Comments from the ServDes conference

Last week Anders Emilson and I, Anna Seravalli, participated at ServDes, the nordic conference on service design and service innovation in Linköping. The audience was composed by an interesting mix of practitioners, researchers and non-designers, and the speakers brought up issues ranging from reflections on methodology and tools to concrete case studies.

These topics generated interesting discussions focusing both on the action and on the reflection in the action. This kind of unique situation where research and practice are merged together is probably due to the fact that service design is a rather young discipline (if we can even call it a discipline) and is being developed on the field by design studios, companies as well as public organizations and universities by developing tools and methods to cope with real and concrete cases.

Workshop on service design for social innovation
Our contribution to the conference was a workshop aimed at reflecting on the role of service design for social innovation which was definitely a strong topic at the conference. The workshop had concrete case studies as its starting point, for example ”Feeding Milan” by Politecnico di Milano, or Getgo by Snook and Glasgow School of Arts, but also academic papers such as Transformative Services and Transformation Design by Daniela Sangiorgi. In all these contributions we could see a red thread emerging which is focusing on understanding what role design is having in fostering behavioural and social change.

The workshop was aligned with these kinds of thoughts: we discussed together with the participants some of the critiques which have recently been raised against design for social innovation. Geoff Mulgan, the director of The Young Foundation (one of the most prominent NGOs working in the field of social innovation) listed, at two different occasions, a list of strengths and weaknesses of design used in social innovation: Strength, weaknesses and a way forward.

But also actors within the design field have pointed out that actually there are some limits in how design is operating in this field: from designers lacking in skills and knowledge about the context in which they are operating, to the limits of design methods when it comes to move from isolated innovation to systemic change. To catch up on these thoughts you can read Is It Time to Rethink the T-Shaped Designer? and Politics Please, We’re Social Designers.

We will return with a wrap-up of the discussion.