Paola Trapani

Anyone who knows anything about cohousing gets that the greatest wins - environmentally, economically and beyond, are from the social dynamics of communities; more than they are of passivehaus construction, of modular builds, or rooftop gardens.

We tend not to think of these social dynamics in terms of services. But when we co-design how we want to live as a community, we’re actually donning the hats of service designers.

All very nice, you may think, but what does this fancy title add to our various quests to realize cohousing?

It’s because a services perspective can encourage us to find extra opportunities that benefit our communities - just as it does society as a whole.

Globally, the stuff we value, is de-materialising before our very eyes.

Our physical products are not only physically shrinking, they’re being replaced outright. By services.

It’s services, far more than products, that can shift behaviors and lifestyles towards sustainability. Thanks to our new, efficient networks, services are the means by which we reinvent our lives.

Services help us save money and achieve a better quality of life: To paraphrase Bush the Elder - it’s the shareable economy… stupid.

We already have enough power drills. So rather than design a better power drill, a services designer will be asking how we can provide a drilling service, without mindlessly creating redundant drills.

So by repositioning our individual needs as services rather than products, we create new opportunities within cohousing that we might not otherwise see. If, for instance, rather than a fetishistic product, transport is a utility, then we can think of better ways to realize that service for the cohoused:  A multi-modal mix of cargo-bikes, scooters, public transport, and yes, car-share.

Of course, some services will arise informally and sponteneously – like childcare. But cohousing is more intentional than accidental, and so it is that designing services offers us opportunities to take incidental benefits to the next level.  Why not a cohousing-based kindergarten, that can integrate with the wider neighbourhood, and maybe provide additional employment?


Services are co-created and co-experienced with, by, and among users. Navigating the blurred boundary between service providers and users is part of the challenge of service design.

But it’s also where the possibilities lie. And why [shameless plug] Unitec has is focusing on cohousing development in its upcoming service design courses - getting hands on with cohousing development models, financials, legalities, project management, and community building.  All via a services design lens.

For us it’s a natural fit: Cohousing has been ‘doing’ service design since its earliest incarnation. And co-design, so essential to successful cohousing projects, is baked into service design.  


Reimagining is not just a dot-com buzzword. It’s a process with practical outcomes for better affordability, sustainability, and community cohesion.  So sometime well before bricks and morter enter the frame, you may want to spend a bit of time reimaginging your stuff, as a service.

PICTURE: Courtesy of Master of Product/Service System of Politecnico di Milano