cloud based collaborative spreadsheet/database builder, illustrates this perfectly.

GOOD19: a different type of gathering

People interested in the transformative power of design research around the world gathered at the GOOD19 Conference in Londen on the 27th of July. GOOD19 was the latest edition of a series of international conferences named: the Great Outdoors Of Design. Organised by the Reach Network, of which STBY is a founding member.

Have you ever been to a conference where you actually went outdoors for a picnic? At the Great Outdoors Of Design we enjoyed a green and sustainable picnic lunch outside Plexal, the innovation centre at the Olympic Parc in London. This venue was our playground for a day were participants of the conference, together with Reach Partners, engaged in a mix of presentations on international case studies and extensive discussions in small groups.

As founder and partner of the REACH network for global design research, and the main local organiser of the conference,…

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…