Thesis-2018-Mazzarella.pdf (484.15 MB)

Crafting situated services: meaningful design for social innovation with textile artisan communities

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posted on 25.06.2018 by Francesco Mazzarella
The mainstream ecosystem has proven unsustainable in terms of livelihood, environmental stewardship, cultural heritage, and social equality. To alleviate these problems, a range of top-down strategies has been deployed, but they are often ineffective in addressing the specific needs and aspirations of diverse contexts. On the other hand, bottom-up initiatives started by communities also face organisational and resource limitations that prevent them from becoming resilient. Within this context, service design for social innovation has become a well-established human-centred, strategic and systemic approach to tackling such challenges. However, designers have put much emphasis on the use of fixed toolkits that result in one-size-fits-all outputs. Instead, this thesis argues for a more situated and embedded approach to service design. With this in mind, the aim of the research was to explore new roles, purposes and methods the service designer can adopt to activate communities to transition towards a more sustainable future. For this purpose, participatory case studies were undertaken with two textile artisan communities (in Nottingham, UK, and Cape Town, South Africa), chosen as relevant cases of design, production and consumption. As a result of both cases, the designer activated the artisans, previously working in an isolated and precarious condition, to become a community and outline a situated service proposition that embeds a shared vision for a sustainable future. Building on emerging anthropological approaches to service design, the thesis contributes an original methodological framework, which equips the service designer with cultural sensibility when entering communities, aiding in making sense of sustainable futures, facilitating the co-design of situated services and activating local legacies. In this, the investigation evidenced the diverse roles - cultural insider, storyteller, sensemaker, facilitator, and activist - the service designer can play throughout a social innovation process. Furthermore, the thesis emphasised that the mastery of the designer lies in the skill of tailoring his/her approach to specific contexts in order to craft situated services that are meaningful to the communities using them.


Loughborough University, Design School. AHRC Design Star Centre for Doctoral Training.



  • Design


© Francesco Mazzarella

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.