Service Design Melbourne

ServDes2020 Theme: Tensions | Paradoxes | Plurality

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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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