In line with last year’s conference theme, in 2023 we will continue to focus on creating value for the long run. Much needs and can be done to improve upon tackling short-termism. In Barcelona on September 15 & 16, a special edition of the yearly Service Design Days will be organised for and by design leaders from around the world to converse about this pressing topic. Dedicated to unlocking servant leadership and translating ideas into impact, the Summit convenes creative leaders to connect, learn, build, discuss, share learnings and challenge the status quo.


Leadership is a dynamic and complex process that requires those who lead to navigate ever-changing landscapes and design for the future. To be effective, you must be resilient, adaptable, and capable of embracing uncertainty. In today's fast-paced world, anticipating change, staying ahead of the curve, and working collaboratively with diverse teams are essential qualities for leaders to possess.

This counts even more for design leaders. Effective creative leadership means always thinking about what's next and having a keen sense of what the organisation needs to thrive in the long run while bearing in mind social and environmental responsibilities. To achieve these goals, you must take risks and engage in partnerships for change that can help drive innovation and create positive impact. This requires a deep understanding of the ecosystem in which the organisation operates and a willingness to challenge assumptions, embrace new perspectives, and pivot as circumstances dictate.

However, being a design leader is a demanding and often isolating role. As the person responsible for guiding and managing a transdisciplinary team of diverse creative professionals, you are expected to be the expert on all things design-related, from strategy to customer needs, from ethics to scalable implementation.

This can be challenging when you are the only person in your organisation with this level of expertise. Design leaders often find themselves feeling lonely and disconnected from their peers, with no one to turn to for a simple chat, advice or support. Although it’s great that design is getting a strategic seat at the table and has a say on how to tackle complex, interconnected challenges, being the voice of people - let alone the planet - isn’t always appreciated and often considered overly activist.

Now more than ever, it's time to stand up, take action, and make change happen. The challenges we face as leaders can often seem overwhelming. It's important to remember that we have the power to drive meaningful change within our organisations, communities and the world around us. We must learn and feel comfortable manoeuvring through the complexities of our organisations and advocating for the value of design. We must build relationships with key stakeholders and speak up for what we believe in. By doing so, we can ensure design decisions are made with the best interests of people, planet and profit in mind.

This is why we organise a special Service Design Days edition for creative leaders. Not online, but physically in Barcelona, to have as many inspiring encounters as possible.


Bringing together international design leaders, this Summit is an opportunity to reconnect face-to-face with peers and transform the way you lead. It's a place to be inspired, and to help inspire other future leaders. This means that all participants, from track facilitators to workshop members, are creative thinkers who love to share their experiences with others. Their fields of expertise span the entire range of design disciplines and beyond.

At this so-called 'unconference' it’s all about peer-to-peer interactions. In an intimate and safe setting, we invite participants to leave all distractions behind and fully immerse in this experience. During the two days, we will have the opportunity to share our learnings and insights towards making significant strides and gaining ground.


This SDD Leadership Summit spans four tracks spread over two days: Friday September 15 and Saturday September 16. The tracks are programmed through the lens of creative leadership, each with an immersive and interactive set-up. All tracks are a carefully curated selection of sessions and activities.

All sessions are plenary and address different aspects of how to become a leader of the future.

The tracks are highly interactive and participative, and look at key aspects via a combination of listening and doing in which everyone is involved.

This Leadership Summit kicks off on Thursday, September 14 around 18:00 CEST with drinks and bites at a beautiful spot in the city. We therefore recommend that you arrive in Barcelona on time.

 Track 1     Organising for change

Organising for change means creating a structure within the organisation that supports resilience, adaptability, and agility. This requires creative leaders to build diverse teams that can bring a variety of perspectives to bear on complex problems, as well as to foster a culture of collaboration, open communication, and continuous learning. Knowing how to effect change is just as important as knowing what to change. Having the skills and resources to take action and implement the necessary changes is just as crucial as having a clear understanding of what needs to be done. How to structure innovation? How to engage the right people, get buy in and secure commitment? How to make real progress toward purposeful transformation? This track focuses on all of that and more.

Session 1 - Resilient leadership - thriving in turbulent times
Team: Mariana Amatullo, Natsuko Hara and Moira Buzzolani

Not that long ago, leaders basically had to figure out what to do and then tell their teams what, when, where, and how to do it. Today’s creative leaders face not only a whole new set of expectations from their teams and internal stakeholders, but also from their ever changing external environment. How to cope with these challenges? How to weather storms, and lead others through the waters of change?

Authentic, resonant or servant leadership are some ways we are starting to talk about how leaders need to understand who they are, what motivates them, and how they manage themselves before they can help their teams. Resilient leaders make resilient organisations. In this perfect storm moment, design leaders must build change readiness and capability for themselves and their teams. In the first session, you’ll discover how to harness the power of change, stay true to your values, and remain relevant as a design leader.

Session 2 - Navigating transformation - intentful change leadership
Team: Natsuko Hara, Moira Buzzolani and Mariana Amatullo

When implementing organisational change, leaders often prioritise the ‘what’ over the crucial ‘who’ and the ‘how’. This oversight risks relying on old routines, resulting in busy actions without genuine transformation. It can lead to rushed decision-making, neglecting self-renewal, and resorting to problem-solving and micromanagement.

How can change be approached effectively? How to balance different leadership styles, from leading teams via discipline, prioritisation and critical conversations, to an idealistic leadership challenging status quo? The latter requires starting small and experimenting with new ways of working under similar circumstances. Get to know successful frameworks and define a series of actions focusing on encouraging and leading healthy teams during a time of change.

 Track 2     Designing for what’s next

Maintaining a focus on the long run, rather than getting bogged down in short-term thinking, means having a perspective that looks beyond the immediate future to consider the potential outcomes and consequences of decisions and actions over an extended period. It involves prioritising goals and objectives that are important and meaningful in the long term and working towards them deliberately and consistently. By staying true to their organisation's vision and mission and taking a proactive, strategic approach to change, design leaders can help ensure that their organisation remains relevant and resilient in the face of disruption and uncertainty. This track focuses on long-range, big-picture thinking and how to move teams and organisations into the exciting unknown.

Session 1 - Finding patterns - looking backwards to move forward
Team: Phil Balagtas and Tino Klaehne

Conventional thinking about the future tends to assume a ‘business-as-usual’ mentality. However, in today's complex organisational and environmental realities, organisations and teams require servant leaders who can see clearly amidst confusion. Therefore, it is necessary to analyse the past and examine cultural and systemic events that have brought us to where we are today. By looking through various lenses, we can gain a better understanding of future trends and anticipate their impacts and outcomes.

The products, services, and organisations that ensured success in the past may not guarantee success today, let alone tomorrow. Hence, cultivating a critical and reflective mindset is essential to recognise the full realm of possibilities before us. By exploring new approaches, we can incorporate more critical thinking into both our leadership practice and our organisation.

Session 2 - Envisioning impact - creating actionable visions of the future
Team: Phil Balagtas and Søren Lethin

The future is inherently ambiguous. How can design leaders confidently support their organisations in addressing tomorrow's problems without their organisation getting lost in translation, overwhelmed by possibilities, and settling for short-term wins? By perceiving upcoming challenges as opportunities and adopting a need-based and solution-focused mindset, they can prepare to be intentional and authentic in their actions.

To foster a futures mindset within their organisation and maintain enthusiasm, investment, and advocacy for future visions, visionary leaders must exert discretionary effort and be willing to withstand opposition to gain maximum buy-in. Navigating their teams and organisation into the unknown by creating a vision of the future that can be acted upon today. Creating an environment where people choose to join and achieve great things.


 Track 3     Leading in complexity

Today more than ever it’s necessary to effectively navigate complex and uncertain situations, and develop innovative solutions in the face of ambiguity and changing circumstances. Leading in complexity requires a deep understanding of the systems and networks that operate within the organisation’s context, as well as the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively with a diverse range of stakeholders. How to go beyond understanding the interrelationships between various parts of this ecosystem and identifying potential points of leverage to developing interventions that can have a transformative impact on the system as a whole? How to anticipate and respond to complex challenges in a way that is both innovative and strategic? This track can help you create more resilient systems that can better adapt to changing circumstances over time.

Session 1 - Cocreating value - designing impactful solutions
Team: Peter Jones, Kristel van Ael and Shauna Carey

As crisis fatigue sets in, the time is ripe to seek potential solutions and invest in those with lasting impact. However, this cannot be achieved alone. Effectively intervening in systems requires innovative and adaptive approaches that engage broad networks of diverse stakeholders. By facilitating and fostering transformative value cocreation, distinctive and successful interventions can be established.

Like any other leader, design leaders must be well-equipped to tackle complex challenges that demand collective action. This involves building and mobilising alliances of diverse stakeholders around a shared vision for positive and lasting change, empowering widespread collaboration, innovation, and action. Supporting the capability of design leaders to lead in disruption requires a radical evolution of leadership. Let’s shift the paradigm and create systems of change!

Session 2 - Reframing innovation - Effective systems leadership in high complexity
Team: Peter Jones, Kristel van Ael and Shauna Carey

We exist within interconnected systems. Climate systems, economic systems, political systems, social systems overlap and interact in complex ways. Achieving progress and tackling current and future challenges requires abandoning traditional top-down, hierarchical, and linear approaches to implementing change. Instead, it demands an understanding of the complex systems that shape the challenges to be addressed. Yet, how do we reframe innovation to break boundaries and raise system-level challenges to management?

Leading transformation and designing for complexity challenges requires unlearning, rethinking, and innovating to contribute to positive system change. For addressing the complexity, dynamism and scale of multi-dimensional challenges, design leaders need to be able to assess barriers, leverage drivers and complexity dynamics. Systems skills help any manager become a confident and resilient system leader capable of understanding, examining, and positively leading in complexity. 


 Track 4     Introspecting leadership

The leadership qualities of the past don't work anymore. A future design leader must be personable and proactive, with clear ethics and values. A servant leader who motivates and strives to empower their teams. A humble leader who is accessible, sitting among their team members and initiating dialogue with them. By creating an environment in which individuals feel empowered to take ownership of their work and contribute to the collective mission of the organisation, design leaders can create a culture of resilience that can withstand the challenges of a complex and uncertain world. This track focuses on developing self-awareness and being mindful – fully present and aware – to become a more effective leader, making wise and brave choices for the future.

Session 1 - Becoming a better leader - developing self-awareness
Team: Annahita Varahrami and Nina Warburton

Self-awareness plays a vital role in leadership development, serving as a fundament for various essential qualities such as empathy, emotional intelligence and radical candour. It is not only a prerequisite for learning and improvement but also forms the cornerstone upon which many other leadership competencies are built.

Being self-aware not only creates value but also empowers leaders to influence others. It is crucial for self-control, discernment, creativity, learning, and growth. A foundation of self-awareness leads to self-acceptance and, ultimately, self-actualisation, enabling individuals to reach their fullest potential.

Session 2 - Embracing the shadow - unleashing leadership strengths
Team: Annahita Varahrami and Nina Warburton

Creative leaders must be aware that even their strengths can become weaknesses if left unchecked. Each of us possesses a shadow, representing the parts of ourselves we try to hide or ignore. Recognising and addressing these aspects is vital, as solely focusing on the shiny parts of leadership allows the shadow side to grow. By embracing our shadows, we unlock untapped potential within us.

Through awareness and practice, we can access, embrace, and channel the energy of our shadows in healthy ways, enabling us to express our full potential. This integration of all aspects of our psyche into a cohesive and impactful whole is the key to great leadership.



September 14

18:00 - 21:00

Informal kick-off program

September 15

08:30 - 09:00

Registration and coffee

09:30 - 13:00

Track 1 'Organising for change'

14:30 - 17:30

Track 2 'Designing for what’s next'

17:30 - 18:30

Group coaching sessions

September 16

09:30 - 13:00

Track 3 'Leading in complexity'

14:30 - 18:00

Track 4 'Introspecting leadership'


What’s included

Leadership training
12 hours of creative and design leadership training.

Leadership coaching
Small group coaching sessions on specific topics.

Several moments throughout the days to meet, chat with and learn from other design leaders 
from different industries and from around the world.

Food and drinks
Coffee breaks, lunches, refreshments, and networking drinks on both days.

You will receive an official certificate from the Service Design College for joining this Leadership Summit.


This Summit is designed for both experienced design leaders with a long track record in managing design teams, and emerging creative leaders who are ready to transition from leading smaller teams to leading larger (global) design teams. The Summit brings together design leaders who currently hold roles such as Design Manager, Head of Design, Innovation Manager, and Creative Director, with a regional or global focus.

The Summit audience includes design leaders from various industries and types of organisations who are leading multidisciplinary project and design teams across design disciplines, such as CX/experience design, service design, and business design. The program is tailored to address senior leadership-level challenges in mid-size to large organisations.

About the venue

The Summit takes place in a converted industrial warehouse, the home-base of BAU, Design College of Barcelona. The venue is located in the heart of innovative and creative Barcelona, District 22@, and is completely modernised and equipped for design training.

District 22@ is Barcelona’s innovation district, a renovated formerly industrial area, nicknamed ‘the Catalan Manchester’ in the 19th century. This part of the city has undergone an extraordinary integral transformation. Without losing its old industrial and working-class character, the neighbourhood has been able to welcome and concentrate a large part of the city's creative and technological sectors.

The nearest metro stations are Bogatell and Llacuna (L4 / yellow line). Stations Marina and Glòries (L1 / red line) are on a 10 minute walking distance. 
Bus stop within 500m: Pujades - Ciutat de Granada (300) for bus lines 6, 36 and 192. Car parking: Larronda at Carrer de Pujades 77/79, or Parking Acha at Carrer de Badajoz 121.

BAU, Design College of Barcelona
Carrer de Pujades, 118
08005 Barcelona (view on Google maps)


Courtesy of BAU, Design College of Barcelona



Since this is a small-scale and intimate event, seats are limited.

Full Summit pass

Full Summit pass + two nights hotel (breakfast included)