This Closer Look feature by Yoko Akama, Regional Expert for Asia, provides a reflection on the ServDes.2020 conference (Service Design and Innovation) that she co-chaired and hosted at RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia, Kulin Nations) during February 2-5, 2021.

This all-online conference was a watershed event in creating a respectful space for us to grapple with the tensions, paradoxes and pluralities of human-centred designing to generate substantial learning for students, professionals and researchers.

The ServDes.2020 website will soon become a rich repository of the presentations and session recordings where so many had willingly stepped into complex terrains to move beyond assumed or established frames of reference, that have largely been western, privileged and market-centred agendas until now. The diversity of participants and attendees, almost 50% from outside of Europe, was a significant achievement in the history of ServDes Conference series in providing a platform for hearing stories we rarely hear in the dominant design discourses, particularly from Latin America and the Asia Pacific region.

All these contributions together have shaped what kinds of conversations, approaches and ways of being could be possible, if we are open to engage respectfully with plural ontologies and episteme. Our commitment to, not just acknowledge, but to respectfully engage with Indigenous sovereignty was also registered as another significant benchmark.

Yoko Akama – GDS Regional Expert for Asia, Associate Professor: Communication Design, School of Design, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University, Australia

ServDes.2020 Tensions Paradoxes Plurality:

There were over 100 online discussions, presentations, and workshops. These are Yoko’s top picks that have key GDS themes, agendas, and issues:

Theme – Indigenous Knowledges and Decolonising:

  • Articulatory Respectful Service Design – Norman Sheehan, Honorary Professor, University of Queensland and Dr Tristan Schultz, Relative Creative
  • Patterning Place – Dr Tristan Schultz, Relative Creative
  • Designing in response to Indigenous sovereignties – Peter West, RMIT University
  • Experimenting with design tools for just public services – Paula Hardie, Griffith University, Brisbane
  • What the Popol Vuh can teach design – Ricardo Sosa, Auckland University of Technology
  • Telling stories: Moving beyond empathy tools to reciprocity – Giti Datt, University of Technology, Sydney; Lucy Klippan, University of Technology, Sydney; Helen Eason, Nelly’s Healing Centre; and Juanita Sherwood, Nelly’s Healing Centre
  • Design enabling pluralities of voices, re-distribution of power – Satu Miettinen, University of Lapland, Finland and Nicola Morelli
  • Aotearoa New Zealand Panel: Rangatirangatanga mo te Oranga – Innovation in systems and service change for equitable cultural spaces – Desna Whaanga-Schollum, Founding member Nga Aho Chairperson; Angie Tangaere, Social Intrapreneur, The Southern Initiative; and Penny Hagen, Director, Auckland Co-design Lab, The Southern Initiative

Theme – Feminism, Gender, Race:

  • Bespoke tools for co-designing diverse and inclusive feminist futures – Hannah Korsmeyer, Monash University and Allison Edwards, Wonderlab, Monash University
  • Categorising people: Tensions in critical approaches to design – Kate McEntee, Monash University
  • Designing for informal services: A participatory approach to prevent sexual violence within a university – Bridget Malcolm, UTS Design Innovation Research Centre
  • Teu le Va (nurture the space) in-between intersectionality – Marion Muliaumaseali’I, RMIT University