CityLab Studio: Designing participatory, human-centred methods for citizen engagement

What could citizen-centred governance look like to tackle issues on climate change?

This design studio was taught in the Communication Design Program, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, in partnership with CityLab (City of Melbourne) and Victorian Eco Innovation Lab (University of Melbourne) during July – October 2015. It aimed to introduce design students to consider new models of local governance in 2040 for a future that is hotter, more crowded but has adapted to climate change and its impacts. This studio, led by Dr Yoko Akama, Tania Ivanka and Dr Idil Gaziulusoy helped students learn about emerging movements like service design, speculative design and design ethnography to propose a citizen-centred future for the City of Melbourne.

The studio introduced students to the development and use of participatory, human centred design methods and how these can be used to engage citizens in dialogue about, and the design of, a low-carbon future. In order to deliver this learning, the studio structure included in-class exercises on participatory methods, guest lectures by the studio partners, interviews with local practitioners who are at the forefront of citizen engagement on these issues. The studio centred around several workshops with citizens where students could develop, iterate and test their participatory prototypes with the participants.

“The lecturer explained that we as designers have been educated to be problem solvers, fixated on delivering a solution. This studio however, was not aiming to design a solution, but to design the process. With this acknowledgement, all of my stars seemed to align and I felt I gained a whole new understanding. .. our main focus revolved around developing prototype’s to be tested in real life settings using all we had learned around human centred design so far. This process held the most intense and insightful experience within the studio. As we were to test these prototypes on industry professionals, only just having learnt half the concepts we were exploring with them a few months ago, it was definitely an exciting process. Being able to learn from the things that may have gone horribly wrong and even get feed-back from our participants held so much value in the development of my work and also myself as a designer. Real life interactions were incredibly valuable. Being able to reflect on the process to inform and iterate future work is such an essential element to design and this studio thoroughly underlined that notion.” Galen Strachan

The process and outcome of this studio are captured by a selection of outstanding student projects:

Repurposing Waste by Carlotta Solari


Public Transport mapping by Galen Strachan


Swapping waste and resources by Harry Jones


A city of windturbines by Robert Sorensen


Household Foodwaste prototype by Anita Shao


Green infrastructure by Mary Hoang


Power Up prototype by Maria Ferreira


Bus it by Michael Santos


Wasteful Packaging prototype by Sasha Taylor-Leech


This landmark event brings together key change-makers in Singapore and Asia-Pacific region who are shaping the landscape in service design and social innovation for positive impact. Over the two days, this event will inspire ideas, stimulate discussion, provoke thinking and collaboratively explore what it means to design in this landscape. All design students, academics and those interested in design from business and 3rd sector organisations are welcome.

For more information, please download the poster or go to DESIAP website.

It’s Tight Shorts the Christmas Edition! Yes, can you believe it’s that time of year already? Tight Shorts is a new offering from the Service Design Melbourne Network. Each event we will be showcasing a number of short and sweet talks on a different service design related theme – followed by networking and drinks.

Venue: Horse Bazaar. Happy hour all night on Monday so $6 pints, wine, etc!

Time: December 1, 2014, from 6.30-8.30pm
CLICK HERE to sign up via Eventbrite
In Tight Shorts #2 (Christmas Edition): Giving Back – Service Design in the Not For Profit Sector, we will be hearing from three practitioners about their experiences using human centred design to enable social/humanitarian organisaations in being more effective in their work and achieving their aims.
We will be hearing three fascinating stories of work with Diabetes Australia, InfoExchange and agencies working areas relevant to disaster risk.
Charles-Henri Lison
Charles is a Senior Experience Designer at Sympicit. Charles will be sharing his experience of working as an internal designer with a not for profit during his time at InfoExchange: The mindset it requries, the challenges the sector faces with funding, some of the cultural clashes with the tech and government worlds and more.

Ani Patke
Ani is a Manager at the Customer Experience Company. He will be introducing us to a project he undertook with Diabetes Australia’s (DA) and their clothing donation program. Hear about how a human centred approach helped Ani get to the heart of a problem and enable DA in understanding its people in order to deliver this great program.

Yoko Akama
Yoko is a design researcher and educator at RMIT University, and the co-founder and leader of Service Design Network Melbourne. In this talk, she’ll share the approaches taken with communities and emergency management agencies to understand and strengthen resilience in mitigating disaster risks. This led to receiving the Best in Category for Service Design in the 2014 Good Design Award. She is passionate about what people can do together to tackle complex problems, and how co-designing can scaffold engagement, co-creation and transformation.

CLICK HERE to sign up via Eventbrite
Service Design Melbourne is a free member network. To sign up visit

A big shout out to Horse Bazarr for providing our venue for the evening. Go and check them out at


Be warned, this is not a regular design talk.

A curated list of industry professionals will lead discussions in small groups about the connection between design and social responsibility.You are encouraged to ask difficult questions.

Come ready to discuss ideas, argue your perspective, drink beer and be inspired. Walk away knowing what kind of designer you want to be.

P.S. There will be food trucks.

Organised by Thick and Oxfam Australia’s Design for Change.

Thick is a strategic design consultancy with a focus on health, education and public services. We believe in the power of business to transform the planet for good. We design and create products and experiences that improve the lives of people as well as build social, environmental and business benefit.

Oxfam Australia’s Design for Change is a unique university program run by Oxfam Australia supporting design and communications students, the creative industries and emerging professionals to use their skills, creativity and problem solving capacity for global good. Every year Design for change works with leading universities in Sydney and Melbourne to foster socially engaged design thinking and practices into the next wave of designers.


Oxfam Australia, Studio Thick

Dawn O’Neill AM: Collective Impact and Social Change – a challenge and an opportunity for the Service Design community.
Collective Impact is a philosophy, a framework, an approach that is being applied to address many complex social problems in the US, UK, and now in Australia. The event, in conjunction with RSA A+NZ, will show how Collective Impact can facilitate long lasting social change by bringing cross-sector organisations together to focus on a common agenda. Dawn O’Neill AM will highlight where Service Design can play an intrinsic role in dealing with the wicked problems that beset all these initiatives and how design can contribute to facilitating improvements and better outcomes for the organisations and the people and communities they serve.

Dawn O’Neill, previously the CEO of beyondblue and Lifeline Australia, was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to the community and to Mental Health in 2009. Dawn currently provides business coaching and consulting to social sector leaders in collaborative and participatory change with a particular focus on Collective Impact. She is also the Chair of STREAT, an innovative homelessness social enterprise, a Director of Ten20 a newly formed venture philanthropy organisation sup-porting community based, collective impact initiatives and a Director of Big White Wall an innovative on line mental health and wellbeing service.

You can download the presentation here.


Collective Impact, RSA, Service Design Network Melbourne, RMIT University

“You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere!” – Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back.

The innocuous seeming arrows and lines in organisational charts and process diagrams often represent time, context, and connections that are essential to the experiences people have with those organisations. The problem is that arrows and connecting lines are so ubiquitous in diagrams that they seem invisible and are often overlooked.

It is much easier–and human nature—to focus effort on “things” because they represent tangible touchpoints, such as a website, ticket machine, and so on. As a result, many forget to attend to designing the experience of the arrows and lines—the transitions from one touchpoint to the next. They are too important to let just happen. Too important they are.

This talk and discussion explores how thinking about and designing the space and time between touchpoints can help bridge the silos within organisations that prevent engaging and positive service experiences from happening.

After Andy’s talk, a panel discussion follows with Andy and Zaana Howard, Matthew Buckley, Penny Hagen, Yoko Akama


Dr. Andy Polaine has been involved in interaction design since the early 90s and was co-founder of the award-winning new media group, Antirom, in London. He was a creative producer at Razorfish, UK and later Interactive Director at Animal Logic, Sydney. Andy was Senior Lecturer and Head of the School of Media Arts at The University of New South Wales, Sydney before moving to Germany and holds a PhD from the University of Technology, Sydney in which he examined the relationship between play and interactivity. He now divides his time between being a Lecturer and Researcher in Service Design at the Lucerne School of Art and Design in Switzerland and his work as a service/interaction design consultant and writer, working with clients such as Telenor, VW Germany and live|work. He has written over 160 articles and papers and co-authored the Rosenfeld Media book, Service Design: From Insight to Implementation. He can be found online at and on Twitter as @apolaine.

DESIS-lab Melbourne had the great pleasure of hosting a panel discussion to coincide with Dominic Campbell’s visit to Melbourne on the 21st May 2013. Dom is the Director of Futuregov, UK, leading the way on using digital technology to improve the public services. This article in The Guardian gives a good snapshot of their recent work.

A brief intro to Dom’s talk:

“Social innovators and public sector reformers are increasingly drawn to the use of digital and design as a way to transform public services from the inside and out. However so far many of these emerging (great) ideas lack the scale of impact they could and should have. It’s now time to focus less on creating more and more good ideas, and instead on taking the best of those ideas and the social innovation experiments to the next level. Go big or go home – the world can’t wait.”

Following Dom’s talk, an illustrious line up of panelists discussed general topics on design and social innovation in the public sector.

Darren Sharp: Darren Sharp is the Australian Editor of Shareable, the online magazine that tells the story of sharing. Darren has a background in social research and consulting having led a number of Gov 2.0 initiatives for state and federal government clients including Australia Post, VicHealth and the Gov 2.0 Taskforce. Darren spent years as senior researcher with the Smart Services CRC where he undertook research into communications policy, Internet futures, peer production and user-led innovation. A sharing economy evangelist, Darren is passionate about citizen engagement, social innovation, p2p systems, the commons and sustainable cities.

Adrian Pyle, Director – Relationships Innovation at Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. He is interested in enduring and universal themes within the great spiritual traditions, philosophies and models of change. He has a particular interest in Theory U and how “U shaped process” is a metaphor for those universal themes. His work involves him in a range of projects and experiments which help people get immersed in various stages of the U process and through this allow them to appreciate life as a spiritual experience (rather than spirituality as an “add on” to life). These projects and experiments include a fledgling responsible travel and learning journeys business, work in the area of relocalising and cooperatising businesses, neighbourhood co-working and maker space experiments, neighbourhood meals experiments and crowd and community funded energy reduction initiatives.

Damien Melotte, partner in System Reload. System Reload is a Strategic Design consultancy that is passionate about building thriving organisations that can adapt to disruptive change in the relationships age. Their approach is a combination of Service Design, Customer Experience, Digital and Social Business.Damien has worked with a range of public, private and Non Government Organisations in project design, social innovation, trends analysis, customer experience, strategic design, business strategy development, tactical tool development and workshop facilitation. Damien supports organisations to distil complexity through visualising and unravelling problems and working through a collaborative process to develop solutions.

Lucinda Hartley is an award winning designer who is passionate about cities, and developing new approaches to urban revitalisation that are faster, cheaper and more fun. Trained as a Landscape Architect, Lucinda spent two years working in slum communities in Vietnam and Cambodia before launching CoDesign Studio: a non-profit social enterprise, committed to helping disadvantaged communities to envision, design and implement neighbourhood improvement projects. Since its inception in 2010, CoDesign has delivered projects across five countries in Asia Pacific and engages over 500 volunteers. Lucinda is also an elected representative to the UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board, focusing on how to engage young people in city making, and was a 2010 Youth Action Net Global Fellow. Her work in design and community development has been widely recognised including being recently listed in The Age Melbourne Magazine as one of Melbourne’s ‘Top 100’ most influential people.

Dominic Campbell, Founder of Futuregov. Dominic is a digital government and social innovation entrepreneur with a strong background in policy, communications and change management.

The panel discussion was moderated by Yoko Akama, leader of DESIS-Lab Melbourne, Service Design Network Melbourne and Acting Research Leader of Design Research Institute, RMIT University. This forum was nested within a broader program of the Design Research Institute Convergence Exhibition, open from 2nd – 24th May 2013 at RMIT Design Hub.

Family breakdown, child abuse and neglect, carer stress, chronic disease and the vast social inequality experienced by Indigenous communities.

For too many Australians, big social challenges are an everyday reality that even the concerted efforts of public policy, community development and social sciences have not managed to shift.

The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) was founded to develop new solutions to Australia’s social challenges, and to spread new approaches to social problem solving.

Our vision is more Australians thriving, not just surviving. We work with organisations across Australia who share that vision.

Go to TACSI website and download their reports

Design thinking, user-centered design, service design, transformation design. These practices are not identical but their origin is similar: a definition of design that extends the profession beyond products. The rise of service economies in the developed world contributed to this movement toward design experiences, services and interactions between users and products. The literature about design thinking and contemporary ideas reveals common elements and themes, many of which are borrowed from product design processes. They include abduction, empathy, interdisciplinary teams, co-creation, iteration through prototyping, preservation of complexity and an evolving brief.

The implications of the rise of design thinking are twofold. First, corporate and organizational leaders concerned with innovative prowess are recognizing design thinking as a tool for developing new competitive advantages. Design thinking considers consumers’ latent desires and thus has the potential to change markets rather than simply make incremental improvements in the status quo. Second, many organizations have encountered significant barriers to practicing design thinking internally. In some ways, design thinking runs counter to the very structure of a corporation — it is intended to break paradigms, which may mean questioning power relationships, traditions and incentive structure, and it may require a corporation to overhaul its business model and cannibalize its success. Additionally, many corporate leaders treat design thinking in a linear manner, a process that compromises the critical elements of conflict and circularity. In many instances, designers have failed to sufficiently translate and articulate their process, and businesses tend to favor past trends over the promise of new discovery.

With corporations struggling to use design thinking effectively, where does that leave the social sector? The organizational challenges facing corporations do not necessarily transfer to nonprofit organizations: more complex systems, higher stakes for failure, limited resources and intangible evaluation metrics. Designers may be attracted to greater complexity and more wicked problems in the social sector, but they need to be prepared to adapt their process and attitudes to create positive change. Perhaps the most significant adaptation designers need to make is in their role. Where product design connotes a sense of authorship, social design demands that designers be facilitators and educators of their processes. Further, they need to recognize they may not be well equipped to solve problems, but can identify problems and co-create with local leaders and beneficiaries.

The value of co-creation is a predominant theme in the literature surveyed here, particularly for Western designers contributing to foreign communities. Another critical factor is continual presence within projects, or better, a longer-term, sustained involvement. Authors speak of the importance of evaluation and metrics to gauge success, but find many projects lacking, perhaps for the same reasons the social sector as a whole struggles with impact measurement. Scaling, adaptation and replication are buzzwords that pervade the social sector, but are particularly difficult for the product of a design process. Because the process is founded on a deep understanding of a particular user group’s needs, the solution for one community likely does not translate directly to another. However, authors suggest that it is the design process that is scalable and should be taught to local leaders. Failed projects support this assertion; benefits flow through the process of a project as well as the end-product, which further advocates for co-creation. Finally, the literature leave us with an unsettling question: Is breakthrough innovation possible in the social sector? Most veterans in this field suggest the answer is no — they recommend that designers start small and introduce incremental change because the complexity of the systems and problems they face will demand it. However, this finding does not negate the potential value of the designer. The social sector needs designers to identify problems, imagine possibilities for a better future and facilitate problem-solving processes.

— Courtney Drake

Read more about this on changeobserver

Sarah used Myki’s (Melbourne public transport system) complex problem as a context to introduce some of Snook’s service design processes to the participants.

Sarah focuses on making social change happen by re-thinking public services from a human perspective. With a Masters of Design Innovation from Glasgow School of Art, Sarah is a social entrepreneur, unashamedly proving the value of design in central government and defining a meaningful role for designers in the public sector. Her work challenges the role design can play within the public sector, and as the winner of the first Scottish Social Innovation Camp, Sarah is ambitiously challenging the way governments operate and make policies through initiatives such as MyPolice.

As a fellow of Google, Sarah has a flair for using technology as an enabler and thrives leading processes of change, putting design at the heart of organisations and complex systems.

Prior to being the Director of Snook, Sarah won £20,000 for a community in Glasgow by giving local people the tools and confidence to build their own social enterprise. She also spent a year working inside Skills Development Scotland alongside their Service Design and Innovation Directorate to embed the design process in their organisation.

Sarah’s service design expertise and public sector innovation knowledge has recently taken her to keynote in Taiwan, Australia and America.

Introducting the Social Design Methods Menu by Lucy Kimbell and Joe Julier
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