Insights from the Service Design Global Conference 2018

23 October 2018
Signe Bek

Author: Signe Bek

Earlier this month the annual Service Design Global Conference took place. If you didn’t get a chance to stop by beautiful Dublin, don’t worry — I’ll be sharing the key insights and the Spotless team’s reflections right here.

This year’s conference focused on ‘designing to deliver’. How do we as Service Designers get people onboard to ensure implementation and actual service adoption? — And finally, how do we move beyond tools and actually achieve behavioural change in the end?

Read the insights on what’s going on within the Landscape, the Practice, the Services and the Delivery here.

Senior Researcher Tom Knoll, Senior Service Designer Hannah Steele, and Senior Service Designer Caroline Butler on their way to the first day of talks and workshops; notebooks ready and pencils sharpened!

Senior Researcher Tom Knoll, Senior Service Designer Hannah Steele, and Senior Service Designer Caroline Butler on their way to the first day of talks and workshops; notebooks ready and pencils sharpened!


1_ The Landscape

If you want to succeed you need to respond to the constant in flux and complex digital landscape

As Service Designers we’re designing conditions for experiences. The landscape seems to be growing more and more complex, and our task to simplify this complexity seems to be ever more needed.

Ever since the introduction of participatory design in the 1970s, we’ve seen an dematerialisation of design. Web 2.0 additionally accelerated that development tremendously. We’re not looking at standalone products anymore; products have become invisible touchpoints within increasingly complex service systems. We need to respond to a changing landscape where we need to:

  • Build for trust in an age of distrust
  • Protect our users privacy and identity
  • Be transparent about how data is stored and managed
  • Seed for slow thinking and social cooling as a reaction to increasing digital addition

2_ The Practice

Jakob Schneider, More Than Metrics, & Markus Hormeß, WorkPlayExperience, talked the the journey from planning to actual doing.

Jakob Schneider, More Than Metrics, & Markus Hormeß, WorkPlayExperience, talked the the journey from planning to actual doing.

The practice is changing

It seems like we’re undergoing a slight change in how we perceive and hire service designers. Moving from being design generalists, we increasingly see that core specialist skills are needed; from architects to management consultants or software developers. We can’t sit and wait for the unicorns; find yourself a specialist that navigate throughout the design thinking process. Often the best Service Designers don’t label themselves as Service Designers. Instead of looking for unicorns outside the business, we need to look inside our organisations: Hereby allowing the design team to benefit from people with advanced specialist skill sets and inside knowledge on the organisation and how the business ecosystem actually work.

It’s not the tools that make the designer

The ever changing nature of our industry means we need to respond in how we utilise our tools as researchers and designers; our tools need to embrace this ambiguity. We need to challenge our methodology through innovating our tools and methods.

Every project is unique; we need to plan and executed as such. There’s no oneservice design recipe. Avoid being rigid when executing a project; people are messy — so your process and tools will most likely reflect just that messiness.

Avoid the tool trap!

Initially we need to articulate what we’re trying to achieve and deliver; then we can start assessing the most suitable methodology and tools for us to achieve this. It’s crucial to avoid the infamous tool trap: Don’t use shiny contextual research and co-design tools just for the sake of using them. As Jess Leitch from Idean put it,

Beware of the true but useless tools.

Your personas, journey maps or blueprints might be true — but are they useful and do they offer value to this specific project?

The tools are not the outcome

Our tools are never the outcome; the outcome is the behavioural change. Don’t let the shiny tools lead your project. Instead, listen to your users and stakeholders; explore and experiment; embrace failure; and remember to share, share, share!


3_ The Services

We’re designing for an equally changing work practice

Not only does the practice of service design seem to be changing; likewise does the general construction and execution of how we work.

Has your grumpy uncle ever said, “the robots are coming — and they’re taking our jobs”? Next time, just let him know that the robots are already here. The problem is not the robots; the real issue is that human potential is currently being wasted due to legacy processes and old-fashioned systems and organisational hierarchies. There is a global need for humanising work processes beyond mere digitisation. Around 70% of employees around the world are not engaged in their jobs. The problem is not the robots; it’s us! — As service systems designers our finest job is to avoid this waste of human potential. We need to take advantage of the human qualities that robots or machines cannot compete with: We’re compassionate, creative, critical thinkers. The robots will never stand a chance!

We need to teach technology how to be human

For decades we’ve worked on teaching people to adopt and use technology. The next challenge is to teach technology how to be human, and design is critical for unlocking the transformative potential of technology. We can’t claim that technology is inherently bad or good; instead it’s the utilisation and the relationship we create with technology that defines this.

Service systems design is not only for humans anymore. We’re designing for increasingly disappearing interfaces: That being bots and conversational interfaces that allow us to connect with the right data at the right time; or robots or cobots (collaborative robots) that support humans through synthetic intelligence.


4_ The Delivery

Service Design is just shiny tools without the right people

One thing is preparing and planning for a service design project; another thing is the execution and actually getting people onboard. Getting the right people to the table is vital; these will be the advocates to your stakeholders.

The first step towards a successful project is to assess the psychological contract your stakeholders have with the project and its potential outcome. The design team often faces a lack of investment; and has to deal with the challenge of motivating people and making them realise the value of design thinking.

Alberta Soranzo from Lloyds Banking Group was the voice of every Service Designer in the conference room on the last day: why is change and service implementation just so difficult? — Because of the people and the existing organisational culture!

Alberta Soranzo from Lloyds Banking Group was the voice of every Service Designer in the conference room on the last day: why is change and service implementation just so difficult? — Because of the people and the existing organisational culture!

As a service designer you need to be just as flexible and ready to change, as you’re asking your stakeholders to be. We’re introducing a new process and in the end we’re aiming to implement touchpoints or artefacts that embody a culture in organisations that already has an established culture. If people are not willing to change, execution is merely not possible:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

You need to listen to the organisational culture to change it. Driving forces will only take you as far as the restraining forces will let you go. That’s why delivery and implementation cannot simply happen at the end of a project via a linear hand-over. Delivery is dependent on an ongoing relationship and a mutual exchange of trust between the design team and the stakeholders — from project launch to implementation.

To seed for an ongoing relationship internally in the design team and with the surrounding stakeholders, we need work around the artificial boundaries between silos and create a neutral domain where people can get involved: in the end it’s the people that are the key to success.

The lack of involvement, onboarding and adoption often originates from a fear of a loss; when we introduce a new system it’s implicit that we’re getting rid of an existing system. It all comes down to an intrinsic human fear of being obsolete.


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