Service Design Melbourne

Embodying, enacting and entangling design: a phenomenological view to co-designing services

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by Yoko Akama & Alison Pendriville

Yoko Akama, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, Australia
Alison Pendriville, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, UK


What is holding back service design from making a distinct departure from a product-centred to a socio-material human-centred framework? We have a concern for co-designing that is often discussed as a generic method to develop empathetic connections and understandings of people and their contexts. In this use, mastering the craft of co-designing had inadvertently isolated the method from the practitioner, fragmenting its process as a series of static events or a tool for deployment in staged workshops. Contributing to current debates on co-designing and design anthropology, our paper seeks to re-entangle co-designing back into its lived and enacted contexts. We see co-designing as a reflexive, embodied process of discovery and actualisation, and it is an integral, on-going activity of designing services. Co-designing can catalyse a transformative process in revealing and unlocking tacit knowledge, moving people along on a journey to ‘make real’ what proposed services might be like in the future. Co-designing plays a critical role especially when it involves the very people who are enmeshed in the realisation of the proposed services itself. As such, our case study of a weekend Ordnance Survey Geovation camp pays closer attention to how this took place and discusses the transformative process that was central to it. By taking a phenomenological perspective and building on a seminal anthropologists’ work, Tim Ingold, our paper counters the limitations in service design that tends to see its process as a contained series of fixed interactions or systemized process of methods. Through Ingold, we see ‘the social world as a tangle of threads or life-paths, ever ravelling here and unravelling there, within which the task for any being is to improvise a way through, and to keep on-going. Lives are bound up in the tangle.’ Similarly, we view co-designing as being and becoming, that is constantly transforming and connecting multiple entanglements.

Full paper (800kb PDF)

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