My write up for Service Design in a Climate Emergency in Berlin

Okay folks, I said I’d write something in the follow up post after the workshop myself to encourage others. I’ll link to a editable wiki page, with some resources we found, so others can add to it too. It should be at the bottom of this post.

What was key question you came to the workshop with?

My main questions was one of how well developed the conversation in the Berlin service design scene was when it came to talking about what I see as the existential challenge of our time - the climate crisis.

I wanted to see if we there was sufficient awareness and knowledge to move past the sense of learned helplessness, and abdication of responsibility I see in so many technical communities, where people say “I’m just a designer, I design what the client asks for” or “I’m just a developer, I only buld what I’m told to”.

What was the key takeaway from the day?

My key insight was that while the conversation has a long way to go, and service design as a discipline isn’t as well established as other parts of the world, there’s at least interest, and will to develop it.

While some attendees did get stuck on some exercises when trying to think through stategies to address the problems blocking tangible action, there were enough ideas in the room, to end up with some useful things I could try to help me frame a problem differently.

It was also good to acknowledge that because many of the problems around climate are systemic, the user centred design of many tools we use end up getting in the way of us understanding the problem. I found this piece by Cassie Robinson about the shortcomings of user centred design useful when discussing this during the workshop


I left knowing a bunch of things I didn’t know when I walked into the workshop room.

What do you see as the single largest challenge to designing for climate in industry?

The key challenge I see is people feeling they have the (social) license to talk about the impacts of their work, and not being equipped to have discussions around this.

In my view, so many of the problems related to climate feel like they rely on people being prepared to say “I’m not comfortable with the consequences of doing that”.

I think without people in senior positions create this culture where more junior staff feel supported, I think we’ll end up the sad scenario where people continue to build services that end up pushing us closer to a economic and ecosystem collapse - the difference being that they know how far from sustainable these are, and still build them, but just feel terrible about doing so, rather than changing their behaviour.

With that in mind, I think some of the Consequence Scanning exercises from Doteveryone, are really interesting - while they’re not aimed at climate problems explicitly, they do help us have the same kind of conversations, in a relatively safe structured format.

What single thing would you want to see support available for, to help you with designing services as if we were in a climate emergency?

Support for professionals to develop this knowledge in the form of time for their own study, or an investment in training.

I think this is necessary to help them build the capabilities to make informed decisions about what interventions they make when thinking through and designing services.

If there was one thing you’d ask other practitioners to think about in your field after the workshop, what would it be?

I think the key thing to think about that is just how we mistakenly act like there is no cost to inaction, (the is a very real cost to inaction, and it’s not distant any more), I think the conversations we have with people younger than us will be much, much more awkward if we do nothing than the awkward conversations we might have now towards the end of 2019 with our peers.

We have to get good at talking about climate, and while it’s on us to educate ourselves, we don’t need to wait til we’re experts before we get to have opinions about this what what world we want to spend our professional time building.

I found Mary Louise Heglar’s article, Home is always worth it really good for helping me realise this.


@mrchrisadams, thank you for this amazing write up!

Also, have a look at this call from the science gallery:

" Design makes worlds. It directs the traffic of humanity through the creation of cultural, social, and material space. But do we feel empowered to direct? To design?

Most moments of our existence are touched by design. We all sketch, we fashion trial balloons, we tinker with thoughts and concepts, we revise, we prototype, we analyze and critique, and we build. And then build again.

Design intersects with science and art. We design experiments for research, scientific visualizations, and genetic models. We design performances, texts, and communication. We design gardens, houses, and cities. We create small and large. We find beauty in experience and efficiency.

Design often mimics the intricate and perfect connections of healthy biological systems that nurture life. Yet design can also create destruction and chaos, or limit our participation and humanity. How might we explore this fantastic and perilous labyrinth of connections and implications bound up with art, science, and design?

The open call is an invitation to explore the world of design and its intersection with art and science. We invite proposals that address a wide range of subjects and themes, including the following:


  • What would a world without design be like?
  • How might design influence our vision and creative process? Our desires? Our identities and the identities of the world?
  • How could biodesign restructure, improve, and restore our lives, or damage and destroy them?
  • What might we learn from the ways that artists structure their studios, and the ways that scientists lay out equipment and material in their labs?
  • Could we design ways to have our consciousness and cognitive acts leave traces beyond the death of our body?
  • How does design expertise interact with a participatory design process? How can we design spaces where experts and non-experts build together?
  • Could we create a participatory process for designing the future?
  • How might design conjure up a beautiful, eerie, exciting, or creepy anticipation of the future?
  • How might we think about vernacular design?
  • What is the past and future of the relationship between nature, biology, and design?
  • How does design direct intentions?
  • How can we deal with the fact that design is both magical and dangerous?
  • How could design not suppress the chaotic, unexpected, improbable, and disruptive?
  • How might we design spaces and communities for highly mobile geographically nomadic groups of people?
  • How could we address the trauma of digital data and selves becoming commodified, transacted, and controlled and suppressed?
  • Could design guide a desirable transformation of society toward an equitable sustainable state?
  • How do the designs of our technologies reflect or challenge our biases?


Experimentation, provocation and research are at the heart of SGD’s values and programs. This exhibition will explore the practice and concept of design through the lens of artists, psychologists, storytellers, digital gamers, molecular biologists, performers, neuroscientists, designers, computer scientists, nurses, engineers, musicians, mathematicians, architects, and young people. The list of possibilities is endless.

Your proposal could be a new or existing artwork, performance, workshop, digital intervention, research project, virtual reality game, or other activity. We strongly recommend that you keep our target audience of young people aged 15-25 years in mind and consider including interactive or participatory elements. We would love humor to feature in the exhibition. Check out our tips on what makes a good open call submission."

This might be interesting for quite a few of your workshop participants or even your workshop outcomes, or the workshop itself?

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@mrchrisadams — I as curious how well the consequence scanning went with the session — from a former life we would typically do risk instead; which was defined as Risk = Consequence * Likelihood since not every consequence has the same likelihood of occurring — it’s easier to rank the risk appropriately.

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I connect with you on this sentence! And by organizing events I wish to activate my community. I think that by starting to move ourselves, we will surely inspire others. Well done! Keep the conversation on going.