Narrating Service Design to Account for Cultural Plurality
Zhipeng Duan, Josina Vink, Simon David Clatworthy


Stories create pathways from the past to the future. How are the stories of service design practice being told? What futures are they creating? Many service design narratives in public and academic discourse are dominated by concepts that refer to “mainstream” service design knowledge. Those who diverge from this mainstream—including service design practitioners and participants involved in culturally situated practices—risk being assimilated by service design concepts that take a monolithic view of culture. Moreover, this dominant service design narrative threatens to extend coloniality. In response, we introduce cultural plurality as a way to highlight the ontological conditions in which different practices enact different realities and futures beyond the scope of service design. To investigate and reflect on how service design practice is narrated within multiple cultures, we present four representative stories of service design practice, derived from a literature review and interviews with 21 service design practitioners with diverse, global backgrounds. The main contribution of the study is its demonstration that the dominant narrative is insufficient to tell the story of service design across multiple cultures. On the basis of this reflexive study, we encourage service design knowers to practice narrative sensitivity, in order to allow room for entangled, multidirectional practices. We further stress the importance of cultivating vigilance regarding the presence of mainstream service design knowledge and concepts, amid a meshwork of differing knowledges and practices.

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