Iterating a Sustainable Service Design course

While I am now preparing for the third edition of the course in Sustainable Service Design at IED Barcelona’s Master in Sustainable Product Design, Innovation and Management I wanted to share some learnings from the second edition we completed just before the summer.

You can find a longer explanation of the course structure, approach and materials I did after the first year here. The main feedback from that first edition’s students was the realisation of the potential services hold to innovate towards more sustainable and complete solutions, and the need to have more time to go through it. So that’s what we did. Oriol Guimerà, master coordinator almost doubled the course’s hours, and I decided to introduce just a few new material, so the students could have more space to act and reflect.

The Living Systems Principles for Design

To strengthen the mindset for sustainable service design, we introduced the Living Systems Theory and its relevance for design of Terry Irwin. Irwin, for herself would deserve a post so won’t expand here, just to mention that she is Professor and Head of the School of Design in Carnegie Mellon University, that she previously took a MSc. in Holistic Science in Schumacher College, and to be honest, is one of the few people in the design scene I do feel sharing design paradigms and goals.

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The Living Systems Principles (LSP) were introduced as ‘basics’ of our course structure. The role of this pieces of information is to serve as grounding materials were each individual would be growing learnings during the course. We decided to align the learning experience to interiorise the principles with the principle’s substance, so we took the class outdoors to Eina School of Design’s back forest ( as a bonus, the students could see another reality of the city’s design education scene).

There each of them were asked to take a principle and go on their own for 40 minutes to find out in the forest an example of the principle. After that we all shared the principles asking to embody and communicate them in a free manner.

Goethe’s Science as a design process

After this exercise, we moved to incorporate another of Irwin’s contributions to merge holistic science and design, Goethe’s method to understand reality. She has an article about the process and its relevance for design. The method was shared as another ‘process’ resource of the course structure. Back to the forest, this time students were asked a question: what it is important for you right now? Then were asked to think of a service that was related to this important thing in their lives. With it, they were given 1 hour to use Goethe’s science method to understand the service, and to propose a service redesign based on the principle they studied in the previous exercise. After that, we all shared the outcome of the service redesign and their experience using Goethe’s method.

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As a designer working with service systems, I found really insightful Goethe’s method, as somehow describes the state of mind in different moments of the design process. In my understanding is a method that proposes: to map the parts, to visualise the parts including the time perspective, to intuit or glimpse the static structure of the whole as archetype so to finally understand the formative dynamics of the whole.

After the two exercises we reflected as a group about the experience. They all appreciated to be invited out of school for such type of learnings. Of the reflections shared, one student’s comment specially stood up, mentioning that having this time with himself, in that location, he didn’t felt a designer, but a human being using design to help other human beings.

Engine’s Service Canvas

The last innovation of the second year of the course was the use of Engine’s framework to understand services, a sort of service canvas (even if the London based service design firm doesn’t name it in this way). The canvas is used as a ‘tool’ in the course structure and helped students to visualise a whole service and to communicate it clearly. I take the opportunity to congratulate Engine for the synthetic exercise of putting it together and to share it in their website. On that note, I have the feeling that if it was shared in a sort of creative commons would be a tool of great use and contribution the service design community, not just for educational purposes.

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2 thoughts on “Iterating a Sustainable Service Design course

  1. I’d be very interested to hear how the course goes–it looks very interesting. I wonder if you have seen the information on Transition Design that is a natural extension of many of these ideas. Best, Terry Irwin

    • Hi Terry! Yes :D I’ve seen the work you’re doing at CMU on Transition Design, a very relevant and exciting one. I am not expanding to TD in this course as service logic is a satelite, but I am in early conversations with another school of design to pilot a course on it, so might be interesting to talk if you have time. I will write you an email. Thanks for stopping by btw!

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