The Thematic Area (TA) of “Social Innovation and Services” (DxSIS) includes DESIS Labs projects with the keywords Services, Social Innovation and Design. This TA aims to gain deeper insight into these projects´ characteristics, specifically their aims and results.

One of the influences in the constitution and consolidation of service design was that of research activities and projects on design for social innovation and sustainability. Under this framework, social innovations are expressions of a socially diffused creativity and of a society on which everybody designs. These studies defined social innovations as services, more precisely as new service models, whose interactions are based on local cultural values and interpersonal networks (relationships between individuals).

The definition of designing for service (instead of service design) points to the processual characteristics of social innovations as services and the limits of the design intervention. It is highlighted the impossibility to thoroughly plan a service that relies on the co-production of value between participants, collaborative dynamics, interpersonal relational qualities and relationship building.

If designing for service is to design a platform for action – in the framework of social innovation processes – the character of the collaborations and the interpersonal relations between those involved cannot be forgotten. These are essential qualities to be fostered when designing for socially innovative services.

It includes designing platforms that foster mutual openness, conversations and meaningful encounters and, at the same time, that activate the local resources, knowledge and skills of those involved in the production of a commonly recognised result.

Given that, the possible intersections between social innovation and design for services are many and highly diverse, the work on this Thematic Area will consist in an overview on the way DESIS Labs are presently working and includes the following sub-areas:

  1. Design for strengthening relations
  2. Design for human/nature relationships
  3. Design for empowerment and self-knowledge
  4. Design for university-community engagement
  5. Design for collaboration and conviviality

Interpretative guidelines

Social innovations and services depend on relationships. It means it builds human -and non-human – connections that previously not exist. Martin Buber’s philosophy inspired the analysis of the DESIS Labs´ projects. He developed a framework that frames interactions as I-You and I-It. These polarities are useful to describe all possible relations in social innovations as services, not just between humans but with other beings, such as animals, or a tree.

The I-You relation is a unique feature of being human. When I relate to You, I always have before me a person whom I do not know entirely, and whom I will never know unless I listen to what the person’s presence tells me. I recognise the other as a presence which is, for me, unique. When I interact with It, I always confront someone that I have known as an It, and about whom I might wish to know more through my actions of knowledge. The person is classified, for example, for his or her role or usefulness for me.

It results that while I-It relations can be designed (and many design activities are asked to do so for example, in service design on which interactions may be orchestrated and organised through the interactions between clients and providers), the I-You relations are non-designable but design activities can create a favourable environment for these relations to happen, through enabling solutions.

The I-You relations are considered in this analysis as a qualitative orientation to guide the design for services.  Despite the importance of the qualitative orientation provided by I-You, the I-It encounters – which are directly designed – are not less important: for example, projects that explicitly design and sustain partnerships between people or institutions targeted to favour projects and activities for social change.