5 steps to start designing for good: our #SDGC22 takeaways

Portret Matilde
Written by
Matilde Cantinho
Digital Content Producer
Nov 30, 2022 . 8 mins read
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Once again, the Service Design Global Conference brought together the industry’s brightest minds to share their perspectives, knowledge and network through new-cross disciplinary methodologies.

This year, in partnership with the SDN Danish Chapter and the Danish Design Center, the conference theme ‘Courage to Design for Good ‘ invited the service design community to reframe courage and vulnerability as essential skills to make amends and be part of the solution for our complex world. Creatives from around the globe dived into the real purpose of service design as a discipline and redefining our role as its practitioners in the present world and its fundamental challenges to create a sustainable, fair and nature-positive future.

Let’s find the courage to leverage these opportunities, to talk less, act more, and thus pave the way for how we design only for good.

— Christina Melander Director - Digital Transition at Danish Design Centre

After digesting the insights and experiences on empathy, gender privilege, climatarianism, AI, organisational design, power and value shifts (to name some) to build the necessary courage to only design for good, we share the takeaways that stroke us the most. 

A set of best practices, mindset and actions to adopt in our designer’s toolkit for systemic change:

1. Using our agency as a catalyst for change

The future is how we design it. Consequently, we should use our agency as catalyst for change to create a shift that enables a value system around nature and its limits. Leyla Acaroglu encourages us to use our agency to take action and transform the world around us. As ‘cultural provocateurs’, we withhold the capability to make the planet a stakeholder, as a designer and organisation, by influencing culture and our clients but also guiding customers through experiences with our agency. We should not wait to be asked for sustainable services; we should proactively deliver them every time. Part of the solution lies in being aware that we are part of the system we live in. in a more practical application, we should be adding sustainability as a required pillar in our innovation sweet spot next to ‘Desirability, Viability and Feasibility’.

We’re all citizen designers of the future.

— Leyla Acaroglu Sustainability & Circular Economy Provocateur

2. Amplifying our designer lenses 

Biases and inequalities are an undeniable part of our systems in place. Most of us are not only using products and services that are “genderless”, which in reality means ‘one-size-fits-men’, but are the ones developing them. As such, designers are responsible for acknowledging and reducing their impact on social minorities.

Mansi Gupta focuses her work on breaking through the design status quo that still perpetuates gender bias by overlooking women’s biology and needs. In her mission, courage means to re-do our current methodologies to start applying a women-centric design practice, including them as valued participants. This also means reassessing the role men play. As part of the problem, the solution includes them since if we design better for them, we indirectly design better for women.

As the boundaries of problems are expanding, design needs to follow. Amplifying the lenses through which we look at and frame the challenges at hand is a requirement. This translates into looking at sustainable value systems: exploring the value and the impact of our design actions through not only the social but also the environmental and economic lenses, as well as stretching our thinking towards the long run.

3. Applying the power of narratives

Telling stories is one of the strongest designer’s superpowers, and using it correctly can influence how our decision-makers act upon our present context and how they reimagine futures. How? The way we empathise with people and the planet’s needs and pains, humanising our challenges by looking beyond facts and numbers.

Storytelling, equipped with analogies and metaphors as creative tools, instigates understanding due to its familiarity effect. Applying it in an organisational context, Jennifer shared the example of the contrast between an orchestra and a jazz band to explain collaboration methods. While the first is structured around a higher entity leading the rest towards perfect execution, a jazz group undresses egos and embraces improvisation by sharing basic principles as a collective.

But there are also narratives it is about time to let go of. 

The romanticised idea that designers (and designers only) can save the world is old-fashioned and does not make sense in today’s transdisciplinarity design practice. Sandra Camacho traces this tendency to the toxic myth of ‘creative genius’ fueled by today’s tech-driven society and personalities. Awareness of and discussing the thin line between narcissism and the perpetuation of bias and inequities in our industry is a step closer to transforming it with integrity, humility and ethics.

4. Making the road by walking it

Organisations need to change their root behaviour as a collective, embrace ambiguity and be resilient to embark on the systemic challenges we face. Jennifer Briselli from MadPow brought us a talk inspired by the book ‘We Make The Road By Walking’ by Brian McLaren and her experience in this organisational shift. Thus, she warns us – there is no roadmap. This slow and ambiguous process takes experimentation and building from each other’s progress since organisations are living organisms.

Every organisation will have a different path towards becoming a successful adaptive learning one, but all roads need to be walked with:

 

  • Communication maturity
  • Psychological safety
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Aligned autonomy
  • Strong feedback loops

 

As we continuously learn and adapt moving forward, these tools will encourage the need for holistic methodologies like service design to build sustainable systems for more desirable futures.

Justice through equality, order through anarchy.

— Jennifer Briselli Chief Design Strategy Officer at Mad*Pow

5. Starting now to embrace tomorrow (and the other way around)

Service design has a seat at the table, and the question is no longer if it plays a crucial role but how. Should we focus on the challenges of today to prevent tomorrow or start designing for the future?

One thing we know for sure – The Future is not detached from the present. This means changing our deep-rooted systems, such as institutions, values and language, is the starting point. The ethnographer stresses that service design shifting its focus from how to why is key to identifying hooks for value creation. In her opinion, focusing on future challenges can be more conservative and restrictive than thinking about the present. At the same time, anticipating them is as valuable as vital to prevent side consequences of our actions today, especially when our technological future is fast-paced and not pre-determined.

The desirable balance is to embrace that one impacts the other. That being said, we need to simultaneously explore different expectable futures and be aware of the needs that do not change over time and the values we need to let go of to design sustainable tomorrows.

Courage pledge

Courage means to be brave despite the circumstances. In the face of physical hardships, acting upon ethical values or having the strength to confront your mistakes and assume full responsibility for them. But, how our viewpoint on courage relates to designing for good was the real unravelled challenge of this conference. Assuming that designing for good is more arduous because we deal with increased adversity, Anton Fischer believes designers must have an intrinsic intention. But, we expect that should be the default when embarking on this profession in the first place.

Looking at the other side of the coin, isn’t it equally courageous not to design for bad, to prevent the harmful designs of the future? To use our ethics and missions as designers as munitions to be brave enough to refuse to be part of services and experiences that do not contribute to a sustainable and fair world? Courage can and should also mean helping our clients to prepare for unpredictable futures, accelerate sustainability and inclusivity initiatives, and re-tune organisations and business models that drive sustainable behaviour.

Courage isn’t always enough. You need discern, accountability and engagement to design for sensitive topics.

— Sandra Camacho Inclusive Design Consultant & Educator
Portret Matilde
Written by
Matilde Cantinho
Digital Content Producer
Nov 30, 2022 . 8 mins read
Share this article