Nov 08 Business As Unusual: Insights from the Service Design Global Conference 2016

As service designers, we are in the throes of businesses and industries undergoing transformation, so it was only fitting that this year’s Service Design Global Conference was titled “Business as Unusual.”

The conference was filled with passionate practitioners who pioneer service design within organizations and were looking to keep up with best practices and gain fresh inspiration. It was palpable that we’re all hungry for what’s next and how to make a meaningful difference through our work.

From three jam-packed days in Amsterdam, here’s what I took away about where the world of service design is heading:

// Differentiated Capabilities and Services: Service design is beginning to hone its craft in specific sectors and focus on specialized skills within each. Be it policy, manufacturing, or digital services, service design is well positioned to take on a variety of complex challenges and is adapting its toolkit to fit each of them better.

// With it comes a shift away from just designing services towards fully operationalizing them. Birgit Mayer, the president of the Service Design Network and one of the keynote speakers at the event, quoted Swiss sociologist Lucius Burckhardt: “It’s not the tram that makes transportation a successful experience, it’s the schedule.” She described the evolution of service design as, “maturing from the frontstage action to include backstage technology and processes to make service doing a success.”

// Service design needs to fit into the fast-paced world of product design: As firms focus on speed to market, they are increasingly able to build, measure, and learn quickly to improve their product offerings. However, when moving fast, it’s easy to miss connections between learnings, and difficult to think strategically about long-term choices. The trade-offs between the two result in a growing need to reconcile the pace of development and the time needed for focus and depth in research.

// The role of the service designer includes bringing experts together: The role of service design in an organization is not meant to be a siloed practice. As the definition of service design shifts from serving the user to designing entire systems and their values, we need to bring in more people who are experts in their fields. Companies recognize that to deliver experiences that are impactful and co-created, they need to involve customers, communities, and diverse multi-disciplinary teams. The magic happens when service design orchestrates a variety of skills and practices together to solve the needs of people.

// Successful transformation is about mindsets and not budgets: As one of the presenters noted, whether it is a request for executive level support, finances, or shifting to agile, the key to success requires involvement from internal influencers, creating a common language, and using small projects to build broader alliances. Just as Katie Koch from Spotify noted at the conference—“Focus on making things together” — it’s the essence of design-led change. At Rêve, one of our core values is collaboration. Through our many engagements we’ve seen how essential co-ownership is, and how impactful it is to leave our clients with the tools they need to succeed. So at project close, we make a point to leave them with new skills, new internal capabilities and new creative ways to engage their teams.

There were so many great talks and inspiring individuals, a big thank you to the incredible presenters and all the inspiring people I met!

Carmen Liu
Carmen Liu

Passionate about people and technology, Carmen writes about curious observations and explorations in human culture and design strategy.