June 2023

Ute Schauberger
4 min readJun 30, 2023

What I’m 🎉 celebrating, 🎓 learning, and 🚧 finding challenging in June.

🎉 My birthday!

And making time each June to reflect, to look back and look forward. Two things stood out this year:

🎉🎓🚧 Number One: Opencast Service Designers

and looking forward to seeing where this wonderful group of people can go.

This fills me with excitement, inspiration, hope, and so much gratitude to be part of the journey. If you think I’m gushing over my team, well you’re right, I absolutely am. Come join us, we’re hiring again soon!

On Monday, I am starting my new role as practice lead. I have tons of thoughts, observations, ideas. And most of all questions! About this role, our service design community, our UCD community, Opencast, the past, the future, and most other things. One of my first challenges has been creating the time and space to explore these. It means being patient with myself, and resisting the urge for immediate action. There is one thing I’m learning very quickly. What brought me here will not necessarily bring me there. I have done well as a service designer. The skills, methods, and mindsets that served me well so far, will not automatically make me a good practice lead. That may be obvious, but it’s been helpful to me to acknowledge and articulate this. It’s easy to fall into the patterns that worked until now. My challenge for the next weeks is shifting my thinking and doing from learning how to be the best service designer, to how to have the best service design team. There is so much to learn, so many great people to learn from, and I just can’t wait for Monday.

🎉🎓🚧 Number two: Anthropology

and looking back on a journey from anthropology to design.

Except, it has not been a journey from one place to another. Not in the sense of leaving something behind and moving on to something else at least. Perhaps squiggly careers never are. And perhaps that is why they are valuable and are getting much more attention recently. I recommend the excellent work and podcast by Amazing If on this topic. Not quite belonging neatly into either category has certainly been a strength to me. This year, I tried to reconnect with all things anthropology. Thanks to the European Association of Social Anthropoligsts’ Applied Anthropology Network and its Apply Club Health, this has been an absolute joy.

Initially, I came to anthropology by coincidence and fell in love. It is one of the most fascinating and useful subjects. The theory and knowledge are fascinating. But the mindsets and methods I learnt have been invaluable and still help me on a daily basis. They shape how I work, how I think, and how I design. Yet anthropology is not often thought of as a ‘useful’ subject. Partly because it’s usually taught with a future in the academic world in mind. That wasn’t for me, but there was no clear or well trodden path to applying it beyond academia that I could see as a student. I wanted to use that deep understanding anthropology offers, to do something, to change something. Which meant I found myself working alongside designers.

Design can be equally misunderstood however. And almost in the opposite way of being too practical, too applied. Many people think design is about making things pretty, or purely about aesthetics. That’s why it’s difficult to explain service design compared to designing curtains or chairs or fashion. If you’re designing services, where is your result? Where is your material? Well to me, design is a method for imagining and creating change with intention and in collaboration. And as a service designer, my medium is people, culture, systems. The stuff that anthropologists know so well! And what makes up the world around us. We are surrounded by processes, interactions, tools, buildings, mindsets, ideas, practices. And of course people. All continuously changing and adapting. Anthropology helps me to see these, and to know they are not unchangeable natural laws. They are human, and they are made. It means they can be remade, reimagined, reorganised. To work better for people, for the planet, for society. That’s what designers do. They jump in, create, make something even when things are uncertain and we don’t have all the answers yet.

I often describe the relationship between anthropology and design as similar to physics and engineering. The first is the underlying knowledge of how the world functions. The second is about applying this to create something out there in the world, a bridge, a building, or well, a service. I would love for all designers to have anthropology as part of their education. And perhaps for anthropologists to learn about design, to be aware of this path into applying their discipline.

I spoke about this at the last Apply Club Health, and how it is especially relevant to health and social care. Health needs good design, and good design needs anthropology. I hope this connection will grow much stronger in future, and I’d love to be part of building that bridge.

Originally published at https://www.uteschauberger.com.

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Ute Schauberger

Designer, Anthropologist, aspiring Gardener. Learns, reflects, and writes about understanding humans and designing services. www.uteschauberger.com