Stefanos Monastiridis

A native of Thessaloniki, Stefanos studied Product and Systems Design Engineering at the University of the Aegean (DPSD) on the island of Syros. During his degree, he experimented with a wide variety of design fields before discovering service design in 2012. Two years later, he left Greece for Denmark where he followed a Masters in Service Systems Design at Aalborg University and completed his thesis on ‘Experimenting with Systemic Design’ during an internship at Namahn. Along the way, he also fell in love with the Belgian capital and stayed.

Why didn’t you pursue a career in product design?

DPSD had a very holistic approach and tried to teach us that design can be applied as a problem solving methodology, although concepts like design thinking or user experience were uncommon at the time. My bachelor studies gave me a very broad design knowledge base but also left me completely disorientated professionally. During and after my studies, I worked in animation and documentary production, web and graphic design but mostly as a DJ. In fact, I’ve always been torn between music and design. Product design and consumption centred design in general never appealed to me. We don’t need more products! In a way, I had to denounce design to embrace it again years later as service design.

What was the appeal of service design?

By 2012, due to the ongoing economic crisis, my prospects did not look bright. I knew I needed to leave Greece. At the same time I found out about service design and immediately fell for it because of what I saw as the lack of it in all kinds of Greek public services. The mindset was simply not there. Too many people thought (and still think) about design only in terms of aesthetics. That was also the attraction of Aalborg University. It’s an open-minded, un-hype university and as a science degree, the Service Systems Design Masters attracts a wide variety of profiles from outside of the design world, ranging from business management over IT to communications and food studies.

How did you discover Namahn?

My girlfriend is a dancer. I asked her where I should go in Europe for my internship and she said Brussels, because she wants to do an MA at P.A.R.T.S. I immediately found Namahn and applied. It was an accidental fit. Although I’m an abstract thinker and most comfortable working at a conceptual level, I get to do much more at Namahn and was working on projects practically from Day 1.

What made Namahn a good fit with your thesis?

The introduction to systems thinking was a huge ‘Aha!’ moment in my bachelor studies. Namahn is creating a Systemic Design Toolkit that can be used to support organizational and social transformations. For my masters thesis I wanted to work on something more challenging than the design of a consumer service. So my research was framed as the testing of the systemic tools Namahn is developing by using them to come up with intervention scenarios for the migrant crisis in Europe. My findings were taken into account and we are now working on the finer details of the toolkit.

What is your vision on design today?

I see design as a new way of collaborating. In particular, systemic design should be used as a tool for democratization, helping people to build a common vision of the present and the future. It has been the domain of experts far too long. The results are interesting but detached from reality. This viewpoint is not unique to me, although it’s not mainstream. I’d like to see systems and design thinking taught in schools from a young age, alongside analytical thinking

How will you apply systems thinking at Namahn?

I’m fascinated by public services, complex critical systems and social innovation. I believe people find ways to solve problems and improve their lives themselves, based on what they know, without state intervention. Our role is to give them the necessary push and the tools to achieve this, instead of coming as experts with a master plan. There is no master architect.

How does Belgium compare with your Danish experience?

Copenhagen is a utopia. As such it was a shock moving to Brussels! But in fact, this city has the same chaotic vibe as many Greek cities and I soon felt at home. You meet so many nationalities here; people are open to new things and accustomed to having non-Belgians around them. Brussels is a city of extreme contrasts, and its ‘beautiful ugliness’ soon wins your heart!