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.


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SDN New York Chapter volunteers at their first annual service safari–hosted at a local zoo, September 2018


When I was asked to write about my personal experience with the SDN New York Chapter and why I keep coming back, I felt a lot of feels. This collective brings up passion, commitment, community, and so much love. I’ll try not to get too cheesy with you, but know that the people here are people who care.

My first real introduction to the Service Design community was in February 2016. I had just moved to NY the previous summer, and I was looking for some kind of friendly design community. I randomly signed up for the Global Service Jam, since the details said that no experience was required. Great. It ended up being an incredible weekend where I met lots of fascinating and fun people. I tried to stay in touch with the people from my team but it slowly fizzled out, though some of us have remained close friends.

Natalie and me as mentors at the Global Service Jam in March 2018
Natalie and me as mentors at the Global Service Jam in March 2018

The next year, I was committed to going back, but this time as a volunteer organizer. I didn’t feel confident enough to be a mentor yet, so I helped with other logistics (there’s a lot going on in the background to make these events happen!). I saw some of the same people as the previous year, and strengthened some of the relationships that had fizzled out. Again, I had an amazing time and loved this community of people I spent just 1 weekend out of the year with, and a few rare sightings at other events.

The following year — you guessed it — I went back as a mentor! It felt like such an achievement, and I got so much support from the volunteer organizers. I really wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. There were so many awesome mentors that we had to co-mentor some teams, and that is when I was lucky to meet the amazing Natalie Kuhn. (If you’re reading this, you must know her since she’s one of the brains behind SDN NYC — I’m getting there.) Together, we led a super talented and creative team, and I felt an even stronger bond with this community. So did Natalie.

Now, if you know Natalie, you know that she’s someone who likes to take action, she’s a doer (almost to a fault). So a few weeks after the Jam, I got an email from Natalie saying she and Kathleen Chao — another mentor and amazing, action oriented individual— wanted to start a Service Design Meetup to keep the community alive throughout the year. Little did I know, these two women would spearhead this group and not only become great friends to me, but also true inspirations. Although there are plus or minus ten volunteer organizers (including myself) at any given time who offer to help, Natalie and Kathleen are our ringleaders.

These two are the kind of people who –

  • Volunteer to wake up early on a Sunday to test run an upcoming event
  • Coordinate and dress the SDN NYC volunteer team in safari gear to lead a group of eager Service Designers through a service safari at a local zoo
  • Think deeply about each step of an event experience–including props, space flow, positioning of volunteers, handwritten thank you notes, and group photos of those who made the event possible–to make sure each session is organized to a T and as best as they can make it for the community
  • Order bright red beanies with slices of pizza on them to help event participants identify mentors and volunteers for a rainy, pizza shop service safari–people had fun together assessing pizza services despite the weather!
  • Think many, many steps ahead of us in hopes of making sure everyone has a good time, learns something and/or even makes a new friend
  • Have organized over 35 events in the last two years, and have continued this effort with great consistency even during the pandemic
Natalie and Kathleen wrapping up their first event at a local bar in April 2018
Natalie and Kathleen wrapping up their first event at a local bar in April 2018
Natalie and Kathleen introducing an event at Foursquare in January 2020
Natalie and Kathleen introducing an event at Foursquare in January 2020 - Saad Khan

This is why I keep coming back, and why I’m so thankful for this community. Not only have I made great friends, I’ve made encouraging, supportive, and inspiring friends who have ultimately made me a better person. Each event is so interesting, inclusive, and thought-provoking, and I’ve learned so much over the years. So if you’re interested in growing yourself, I’d highly encourage checking us out (if you haven’t already) — events kickoff again in January 2021! We look forward to seeing you soon.


Find this content interesting or useful? Follow the SDN New York Chapter on InstagramLinkedInTwitter or Medium and / or join their Meetup group to hear about upcoming events. You can also find them on the global Service Design Network website — learn more about the larger SDN community there.

Written by: Caroline Alix

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