Sun, Sand, and Service Design: My Experience at ServDes 2023

Saksham Panda
4 min readAug 1, 2023

I recently had the incredible opportunity to attend ServDes 2023 in the captivating city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Let me tell you, it turned out to be an absolute delight, a perfect blend of learning and Vitamin Sea. As someone obsessed with everything related to service design, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. ServDes is one of the first conferences dedicated solely to this field, and it truly felt like finding my tribe.

This bi-annual international design and innovation event attracts experts and practitioners from all corners of the globe. It originally started as a yearly Nordic conference in Oslo, Norway, back in 2009. However, due to the growing global interest and recognition, it evolved into a bi-annual international conference, with the second event taking place in Linköping, Sweden, in 2012.

ServDes offers a wonderful platform for engaging in discussions that shape the emerging discipline of Service Design. Whether you’re an academic or a professional in the industry, you’ll find a wealth of insights through papers, discussions, workshops, and forums. It’s an excellent opportunity for those interested in exploring service design to familiarize themselves with the domain.

Being a former design student and now a practitioner in India, I must admit that there are limited discussions around service design in my country. Breaking into this field has been a challenging journey filled with self-doubt and imposter syndrome. However, attending ServDes made me realize that there’s a world where people passionately discuss all things service design. It’s a tight-knit community that radiates a sense of camaraderie.

The journey to Brazil might be lengthy, but trust me, it’s absolutely worth it. Rio de Janeiro is a city like no other, welcoming, vibrant, and stunningly beautiful, which more than compensates for any jet lag.

This year the theme for the conference was ‘Entanglements and flows’. The conference lasted four days, with an additional day reserved for a pre-conference event, including a book reading and a DESIS lab forum where social innovation case studies from various parts of the world were discussed. Each day was packed with captivating keynotes, insightful paper presentations, engaging workshops, forums, and discussions. I highly recommend checking out the detailed program schedule to get an overview of the wide array of topics covered.

ServDes Banners at DAD building at PUC Rio
Venue: Design department at PUC Rio de Janeiro

I had an amazing time learning about the diverse approaches and outcomes of service design projects. It’s fascinating to see how individuals apply service design differently in their respective areas while facing similar challenges and celebrating shared successes. Witnessing the application of various tools, methods, mindsets, and expertise to create better holistic experiences across different geographies and cultures was truly inspiring. The conference showcased not only academic projects but also practical insights from industry practitioners working in both small and large companies. Their experiences ranged from solving internal operations to delivering value to customers, redefining ways of working, and designing for society and climate. It was a real eye-opener to see so many incredible SD teams working on such brilliant projects.

The workshops during the second half of each day were equally engaging. Some were part of ongoing larger research projects, while others allowed participants to reflect and explore various dimensions of service design. The central question guiding it all was, “What does serving mean? What does it mean to serve?” These discussions delved into compelling topics such as social innovation, self-identity and values as a designer, and the decolonization of design and innovation.

Beyond the enriching sessions, one of the highlights was the lively interactions during breaks. We gathered over scrumptious local yet vegan food and drinks, fostering connections and conversations that transcended cultural differences. With participants from over 20 countries, the energy and enthusiasm were palpable.

Lastly, Rio de Janeiro itself added a spark to the entire experience. The city offers a unique blend of modern and heritage architecture, breathtaking beaches, vibrant graffiti, classic monuments, groovy music filling the streets, and an abundance of other activities and places to explore. It’s a culturally-rich city, constantly evolving, and experiencing it all during my short stay was an absolute delight.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to BT Group for granting me the opportunity to be a part of ServDes this year. I’m also grateful to NID Gandhinagar and IIT Roorkee for their unwavering support during my project. Special thanks to my partner in crime, Shagun Bajpai, for the fantastic collaboration and being the best travel companion ever. And, of course, immense gratitude to the organizers and everyone at ServDes for creating an event that brings together all the service design enthusiasts from around the world. It truly was an unforgettable experience that enriched my passion for service design even further.

Paper presentation by Saksham Panda at ServDes 2023

Always up for a discussion on all things design. Feel free to drop me a message or connect on LinkedIn.

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