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For September’s Design & Ethics around 20 of us gathered at RMIT to listen to Dr Marion Muliaumaseali’i present her research into changing communicative ecologies of Village Samoa and its relationship to the ‘va’, a ‘thread’ that exists in every gesture, speech and interaction between Samoans, as well as work she has done for RMIT researching Indigenous students’ journey. Following Marion’s presentation, we split into two smaller groups, facilitated with the support of Grace and Nala Leone to talk through some of the key insights.

The key theme that surfaced was that the central consideration was that meaningful working with indigenous peoples was not about what we say or do, but firstly who we are as individuals and how we show up in the communities we work with. There was interesting conversation of Marion’s assertion “this is who I am” as opposed to the more often asked “who am I?” The difference being that in Samoan culture, children are raised with a strong sense of identity firmly rooted within their culture. This differs to societies where the individual is prioritised as the basis for identity formation, leading to a feeling of ‘loss’ in knowing what ‘cultural identity’ means. Whilst it was an occasionally uncomfortable realisation that we must first work on ourselves, our identity and our relationship with indigenous peoples rather than focusing on tools, tips, frameworks and approaches, we did all came away appreciating how important this foundation is.

Following on from understanding the importance of firstly being self-aware of the way we show up in any relationship with indigenous communities was the importance of understanding the importance of respect and what it looks like to different people in different cultural aspects. Both Marion and Grace shared stories of their work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including the importance of firstly allowing time for community elders to discuss the matters they deem of most importance, rather than showing up with our own agendas and expecting to run the conversation. Grace shared stories of projects where she would allow for several hours of any meeting with elders, especially in early engagement, following the discussion set down by elders and only when invited to, would she ask her own questions. Several people brought up the potential for this time to build relationships based on trust and respect to run up against broader stakeholder expectations around effort and time required for a project. This was just one example of how to engage respectfully with indigenous peoples, with Grace pointing out the importance having conscious conversations with all participants of what respect looks like to each, and negotiating how respect will be lived in each engagement.
All in all it was an enlightening evening that invited all of us to look firstly within ourselves in order to construct an authentic relationship with indigenous peoples rather than being driven by project deliverables.

As designers we often find ourselves working with people from different cultural backgrounds than our own. The challenge for us is finding authentic ways to design with, not for, these people. No where is this need for authentic engagement more keenly felt that in designing for indigenous peoples. This month’s Design & Ethics chat will be a chance for a safe, open conversation about how we as designers, can work better with First Nations peoples, both in Australia and around the world. Our guest presenter will be Dr Marion Muliamaseali’i who will share some of her experiences researching Samoan peoples as part of her PhD and designing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at RMIT University.

About Dr Muliamaseali’i

Marion Muliaumaseali’i is a researcher and communication specialist who completed her PhD (2017) in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, Australia. Her PhD thesis, “The Space in-between: An Ethnographic Study of Mobile Technology and Social Change in Rural Samoa” examined the changing communicative ecologies of village Samoa and its relationship to the va, a ‘thread’ that exists in every gesture, speech and interaction between Samoans. Marion was also a key researcher on the PACMAS State of Media and Communication report and worked in Tuvalu, Samoa, Kiribati and Micronesia.

SDM Third Thursdays

HCD chats over cheese and wine #6: Transitions in theory and practice

This event brings together an impressive panel of people with dexterous practices in design, business, research, anthropology and philosophy to discuss transitions in theory and practice, using an emerging and somewhat contested movement of Transition Design as a fulcrum and catalyst.

“At its crudest, Transition Design aspires to rekindle the large-scale ambitions that surrounded the formalization of design in the first place, at the beginning of the 20th century. The crises that are symptomatic of the unsustainability of how our societies are currently organized demands radical and immediate structural change. We need to completely redesign not only how we resource our everyday lives but also the very values that motivate those ways of living… This is why the top compass point of the Transition Design model is visions. However, the total design project of modernism was part of the problem. Early designers on either side of the Atlantic had strong visions that they often managed to impose with procrustean force. Because these visions were universalist, the designers paid no attention to local specificity, whether cultural or bioregional. The resulting displacement cleared the way for the commodity flows of globalization.

Transition Design therefore tries to qualify its reinvocation of rapid, ambitious structural change. Transition Design asks that those visions motivating change be context-specific and modifiable to all that happens as change is implemented. To do this, designers need more sophisticated theories of change than to materialize the vision. They need to understand, at the level of practice expertise, what it means to try to enable structural change in complexes of living systems and sociotechnical systems.” (Tonkinwise 2019 in ‘Design’s (Dis)orders: Mediating Systems-Level Transition Design‘)


Dr Melisa Duque Hurtado (Digital Ethnography Research Centre, RMIT)
Dr Stefanie Di Russo (Principal Designer at NAB)
Dr Chris Marmo (Co-founder and Research Director, Papergiant)
Prof. Cameron Tonkinwise (UTS)

The event will be recorded as a podcast, adding to the series “HCD chats over cheese and wine“, led and facilitated by Yoko Akama for the Masters of Design Futures (RMIT), that navigates through some of the challenging dimensions of human-centred design.

RSVP necessary

Big innovation lives right on the edge of ridiculous ideas and when it comes to unlocking our creativity, play isn’t just for kids. We’re built to play and built through play. But unfortunately most workplaces view play as frivolous or distracting. It’s time we do something about this, and reclaim play as nourishing and necessary to foster more creativity and empathy in an ever changing world. To stay relevant in a future full robots, we need to be more human in order to thrive.

Service Design Melbourne will be hosting a facilitator from Project Play where they believe play has the power to transform the way we work. It supports organisations and professionals to cultivate a new culture of business through strategic play. Project Play transcends the work-play dualism to help build engaged, dynamic and creative workplaces.

You’ll learn. You’ll laugh. You’ll play.

To hear from the pro’s join Project Play on September 4 as IDEO and The National Institute for Play take the stage.

This is an acknowledgement of the traditional Aboriginal owners of country throughout Victoria. Sovereignty over their land has never been ceded. Full respect is paid to them, their culture and their Elders past, present and emerging.

In the third instalment of the Design and Ethics series I had the opportunity to host part of a workshop series, Equity-Centred Design. This post will describe the ethos of the research behind this work and what arose in our group discussion.

Equity-centred design means approaching human-centred design with greater awareness of and responsibility for identity, power and systemic inequality. These workshops were created to help designers engaged in people-centred practices to understand how and where issues of power and equity arise in our work. It aims to facilitate self-directed awareness around our axes of identity and how our professional practices place us in relative positions of power. As a profession interested in creating products and services to better serve people’s needs, our work and concerns often have us looking outward to other people, places and systems to identify issues and make changes. The approach taken within equity-centred design instead facilitates looking inward to better understand ourselves, in order to better serve others. This means bringing attention to our behaviours and biases and investigating how it might affect our work.

It was a windy Monday night on which our intrepid participants trekked Southside to Monash Caulfield. Feeling the need to let people go as close to on time as possible, we cut the workshop much too short and then ended up sitting around and discussing the work until much later. This was unfortunate, but the upside was the group expressed interest in creating an opportunity to participate in the full workshop series and offered support to help make this happen in the near future. I don’t want to reveal too much of the content of the workshop, as hopefully many people reading here will have the opportunity to experience the work directly and then we will be able to share a more detailed commentary on the experience.

Participants (in clockwise direction) Leah Baxter, Jaskaran Singh Bawa, Ryley Lawson, Theo Bridge and Lara Moor Photo credit: Tina Dinh

After an introduction to the framing of the work, we warmed up by looking at what are our ‘superpowers’ as designers who work with people. Many people shared their ability to create safe spaces for others and listening skills. This activity helps us orient the kinds of practice and values of people in the room, but also provides a starting point for critical reflection: our strengths can often become the areas where we most readily fall into patterned thinking and behaviours. Over time this allows biases and past experience to dictate our actions in new situations.

Photo credit: Tina Dinh

As a group we examined case studies selected to resonate with design practitioners’ experiences and illustrate different types of power dynamics. This provided space for people to share thoughts on the challenges when faced with issues of equity in our practice and personal lives. The conversation could have used more space to unpack how and where these case studies reflect on our personal practices.

The workshop ended with an introduction to what we call the roadmap for practicing equity-centred design. The roadmap was developed based on work from behaviour change models, research on implicit bias and structural racism, diversity trainings and experience working with social justice organisations. It was designed to help understand what it might look and feel like to do the work of examining and taking responsibility for our own biases, behaviours and positions of power. Within the full workshop we go through each of these steps to hopefully provide a small way of what the process of doing this work might be like for you. Ultimately we hope to through this process we are able to share stories about our experiences and help make visible the invisible, everyday power dynamics and prejudices implicitly influencing our communities, designs and systems.

It is our hope to host a full edition of the workshop in the near future. Stay tuned for details.

There is an amazing global team of women who collaborate with me on this work. Myriam Doremy Diatta co-created all of the content and design of the workshop, Stephanie Lukito created all the visual materials and Tina Dinh helped with photography. This research is supported by WonderLab at Monash University.

Reflections from Ryley Lawson

As co-instigators, Jas and I will be reflecting on last week’s event separately, before coming together again to propose a series of small next steps. The following are some of the things that resonated most with me, that I would like to share share back with the channel, particularly for those who weren’t able to make it.

A reflection—I see you

Last Thursday, June 14, the second instalment of 2018’s Design and Ethics series took place at the brand new (and still largely unfurnished) Paper Giant studio space opposite the Forum Theatre.

The conversation aimed (indirectly) to unpick the role solidarity might have in emergent ethical design practices. The underlying thread was that if practicing design in ways that are ethical, social, political, responsible, considered, precarious, or even just personally unfamiliar can at times be emotionally, physically, and existentially draining, we hope that as individuals within the community, we may feel more empowered by becoming more comfortable reaching out to those around us for help and support.

Although we had invited some people to be there to offer specific guidance and expertise at times they felt appropriate, there were no ‘speakers’. Instead, the conversation was entirely amongst us as a small group.

We discussed the anxieties of precarity and the unstable and unknowable future of work, acknowledging that while designers are currently in a safe space of high demand, we will continually have to adapt to shifts in market interest and the increasing democratisation of design. While there was some reflection on defending against precarity in this context as being inherently protectionist, as had happened in some industries, we hope that the nurturing properties of communities of practice and communities of care might help us better navigate the changing climate of work.

“I didn’t know these people needed someone to talk to, I could have talked to them”

Reaching out to people for help can be hard. For me, the most important conversation we had last Thursday was about how happy most people are to sit down for a coffee and share whatever they can; the biggest hurdle can just be that its hard to know that the people around you need help. Anyone can be a mentor to someone about something, if you can find ways to reach out to those around you, or to make yourself available to chat. If you are welcoming, you will be welcomed. Sometimes all it takes is to say, “I am here, I see you.”

People around you can offer advice on all kinds of things, especially pragmatic things. There was a lot of talk about asking people about rates. Having people around you to talk to might help you in feeling more comfortable in taking a stand. As a community, we should talk about rates, we should talk about work conditions, and we should talk about unpaid work. We should also talk about people we know who would be great for that job we heard about.

But it’s also OK to be selective about who you talk to. In drawing the line between a community of practice (a collective brought together around a profession) and a community of care (people with who you are comfortable opening up with about vulnerability) we began to understand that sometime it’s important to close off and protect your space. Lina Patel offered some important advice:

It’s ok to build a nest to take care of one another, to allow trust to emerge, and to share difficult stories—you can’t hatch eggs out in the open.

I am grateful to everyone that came on Thursday and who felt comfortable opening up about the things that scare and excite them about practicing design in Melbourne. Jas and I are mindful that safe spaces are slowly-earned things, but I hope that you can continue this conversation with us.

Leaving things here for the moment, I just want to say that if you ever want to grab a coffee and talk about anything, I’m here, I see you.

Reflections from Jaskaran Singh Bawa

The theme for the Second Design and Ethics event came from a chat Ryley and I had about Design, Precarity, and Community, over coffee one afternoon early in May. The process of how that culminated in this chat, and the envisioned outcomes is a story for another time. However, here are a few of my notes about the event:

For the event on Thursday the 14th of June, Ryley and I had invited a few more established practitioners or “Wiser Individuals*” from the community to share their thoughts and opinions as they felt appropriate. However, we left a large majority of the places on the table for individuals from the Service Design Melbourne community. Our aim was to create an egalitarian space without the formalized constructs of “speakers” and “listeners”, adopting a “guide on the side, rather than sage on the stage” methodology. In doing so the both of us wanted to create a safe space where a junior or a “green” design practitioner would be equally comfortable in expressing an opinion or posing a question as an established practitioner (otherwise known as a “Wiser Individual*”).

As limited as the spaces were, we had an excellent congregation of individuals from a multitude of stages in their professional and design journeys. In saying that, Ryley and I would like to thank everyone who attended the event. The very unique perspectives, each and every one brought to the table added value to the discussion. Starting with a discussion into the professional journeys of all present into Design and Service Design the conversation was nudged into talking about mentorship and support in the community.

“Help is always available at Hogwarts to those who ask for it” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets **

Subsequently, as the group discussed how most people are happy to sit down for a cup of coffee to share whatever they can, this utterance by Albus Dumbledore at a pivotal moment in the plot came to my mind and stuck there. As someone “green” navigating the intricacies of professional relationships, seeking advice may seem like a daunting task. The gap in that situation, I believe, is a combination of the hesitance in seeking advice or support and a lack of knowledge as to where said advice may be available. An interesting insight for me from the initial discussion was that sometimes all the support that an individual would need is for “someone to ask the right questions”.

“I could tell you about UX and Service Design, and you can tell me about how to do cool things with Arduinos or something”

At the risk of sounding transactional, mentorship, support, and advice can be two way streets. There is always something you can learn from everyone. Everyone is a master at something.
Subsequently, speaking about the nature of support, the discussion veered from the larger scale of ideas and concepts into smaller scale of the more specific types of advice and support. We shared anecdotes on the advice that we had given or received. We spoke about paid and unpaid work, rates, working conditions, recommendations, and taxes among other things. Through those aspects of a designer’s professional life, we were able to touch on the critical issues of power and privilege, and how it affects professional behaviour.

Consequently, as the discussion expanded to include the support systems we build among our peers, the subtle contrast and relationship between the communities of practice and communities of care began to emerge. We discussed what these communities could be envisioned as. Considering that the support, advice, and mentorship that an individual may provide as a finite resource, it is a necessary evil to be selective about whom one talks with. Therefore in a professional scenario, a community of practice would beget a community of care.

“Eggs are hatched in nests…… You can’t hatch eggs out in the open”

Furthermore, the constructs of support, advice, and mentorship, at times, require the discussion of uncomfortable and challenging issues. This necessitates the creation of safe spaces where an individual may feel comfortable, sharing narratives of precarity and voicing certain opinions. Therefore, while creating communities of care, a certain amount of ‘gatekeeping’ is essential.

Ryley and I, both understand that safe spaces for open communication take time to establish and need be nurtured by all the participants involved. To all those who came, Thank You for coming by on a cold June evening and staying for much longer than we stipulated in the invitation. We really enjoyed the perspective you brought to the table, and are looking forward to continuing this conversation with you. Let’s grab coffee. 🙂

For everyone following at home, thanks for taking the time to read this. We would love to hear your opinion on this. Please feel free to message through your thoughts, critiques, questions, or com-estions. Better still, let’s grab coffee 🙂

xoxo Jas

*Ryley and I did NOT make the term “Wiser individuals” to refer to more established design practitioner. This was just a term we as a group came up with during the event on the 14th.

** I grew up reading the Harry Potter books (and watching the movies). I am not a massive fan, at its most recent, I read the second book (and saw the movie) a good 10 years ago. However, I believe the quote captures the interplay between community and seeking support quite well.

ServDes ( is the premier international Service Design and Innovation Conference, running biannually since 2008. It is coming to Melbourne, Australia in 2020, hosted by RMIT University.

As the field of service design matures, questions of the impact of its practices, including a robust evaluation of its methodological gaps, potentials, limitations and claims, become necessary. Being held for the first time outside of Europe and in the Asia-Pacific, ServDes 2020 invites participants to focus and reflect on the tensions and paradoxes of undertaking service design in contexts of plurality – cultural, economic, historical and environmental – in ways that privilege difference and diversity.

A stage for negotiating systems and service complexity, the Asia-Pacific region positions ‘design’ as a key driver in both developed and emerging economies to improve the living standards of many. Yet it is a region of paradox and tension – of massive divisions of wealth; where climate change is already displacing its peoples; and, where old colonialisms are still alive and their effects are still lived.

What resilience could we learn from the local practices inextricably tied to the particularities of land and from the regions Indigenous knowledges that resist the new globalisation? How are social, financial and environmental tensions and paradoxes negotiated by small businesses? How do collectivist societies see ‘services’ or ‘design’ as means of addressing the pressing concerns of their communities, and does the spectre of the designed service act as a lever to shift old modalities into the new? The conference seeks to explore the tensions and paradoxes of negotiating traditional knowledges, cultural practices, and relational obligations in the rapidly changing Asia-Pacific and asks “how might service design adapt its approaches to attend to such diversity?”

We invite participation from practitioners and researchers from the region to share their stories and what they might see as critical learnings for ‘service design’, ‘co-design’ or ‘social innovation’ in their areas of work. Delegates will also have an opportunity to understand the local issues around immigration, homelessness, sustainability, food production and Indigenous cultural practices through Melbourne-based social enterprises and volunteer groups who will be providing the ‘services’ for our conference. ServDes2020 will aim for a closed-loop zero waste outcome.

Hosted by RMIT University
RMIT is an emerging global leader in Service Design and has been instrumental in founding and continuing to support a flourishing community of practice through the Service Design Melbourne and Design and Social Innovation in Asia-Pacific (DESIAP) networks. RMIT was also the first to offer a Service Design course within its post-graduate Masters program. Many of our staff have deep relationships with networks, institutions, communities of practice and interest in the region. These include DESIAP, SIX Asia, LENS Oceania networks. RMIT also has formal partnerships with institutions in Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka. All this adds up to RMIT’s role in leading and nurturing a vibrant, diverse and mature design community in Melbourne, Australia and the region.

Melbourne is regarded as the design capital of Australia. Voted one of the most livable and creative cities in the world, Melbourne prides itself on diversity of cultures, industries and capacity for innovation. In the School of Design there is a strong and long standing research focus on transitioning to sustainability through design. Building on three decades of world class industry and community facing design research for sustainability, service design at RMIT has championed its social and sustainable contributions.
Our exemplar research includes: disaster preparedness and resilience; developing strategies for local communities to redesign their food system; industry facing projects that focus on ways to reduce food and recyclable waste streams; projects focussed on service and co-design in the health and aging sectors; product service systems design; and co-designing Indigenous self-determination.

Many have critiqued the persistent imbalance of the global north that dominate the forums for discourses on design (see Akama & Yee 2016). This dominance is further reinforced by Europe and US that commonly host most design conferences, making it more difficult for many from the global south to participate (logistically and economically). RMIT offers a ‘re-balancing’ by hosting ServDes in Australia, making it more accessible by those in the Asia-Pacific, a region that is undergoing significant growth in economy and bringing design into dialogues on transitions (see ServDes2020 hosted at RMIT will be an opportunity to cement an international service design dialogue, provides a platform to showcase local activity and to expand global service design, social innovation and PSS networks across oceania.

July Design & Ethics will be on Equity-Centred Design Workshop, 30th July, 6-7.30pm, Monash Caulfield, led by Kate McEntee (assistant lecturer and researcher at Monash). This workshop aims to help designers consider equity as an important issue when designing with people, and recognise how we participate in systems of oppression. This might provoke discomfort for some.

This workshop aims to help designers consider equity as an important issue when designing with people by focusing on the following:
1 Personal scale: To look internally at the axes of your personal identity that put you in a position of power
2 Design practice: To better understand how your design practice plays a role in colonialism, power dynamics and the ongoing, global fight for equity

We are coming together to discuss and materialise our design practices through the lens of equity. We are not here to talk about how to help the ‘other’ (based on a judgement of need). We are here to talk about our own identities and the relative positions of power that derive from identity. We are here to examine how this affects our work and designed outputs, and question what does it mean to ‘co-create’, to ‘help’ and to make the world ‘better’.

There is a follow-up workshop that will not be covered in part I, focused on critical reflection of our design practices and understanding shifting from human-centred to ‘equity-centered’ tools/methods/attitudes that can be adopted in your design processes. More details will be announced on #designandethics Slack channel – so please stay tuned!

Please arrive early for a prompt start. Drinks and nibbles will be kindly supplied by WonderLab, Monash University. Places are small and limited, as always, so please RSVP!

How to get to Monash Caulfield:

Campus map pdf (look for building G):

Click to access 2-Caulfieldcolour.pdf

The aim of this panel discussion is to strengthen the role of design practitioners as influencers of sustainable strategy across projects and disciplines. Sustainability is about people, profit and the planet. Each organisaiton can contribute to sustainability, has unique limitations and opportunities and defines impact from their point of view.

This is an acknowledgement of the traditional Aboriginal owners of country throughout Victoria. Sovereignty over their land has never been ceded. Full respect is paid to them, their culture and their Elders past, present and future.

Frustrated by the product vs service led debate? Let’s get together and end it for good.

Today’s customer demands more than just a functional product; they expect a great customer experience. So, to achieve that… should we be product or design led?

This 3rd Thursday Service Design chat is a collaboration between Product Anonymous and Service Design Melbourne. We will hosted by SUPERSEED at their stunning new Collingwood studio. As usual, we will have an expert panel to give fuel to the networking, community building and debate with refreshments.

We will use the for questions for the panel. Start prepping your views on the difference between service and product? We will add controversial questions to fuel the discussion.

Stay tuned for panel names.

The event will be hosted by NEXT, a dedicated team within Reece focused on creating new opportunities through innovation. Drinks and nibbles will be provided.

This event is kid friendly, and we encourage any working parents to bring along your little people!

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