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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.

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