Transformative Services and Transformation Design

By Daniela Sangiorgi

Sangiorgi, D. (2011)  Transformative Services and Transformation Design, International Journal of Design, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 29-40

Fast-forward from the RED paper to a more recent article written by Daniela Sangiorgi, a lecturer in Service Design and Service Innovation from Imagination Lancaster (see  This is a more academic view of transformation design, but in many ways it is also more radical in its interpretation of the potentials of transformation design and transformative services.  It takes as its starting point the application of transformation design to building services that can support the emergence of collaborative, sustainable and creative societies  – whether they be public or community services, or services of private companies.  Sangiorgi sees services as “engines for wider societal transformations” and enablers of “society-driven innovation”.  She is interested in the application of a transformation framework to service design, and in particular, in the potential for building:

•    Collaborative service models (where ‘ordinary people’ come together to solve daily life problems, for example in areas of housing, food, ageing, transport and work);

•    Models of co-creation and co-production (where users participate alongside professionals and frontline staff in designing and delivering services).

What is interesting about this article is the challenge that Sangiorgi puts out to designers seeking to enter the worlds of organisational development and social change.  She argues that:

“Design literature is generally characterised by a highly positive rhetoric on the role and impact of design in society, while a more critical approach is becoming increasingly necessary” (p. 37)

Sangiorgi warns against approaches that give too much sway to singular design interventions, arguing that transformation and radical change requires more fundamental shifts over time to underpin imagining and creating new systems and service models and introducing collaborative cultures.

She proposes that designers engage with, adopt and adapt principles and practices from organisational development and community action research into service design.  To this end Sangiorgi introduces seven key principles that could draw together transformative practices across the disciplines of design, organisational development and community action research.

[1]  Active Citizens:  transforming services requires the active participation of citizen users, who become designers and producers working in partnership with professionals;

[2]  Intervention at Community Scale: using community centred approaches and community-based solutions, so that communities become the site for interventions if the focus is large-scale, transformative change;

[3]  Building Capacities and Project Partnerships:  recognising that for transformation to be sustainable requires the building of trust, on-going dialogues and the creation of a culture of participation.  This requires involving people as partners in the change process and continuous reciprocal learning cycles;

[4]  Redistributing Power: understanding that participation in a design process requires a redistribution of power in relation to decisions, directions and production;

[5]  Building Infrastructure and Enabling Platforms: recognising that participation doesn’t just happen automatically because we want it to!  Both the design process and the outcomes need to consider how participation can be enabled – what the structures and the platforms are that will support participation and help to maintain and develop it over time.

[6]  Enhancing Imagination and Hope: enhancing a capacity to imagine possibilities, building new shared visions and designing ways to work towards these visions is fundamental to transformation design;

[7]  Evaluating Success and Impact:  measuring the long-term impact and legacy of design processes and interventions.

Though this is a ‘big picture’ article, with few grounded practice examples, it provides a foundation for making links between design and other methodologies and disciplines that are concerned with social change, innovation and ultimately with transformation.  This is helpful both for designers seeking to engage with social innovation, but also for those starting from inside public services or community organisations who are looking to design disciplines such as service design for inspiration.

Daniela Sangiorgi also recently co-edited a book with Anna Meroni entitled ‘Design for Services’ (Gower Publishing, 2011) that includes 17 case studies illustrating a human-centred design approach.  For those interested in exploring her framework further and seeing how it is built out of and into practice, this book is also recommended.

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