Building a community of interest & practice in Service Design.

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Look. It’s been a bit of a year. Blatant white supremacy is on the rise, and our international peers are stripping away womens’ rights unabashed. Job security has faltered in our sector, as has the sense that we’re making the necessary progress against climate change. At times like this, we’re told that self-care is important – eat more fruit, be sure to exercise, don’t look at Twitter so much.

People who practice design – whose day-to-day work is to contribute to the making of worlds that we all inhabit – often feel too closely involved to step away. But what does it mean to stay with the trouble and stay well while you do? We think that design as a practice cannot be separated from local design communities, and that community is the most important support we have. We are in this together, and we should talk about that.

So, we’re hosting a quiet get-together. Somewhere cosy to talk about how we’re doing, what’s troubling us, and what’s been going well. There won’t be much in the way of structure – no organised speakers, no facilitated discussions, no chairs in a circle. A few of us have been doing this every fortnight for over a year now, and we’d like to open the doors to you.

This is technically the June Design and Ethics event, even though it’s being held in July, and to be totally honest – we haven’t figured out where to meet yet. We’ll make sure it’s cosy though. At this stage, we’re making 15 ‘tickets’ available on Eventbrite to keep things manageable. We acknowledge that this immediately creates barriers to participation; please feel free to get in touch if you have concerns. If you register for a ticket and feel you will be unable to make it, please release the ticket to the waitlist.

This event is being organised on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. Sovereignty over these lands and waters was never ceded, and we acknowledge the resilience in the face of ongoing colonisation. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.

Design & Ethics #6 event aimed to create an opportunity to explore some of the practices and questions in an environment with a growing demand for ‘data’ to be used to lead our design work: what is data, how do we use, how are qualitative and quantitative data considered and how capable are we of collecting and interpreting data. This was prompted by concerns by the organisers about the rising claims around data in our design community and provide ways for us all to learn more from one another.

The evening was split into a mini-workshop followed by small group discussions. Participants came from varied backgrounds around data expertise, from being deeply immersed in using data to directly drive decisions around design work, to bemoaning the lack of data expertise in practice, to fear of quantitative data and love of qualitative data and the opposite.

We began working in large groups looking at sets of quantitative data from Victorian Transport Insights Hub, including “Travel by time of day in Victoria”, “PTV Customer Satisfaction” and “Walk access to frequent (< 10 mins) PT in the AM peak (7-9am).” Teams were asked to review the data in front of them and discuss what interesting insights or possible design directions could be indicated by the information, some of the gaps in information and what other methods could be considered to augment this information. Each group shared the insights of their discussion with the room. Here are some notes taken by the facilitators, curated by topic or issue:

Issues of communication

Issues of validity

Issues of categorisation

Drawn from readings circulated through Eventbrite, a discussion document was put together as a guide (see the last section) to seed smaller group discussions. We share some notes:

The event ended with a summary discussion on ethics:

For any ‘data’, either qualitative or quantitative, these questions are useful to ask:

The discussion guide was created from four sources:

What is Data-Driven Service Design? (Individual)

Data-Driven Design report (Industry)

Digital Methods for service design: Experimenting with data-driven frameworks (Academic)

Simultaneous Triangulation: Mixing User Research & Data Science Methods (Industry)

Please feel free to use this guide and these readings to create your own discussion groups about this topic!

This workshop is brought to you by the Innovation in Not-for-profit (INFP) meetup series, offered through the Design & Ethics series.
As designers and innovators working in the not-for-profit sector, we are routinely responsible for projects that have significant impact on the lives of people and communities. Our work is inescapably intertwined with power as we seek to influence change for individuals, groups and communities experiencing ‘disadvantage’. With the growing appeal of human-centred design and similar frameworks in not-for-profit organisations, there’s an increasing need to ensure that such power contributes positively to change and positively influences outcomes for those we serve.
So where do we start?
This interactive and self-reflective session creates a safe space for not-for- profit designers to challenge their own understandings of power and build awareness of their individual ability to influence those for our clients.
Participants will hear stories from guest speakers from across the social sector and reflect on their own experiences of power dynamics within not-for-profit organisations.
We promote the respectful, non-judgemental and open exploration of the topic of power imbalances in our work – please come prepared to play and share.

Suggested article: Social Design and Neocolonialism by Cinnamon L. Janzer and Lauren S. Weinstein

INFP3 Social Design and Neocolonialism

Design and Ethics is a series of events hosted by Service Design Melbourne to come together and build capacities around ethical issues.

In Design & Ethics #3 2019 event, we hosted friends from North America – Shana Agid (Parsons School of Design New York), Sean Donahue (Art Centre College of Design, Pasadena) and Myriam Doremy Diatta (Mind-Matter Studio, NY). This experienced panel of designers and scholars have rich practices in crossing borders in various ways. Hosted by Yoko Akama  at RMIT, this panel discussion invited the participants to speak through their practices to share how time and relationships matters and shapes the way they enact human-centred design.

This was recorded as a podcast for the series, HCD Chats over Sushi and Sake 2019. This podcast is a continuum of the series, HCD chats over Cheese and Wine in 2018 that involved candid discussions by a mix of academics and practitioners for the Masters of Design Futures (RMIT). This series navigates through some of the challenging and contested dimensions of human-centred design.

Links to resources by the participants:

• Breaking Up Assumptions I’ve Heard about How Emotions Work: Myriam Doremy Diatta think piece about 3 of the underlying beliefs people have shared over the years

• Making and Negotiating Value: Co-authored article by Shana Agid and Elizabeth Chen on design and collaboration with community led groups

Defining Practices by Sean Donahue Website

On Design Research, Ethics and Dilemmas of Engagement: proceedings from a conference

Design and Ethics is a series of events hosted by Service Design Melbourne to come together and build capacities around ethical issues. This event was kindly hosted by Yoko Akama (RMIT) and Kyreena Hay at Australian Super in March 2019.

This intimate gathering picks up on questions and discussions in the #designandethics channel regarding what kinds of care and consideration is needed when working with Indigenous peoples. This event is for, and was about, non-Indigenous people and the work needed to build capacities and prepare ways to design with Indigenous peoples with more care and consideration as we move towards Treaty. This slow, careful dialogue explored different but resonant concerns and challenges shared in candid and reflective ways.

The gathering was facilitated by non-Indigenous researchers and designers with a range of experiences of working with various Indigenous peoples. It welcomed all levels of experience to be a safe space, free of judgement, to enable participants to ask any questions, no matter ‘trivial’ it may seem.

We hope this gathering is only the middle of on-going conversations that we can all continue to have in our work and play as we continue living in Australia.

Here are some resources that may be of interest:

Closer to home:
• Koorie Heritage Trust run excellent programs on cultural education and professional development

• Take a tour at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre Melbourne Museum

• Bruce Pascoe’s compelling talk

First Australian series by SBS

Indigenous Australia for Dummies by Larissa Behrendt

Specific to design:
Australian Indigenous Design Charter

Social Design Toolkit

Designing with Indigenous Nations Studio

A Cheat sheet for Non(or Less-) Colonialist Speculative Design

• A design framework for self-determination by Design Managers Australia

• Kelly, M., & Kennedy, R. (2016). Recognizing Appropriate Representation of Indigenous Knowledge in Design Practice. Visible Language, 50(1), 153–173.

7 Things You Can Do To Make Your Art Less Racist – A comprehensive How-To-Guide by Sandrine Micossé-Aikins

A list of questions by Melisa A, “On semi-hiatus” Member of Nisga’a Nation. Wips Wisen Xbil’tkw.

Black Chicks Talking

On Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing:
• Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.

• Sheehan, N. W. (2011). Indigenous Knowledge and Respectful Design: An Evidence-Based Approach. Design Issues, 27(4), 68–80.

• G. Worby & L.-I. Rigney (2006). Sharing spaces : Indigenous and non-indigenous responses to story, country and rights, Perth: API Network.


Image by Signe Stjarnqvist, created for Designing with Indigenous Nations studio, RMIT University


“If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself.”
Cheryl Richardson

The first event for 2019 was Conflict Camp, a 2 hour workshop hosted by experienced facilitators Lina Patel (Facilitator and Collaboration Designer), Kate McEntee (PhD candidate in design at Monash University), Ryley Lawson (Design researcher at Paper Giant). Event sketchnote by Leander Kreltszheim (Mission Australia).

Conflict Camp is based on principles of compassionate communication and productive collaboration, and dedicated to building participants’ conflict competence. Conflict is essential for healthy collaboration. It is important to develop ways to be with and navigate conflict in our work. This workshop was designed to be appropriate for people at all levels in their organization, whether they are building a new team, are an experienced people manager or are new to collaborative work environments. It was also designed for those seeking a more informed and mature practice around facilitation, communication and collaborative work.

The gathering provided opportunities to:
• reflect on their own understanding and experience of conflict

• learn what it means to create an environment that invites productive disagreement

• develop strategies to consider how one might navigate and respond to conflict.

This event was hosted at the offices of Paper Giant, a strategic design consultancy that helps organisations understand and solve complex problems.

Related resources:

Statement of Context



Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-violent Communication book

How To Resolve Workplace Conflict With Body Language



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.

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.

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