The current emphasis on social responsibility and community collaboration within higher education has led to an increased drive to include service learning in the curriculum. With its emphasis on mutually beneficial collaborations, service learning can be meaningful for both students and the community, but is challenging to manage successfully. From a design education perspective, it is interesting to note that contemporary design practice emphasises a similar approach known as a human-centered design, where users are considered and included throughout the design process. In considering both service learning and human-centered design as foundations for design pedagogy, various philosophical and methodological similarities are evident. The paper explores the relationship between a service learning community engagement approach and a human-centered design approach in contemporary communication design education. To this end, each approach is considered individually after which a joint frame of reference is presented. Butin’s service learning typology, namely the four Rs – respect, reciprocity, relevance and reflection – serves as a point of departure for the joint frame of reference. Lastly, the potential value and relevance of a combined understanding of service learning and human-centered design is considered.