Community Reflections: the SDN New York Chapter and Me

An ad hoc series about how community members have discovered the SDN NYC, and why they continue to come back. Each person’s story is unique and we are excited, grateful and warmed by their continued engagement.

“Oh, if you liked tonight’s discussion, you’d definitely be interested in the Service Design Network,” a fellow event attendee said to me.

We were both at a panel discussion about design’s role in public services. Since I arrived at the event by myself, I struck up a conversation with someone who happened to be sitting in front of me.

“Wait, there’s a chapter here?” I replied.

“Yeah, they meet monthly, I believe. You can find them on Meetup,” they said, nodding.

This was mid-2019, but I’d first heard of the Service Design Network years prior when its global conference was held at my alma mater. I volunteered as a room host and was blown away by the variety of industries, countries, and perspectives represented. The practice of service design was much more international and rapidly growing than I’d realized, but at the time there wasn’t a New York chapter so I forgot about it. I was so excited to hear about the existence of a local chapter that by the time I arrived at my apartment later than night, I’d already signed up for their next event!




Regine Gilbert explains the breadth of inclusive design with a quote by Don Norman
Regine Gilbert explains the breadth of inclusive design with a quote by Don Norman

My first SDN New York Chapter event was Designing for Your Future Self. I arrived just in time to grab a slice of pizza and join the audience. Instead of rows facing the speaker, everyone sat in small groups of about five around tables with worksheets, markers, and sticky notes. Regine Gilbert opened by asking what age the audience thought of as being old. She then invited us to create a profile of ourselves for that age, including details like profession, motivation, and daily routine. To guide us, we were provided a list of bodily changes one might experience as one ages. Next, Regine invited us to imagine with others at our tables where technology and innovation could improve our future worlds in relation to themes like community. After 40 minutes was up, each group took turns to present their ideas to the rest of the room. Ideas considered the impact of using a service design lens — services that stretched across physical and various digital channels.

I stumbled through the futuring exercise more than I thought I would. I definitely embarrassed myself during the group discussion. My notions of aging and ability to empathize were challenged. But all this was a breath of fresh air after working in a non-creative environment for two years post college. I didn’t realize how much I missed the speculative thinking, creative problem solving, and different perspectives such discussions often brought with it. I left the event energized by the mapping, insights, and even the discomfort.

Sketch notes on Regine Gilbert’s Designing for Your Future Self event, where she discussed aging and inclusive design
My sketch notes from Regine Gilbert’s Designing for Your Future Self event


Since then, through the SDN NYC, I’ve used improv exercises to improve my communication skills, learned to identify whether public spaces are truly public, picked up tools to design a personally meaningful life, and much more. Along the way, I’ve also eaten a lot of pizza, started recognizing other volunteers, and even volunteered for the group as an event recap writer.

For me, the SDN New York Chapter events serve as a monthly reminder that anyone can cultivate a designer’s mindset and toolkit, and that I am enriched by seeking to deeply understand others’ world views especially when they challenge my own. These events open up my world to intersections others are deeply embedded in, which in turn have shown me how to embrace mine. Given all the uncertainty, trauma, and violence this year has dealt us, I’ve enjoyed dreaming and working for a better tomorrow with others also doing the same.

Cassie Ang Yu
Cassie Ang Yu - Multidisciplinary Researcher

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