The Student Service Design Challenge


The Student Service Design Challenge


Enabling students to solve the problems of tomorrow


Enabling students to solve the problems of tomorrow

The Student Service Design Challenge 2021 is reaching its climax as the 27 global teams work on their final proposals to meet this year’s demanding but stimulating brief. Organised by Philips and the Service Design College, and in partnership with IBM and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, student teams have been called to design close-loop services that engage everyday users and facilitate the introduction of circular design into existing industrial processes.

The mission of the Student Service Design Challenge is to involve young talent and seek their active participation to solve and follow through with the social and responsible innovations needed in our current transformational era. Their fresh perspective and eagerness to design a better world, as well as their future leading roles, makes them crucial players in this process. This belief led Philips and the Service Design College to come together to offer a hands-on learning opportunity for university students worldwide, by asking them to define and design service solutions that address a specific but universal problem.

Teams from all over the world
This year’s edition, involving students from 22 universities worldwide, tackles the consequences generated by a linear economy, by addressing reverse logistic processes and close-loop initiatives in the form of services. One key aspect of the brief asks teams to prioritise user/customer engagement and commitment to circular principles.


An important aspect of the challenge is that it requires the teams to act within their local contexts; finding solutions to existing problems that can be readily perceived around them.

Interestingly, for many of the students, their school context does not coincide with their native countries. Some must overcome language and cultural barriers to identify and “solve” local problems. However, this “outside” view also provides them with a powerful multicultural perspective to look at problems (and possible solutions) from a different standpoint.

Assessment criteria
More than 70 teams answered the call to participate in this year’s Challenge. In the initial selection round, applicants submitted a proposed working topic to answer the brief. These proposals were assessed by an expert committee composed of members from all partner organisations. The selection criteria included human, social and experiential considerations as well as sustainability, technology and making their services market ready.

27 teams were selected as finalists to continue in the competition and develop their proposals into prototypable solutions. These teams combine a mix of cultures and study backgrounds. Some are studying design: service design, experience design, ux and interaction design, etc., while others come from business, communication, architecture and even fashion backgrounds. They are all committed to pursue this learning experience as an extracurricular activity.

The team are spread all over the world. From Mexico and Canada on the west, passing through all European corners, to India and Australia in the east. They have been challenged by lockdowns and having to collaborate while in different time zones, but their positive attitude and enthusiasm, as well as their commitment has kept them going and inspired them to find more creative ways to get the job done.

Proposals centre on issues around industries like cosmetics, construction, textile, hospitality, pharmaceutical, furniture, food, fitness, toys and many more. They focus on optimising, maintaining and maximising resources and reducing waste production through a service solution that actively involves users and relevant stakeholders.


Final submissions
On May 28, the teams will submit their final projects, a service solution that meets all of the challenge’s evaluation criteria: people centric, society oriented, experience based, technology enabled, circular and sustainable, and business viable.

Unique supportive set-up

It is important to think of the challenge as a hands-on learning experience more than as a competition. After the initial proposal round, the selected teams get to work on all the subsequent design rounds, meeting regularly with the main challenge coach and getting team coaching from individual mentors. This is complemented by regular lectures and masterclasses that expose the students to fundamental aspects of the design of services and products, sustainability and circularity principles, research methods, and business fundamentals.

Mentoring experience
Perhaps, the most enriching part of participating in the SSDC is the mentoring. The challenge has one main coach, Frank Kolkman, who meets with each team on a bi-weekly basis. He is a seasoned experimental designer with plenty of experience mentoring students in various projects. His open-mindedness, attentiveness and empathy, along with his professional experience, creates a safe environment for the students to grow, discuss, and design an optimal path to develop their ideas.

Aside from the team sessions with the main challenge coach, each team works with a dedicated IBM professional who advises on how to develop their solutions using design thinking methodologies. These team mentors are located around the world, and meet with their teams a few times per round. 

Gerhard Pfau, coordinator of the IBM coaching program, explains:

“As IBMers and design thinkers we are excited for the opportunity to contribute to the Student Service Design Challenge in 2021. We firmly believe that design thinking is a 21st Century skill that can help students unlock their innovation potential and differentiate themselves in today's market. Through the coaching and guidance by experienced industry coaches the students  experience how a human-centered mindset leads to markedly better outcomes. We are confident that building on that foundation will make them more successful and more impactful in the future.”

This year, the teams were also coached by Elena Pupazan, Strategic Designer Circular Economy at Philips in the area of business design. As one of the criteria of the challenge is to design business viable solutions, the teams were able to meet individually with the coach and receive invaluable advice and tools to answer the most relevant issues regarding the viability of their concepts:

“It is such a joy and deeply inspiring to see the motivation and the incredible talent of the participants in our global service design program. The teams have taken on some of the most complex matters of our days, envisioning new services, systems and solutions, meeting the wellbeing needs of people and planet. It has been exciting to witness the steep journey of the participants and their concepts, proving the role of design is defining our shared future.”


The mentoring experience is not only beneficial for the students. It is a mutually enriching experience as Apurva Dabhade, Content Designer of IBM AI applications (India) and team coach describes:

“The challenge has been a great opportunity for me to connect with design students. Coaching a team is a learning process for the coach also, and I have enjoyed that process! The challenge also helped me stay on top of the pressing issues that the world faces today, and the challenge theme- Circularity in service design- was a great way to help the students make an impact that is much needed in these times.”

Invaluable learning experience

Coaching and mentoring has given students the tools and confidence, as well as co-creation and multidisciplinary collaboration skills, to tackle an important problem hands-on and see their efforts rewarded. In the process, they have researched extensively the issue at hand, have addressed needs and gaps, identified deficiencies in the current system and understood the seriousness and repercussions into the future of linear process.

Although only 3 winners will be chosen, all the teams have worked tirelessly and full heartedly to solve an important global issue and will surely, design and develop more conscientious and sustainable solutions in their professional careers.

The final judging round will feature 6 reputed international experts as jurors. Each of the judges will bring their professional expertise and perspective to select the best solutions.

The winners will receive monetary prizes for both the students and their schools. The 1st place winning team, will also be awarded the opportunity to participate in a design-in-residence program at Philips. There they will be able to further develop their idea with the input from Phlips development departments and through exclusive masterclasses to extend their knowledge and real-life problem solving abilities. Also in the fall, the winning solutions will be featured at the Dutch Design Week.

Stay tuned for the resolution of the Student Service Design Challenge 2021! We are convinced that the solutions presented will surprise us in their creativity and applicability and will inspire all of us to look differently at how we design and create new products and services in the future.


Initiated and powered by Philips Experience Design
and co-organized with SERVICE DESIGN COLLEGE, in
collaboration with IBM, IKEA and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

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Until when can teams register?
Teams can register until January 13, 2023. They will have until Friday January 20, 2023 (11:59:59 PM CET) to submit their research proposal(s). We expect that the preparation for a proposal will take at least a few weeks.
Can I enter the challenge alone?
You cannot participate as an individual student. You need to be part of a team of 4 to 7 members.
Is there any limitation on the number of members in a team?
Yes. The team needs to have at the least 4 team members and no more than 7 team members. All team members have to be students.
I am not a Service Design student. Can I enter the challenge?
Yes, you can. You need to be part of a multidisciplinary team, preferably with at least one design student.
Is there an age limit for entering the challenge?
No, there are no age restrictions, as long as you meet the criteria about student status.
Can a team submit more than one research proposal?
Yes a team can submit more than one research proposal, but you should submit each proposal separately.
What happens to our ideas, materials, etc.?
As a participant in the challenge you will retain intellectual property ownership of all your challenge submission ideas. There is no transfer of intellectual property rights to any third party as a condition of participating in the challenge. Please read our Official rules before submitting.