Service Design in Canada: Society, Environment, Economy

While on holiday in Montreal and Toronto, I have been taking in the sights and finding out more about Canada’s culture, nature and its design scene. There are some reassuringly global trends in both education and practice around service design. On the educational side, there’s plenty beginning to emerge in Canada, though Europe and the UK maintain their lead.

I was invited to the final exhibition of the Design Management course at Georgebrown University, where I was lucky enough to meet Luigi Ferrara, head of the design school and also course director of the Institute Without Boundaries, set up by Bruce Mau. The importance of making sure design processes, principles and designers themselves are introduced to help solve the world’s largest and most complex problems is something I can’t possibly stress enough.

There’s also an emerging appetite for design thinking in business education. Designworks, a consultancy-cum-MA at the Rotman Business School, University of Toronto, is led by Roger Martin who recently released The Opposable Mind; sorry I have no personal review (it’s on order!) but there’s a good outline in this interview.

To repeat a phrase that’s everywhere at the moment, but of particular interest ‘in these financially difficult times’ was the Design Exchange in Toronto, performing a similar function to the UK Design Council but also maintaining two large exhibition spaces, which the DC jettisoned a long time ago to pursue its status as the UK government’s design ‘do tank’.

The comparison between the magnificent old Toronto Exchange building, once powering the economy, and its new role housing exhibitions on urban farming and the connections between architecture and quality of life and well-being were striking. The beautiful art deco trading floor is now empty and quiet, now home to events more concerned with different definitions of value and currency.

I truly believe that we’re at a crossroads; when our society, economy and environment can no longer be at odds in their values, goals and effects. How can service design ask bigger, better questions of itself, its clients and ultimately citizens and users, to harmonise these forces in ways that strengthen, rather than feel like a compromise or idealist gesture?

We in the UK should be proud of our progress and status in the field of service design, but never complacent. Canada is just one of many places catching up quickly, accelerating its progress with the increasingly intricate mesh of networking and ideas exchange online. Moreover, it has a lot to teach us about establishing a culture of heightened environmental consciousness.

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