SDN Conference 2013: The changing role of Service Design

by Ivar Slavenburg

As I indicated in an earlier article I left for the Service Design Conference 2013 (SDN2013) with some kind of mixed feelings. Is Service Design a proper method for making strategic decisions on an organization level, or even on a product level? If not, can it at least provide information for senior management to make strategic decisions? As literature research didn’t convince me I wondered how the experts present at the conference, working with Design tools day and day out, were thinking about it.

The big data challenge

In summary, some topics kept returning during the conference. First there was the challenge of doing something useful with all the data that is gathered by a multitude of devices, day in and day out. This Big Data debate is something that is ongoing for a long time now at every level of organizations and competences. Whether it is marketing and sales trying to find out whether revenue can be derived from all this data, Customer service trying to optimize the way they handle customer requests to Legal debating who actually owns all this data and thus is allowed access to it. At the SDN2013 the focus was on creating new products and services, or experiences, as Lydia Howland from IDEO summarized it. What became clear, especially from the presentation of Maria José Jorda Garcia of BBVA is that though the great expectations are still there, complexity to actual turn big data into experiences that generate serious money is such, that most organizations don’t succeed at the moment.

The new seriousness of Design

This might be an argument to debate the actual need for service design in the first place, but it is not. It has been said by many authors and it was confirmed during SDN2013 that any Design competence left on its own hardly provide any value. Where Service Design excels is glueing all the parts that the different competencies an organization can provide together, as well as give proper guidelines to what these parts should be. Several presenters made it very clear that getting this role of Service Design accepted in an organization is a long struggle, but it is worth it. Lee Sankey of Barclays, Nicola Pierce of E-On, Eric Roscam Abbing (Ohra/Silver) and Markus Hohl of O2 gave insight in how Service Design is used in their organizations. Sankey, whose presentations wasn’t called „The New Seriousness of Design” for nothing, made very clear that design can „make or break a business” nowadays. He called upon the Design community to reach even further than “just” glueing stuff together, but actually „bridge the reality gap” (make it real) and to extend its impact to each pillar of the organization (strategy, brand, operations, experience), straight into the boardroom.

Improving products and services with Design

Pierce and Roscam Abbing focused on the Service Design work done for respectively E-On and Ohra to improve customer satisfaction levels. Pierce first made clear the definition she used at E-On for customer experience: an interaction between an organization and a customer as perceived through a customers conscious and sub conscious mind. It is a bland of an organization’s rational performance, senses stimulated and emotions evoked and intuitively measured against customer expectations across all moments of contact (taken from the Beyond Philosophy website). It was interesting to see that within E-On the way experiences are developed changed due to cooperation with service designers (see the E-ON: Being deliberate figure). Though presented in the shape of ingredients, Roscam Abbing experienced the same as he described the 5 ingredients for transformation: research, getting people involved, focus on a problem (without excluding any potential solution), start changing things, and focus on the value the change creates. He did hint to an additional ingredient, but left it to public to find out itself what it was. From the presentation my impression was that the 6th ingredient should be management buy in, but as far as I’m aware that was nor confirmed nor denied.

EON Development process
E-ON Development process

Just like Sankey of Barclays, Hohl of O2 made clear that Design thinking was not just used to improve some parts of the performance of the organization, as the examples of E-On and Ohra/Silver showed, but was incorporated in everything the company does. He made clear that O2 choose Service Design as a method to improve retention, build better experiences and entering new markets where O2 faces strong competition. The old process of an idea converted into a list of requirements that was then build is replaced by a new process where vision is converted into sample experiences, then tested with customers to prove that they will work and then build to finally launch the experience. This process is implemented throughout the organization and the governance model for managing innovation is adapted to it. The results according to Hohl are significant: he indicates faster time to market, better quality experiences resulting in higher adoption rates, costs savings and a clearly more customer centric culture in the organization (see the figure O2: Customer Centred Design).

02: Customer Centred Design
O2: Customer Centred Design

Kristina Carlander, Design Director at Doberman presented a case in which a new type of first aid kit was created that addresses psychological health, „demonstrating how colleagues, managers and whole companies need to establish a constructive environment together”. Service Design to change the attitude of people on an organization level. Equally challenging was the case presented by Kathryn Richards and Rob Kirby (Seren/Nokia). Also in this case it was about changing the organization culture. Or as they called it: taming the business, introducing structured thinking and empowering a team (in this case the Nokia UX team in Berlin). Major challenges therefore, taking a lot of time and perseverance to complete, if something like that can ever be completed.

There is no innovation fast lane

Concerning the time it takes to innovate or go through a major transformation Lizzie Shupak of DigitasLBi was very clear: „there is no innovation fast lane”. First of all there is the usual resistance to change in an organization. Though that sounds bad it isn’t necessarily the case as changing anything can have a major impact on the business of an organization, sometimes spinning out of control.

Innovation is an orderly procedure with the goal of verifying, refuting, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis

- Lizzie Shupak

Another idea about innovation, that it is happening suddenly in a moment of almost divine inspiration, was also crushed. Actually, according to Shupak we are talking about an „orderly procedure with the goal of verifying, refuting, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis”, or innovation as a science. Key is to get a good idea of the problem you’re trying to solve and keep asking yourself critical questions like what has been done before, by others? What is the hardest bit and what poses the biggest risk? Then try to differentiate the real problem into sub problems and focus on the most difficult one first. If you can prove you can solve the biggest sub problem it becomes more easy to convince people you can solve the whole problem.

If we add all things up, it becomes clear that changing organizations and the experiences they create to make and keep them relevant is a very difficult thing to do. So, that makes the resistance that Shupak was talking about rational? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case as Louise Downe of Engine (one of the events sponsors) made clear. When she looks at the future of e.g. Britain she talks  about „Disjointed incrementalism that characterizes public service design: where services are altered and adapted by changing political drivers, professional fashions and shifting institutional boundaries”. Society is changing due new technical possibilities enabling new experiences. These changes will be drastic, as such that major design rules like form follows function will no longer work. No longer individuals are shaping their own environment, but they are part of a collective experience. As we can only trust something that we think we understand this created new challenges for future experiences. This assumes thinking in modules, rather than complete experiences, so the future can design itself by  incorporating you in it. Additionally, Aldo de Jong of Claro Partners focused on several disruptive shifts in the market. Specific attention was for the shift from ownership to access to experiences. This was explained by the concept of the transition from the joy of ownership to the burden of ownership over time (see figure CLAROPARTNERS: The burden of ownership). These disruptive shifts will result in the creation of Participatory Service Networks (PSN), „a system where value is co-created and exchanged in a distributed way by a network of participants. Ultimately, this will result in new service models that are focused on uncovering opportunities in the network, enable exchange to deliver service and identify your role in the ecosystem”. De Jong warned that this shift will make it necessary of Service Design to change with it and no longer develop experiences for individual customers, focus on the design and delivery of a service and owning an unique relationship with the customer (see figure CLAROPARTNERS: Shift in approach Service Design).

CLAROPARTNERS: Shift in approach Service Design

Adapting to your changing surroundings

Several companies presented how these kind of changes in their surroundings forced them to respond, using Service Design as a method. The presentation of Paul Thurston (PDR) and Andy Mudie (NuAire) made clear how this affects small to medium businesses, while the presentation of Andy Jones (Xerox) was about a large company. In both cases, the companies tailored to changing needs by stop focusing just on products, but adding services to their portfolio. Or, to use  the definition of Howland again, they went from products to experiences. Unsurprisingly, both companies indicated that this shift was a success. The new services are now about 50% of the turnover of Xerox. A third case was presented by Melanie Wendland of Fjord, which was about the changing expectations of customers that supermarkets face. For a long time, they tried to tailor to the needs of customers by adding more and more products, but research has shown that more choice does not lead to more sales. Especially young people dislike the physical side of the supermarket, but do like the service aspect of it. They want easy access to the product they want and be helped by finding new products. They don’t want a lot of products they just want the right one. Supermarkets have recognized this change in behavior and are transforming themselves into Super Servicemarkets. While a lot of the pieces for this transformation are in place, Wendland acknowledged that still a lot needs to be done.

What is clear that in all these cases Service Design contributed to defining the direction in which the organization needed to change itself and it becomes clear some organizations really rely on it to develop their future. However, more than one presentation made it clear that Service Design itself needs to change as well. This was made clear in the presentation of James Samperi of Engine who made clear that currently „service design is the application of emphatic design thinking and practices to business change”, but it will change to „… an integrated management practice within best-in-class organizations”. So, it becomes a much more central competence, in line with what Sankey of Barclays noticed as well. It is no longer just about products, it is about developing new businesses; not just experiences, but also delivery; it’s about new service capabilities. With Service Design so central in the nervous system of an organization, the relationship between companies offering service design and their customers is shifting towards longer-term relationships.

IDEO: Holistic Design Approach

Changing the approach of Service Design

At the same time, companies offering service design services need to look at the way they execute. Lydia Howland of IDEO London first explained the general approach IDEO has, which she described as a „holistic design approach”. The key question, in her opinion, should always be what the customer wants or needs (see figure IDEO: Holistic Design Approach). She noted that traditional service design methods are much to slow. She points to the world of business, especially start-ups that go from an idea to a working product in an ever increasing pace. She proposes that Service Design must adapt to the start-up mentality to morph into, what she called, real-time service design. Also, she advised to spent much more time on prototyping to really understand the problem and prevent expensive mistakes early in the design process. Another benefit of extensive prototyping is that it can inspire new ideas. It was a message that also was part of the presentation of Melvin Brand Flu of LifeWork, who iterated the importance of understanding the problem before starting the design. He also noted to give the an organization some time to value the design work.

Not only the design approach will change, but most likely also the possible relationship  agencies have with their clients. Sankey of Barclays made it clear that the move of the service design competence into the boardroom also means that a lot of the knowledge that is currently coming from outside the organization will now be internalized. This means that for agencies, just offering service design services is no longer enough as organizations have this knowledge themselves. It is known that some organizations become very dominant towards their partners when they have significant knowledge of a subject themselves, resulting in very strict briefings and so on. This will limit the playground of agencies. Fortunately, this is not always the case, as many organizations will continue to see their agency as a valuable sparring partner. In either case, for the agency this means a much more educated client in front of them.

I don’t think that a lot of Service Designer in the audience were overjoyed during some of the PechaKucha sessions, especially when Stephen Mascliat took the stage. In little less than 5 minutes he killed one of the most favorite design methods, making personae. He noted that traditional methods of defining personae proved to be erroneous; tests show different design teams using the same data set creating different personae, which should be impossible if the method was truly objective in the scientific sense of the word. He proposed a new, much more statistically accurate method to create personae using a method called the Q-method. (In the next weeks this website will publish an interview with Stephen Mascliat about this topic).

The audience was probably more happy with the presentation of Clive Grinyer, a famous designer who has been working with Jonathan Ive at Apple and for McLaren. He told the audience not to forget that design is not just a method for creating experiences, but that is also just design, meaning making things beautiful.

Service Design needs to continue to develop itself

Looking back at the information gathered during SDN2013, it has become clear that Service Design is still undergoing major development. As a method for innovation it will soon come under heavy pressure as it moves into the boardroom, feeling the weight of the whole company pressing on its shoulders. Though that definitely sounded worrisome for some of the service designers I spoke with, most were confident that they could deliver when needed. Cases like those of e.g. Barclays and O2 are indicating they are right. Then again, also looking at those cases I don’t think any one made clear that Service Design had been a tool for making long term strategic decisions, though that might not only be because of the state of Service Design, but also the state of the organizations it has to function in.

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