Service Design Global Conference 2013

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Last week, I took the train (I love trains) to Cardiff (I was very excited about going to another country) to attend the 6th annual Service Design Global Conference, which is hosted by the Service Design Network. This year, it was held at the Wales Millennium Centre, a pretty magnificent venue in Cardiff Bay, right by Roald Dahls Plass (one of my big childhood heroes).

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As UX professionals, we’re increasingly aware of the fact that for great user experiences with products, there is a need to carefully design the entire service experience surrounding those products as well. Rather than go into detail about what defines service design, I’ll instead post this video that does so brilliantly:

The SDNC13 ran over two days, the 19th and 20th of November, with an additional Members’ Day on the 18th. The conference theme was Transformation Through Service Design, with day 1 full of keynote presentation, and day 2 a mix of pechakuchas and concurrently run presentations and workshops. Day 1 was further subdivided into themed sessions entitled Making Data Useful, Complex Service Systems, Co-Design & Co-Creation, and Micro Services. After the first day, design students took the most tweeted quotations of the day and designed them up into a series of posters, which we could help ourselves to the day after – very impressive! Ben Terrett’s is already up on the office wall.

Among the abundance of excellent talks at this very well-organised conference, here are my highlights (in no particular order) resonating exactly with where my mind on design is these days:

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Design in Real-Time – Lydia Howland (IDEO)

People respond differently to real-world things and products and services, than they do to things and products and services they know are still in a research phase: there’s a large contrast between how products and services are explored in companies who subject them to research, and in start-ups that just throw completed products and services out into the real world without having done any research or collected any feedback. To bring these two viewpoints together, Howland presented the ‘formula’ Service Design Research + Start-Up Mentality = Real-Time Service Design. Doing real-time service design means researching a product or service by observing and collecting data on what people actually do in real contexts. What’s the best way of accomplishing this? ‘Fake it till you make it’, i.e. situate a prototype of a product or service into the real world as if it is real, and see how people respond to it.

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The New Seriousness of Design – Lee Sankey (Barclays Bank)

Lee Sankey asked the question of why design has become so important in business, highlighting these reasons: i) disruption and change, e.g. people can now launch their businesses via Kickstarter rather than have to go to the bank for funds; ii) customer expectations having changes, e.g. with the advent of smoke alarms such as Nest; and iii) rising complexity and distributed value, e.g. how banks are no longer just a brick-and-mortar branch and a cheque book but thrown into a world of mobile wallets and touchless payments. There is a massive potential for design, and while the discipline is expanding in all kinds of directions, from strategy to user experience – it is also collapsing into itself, as we suddenly have everyone doing a little bit of everything. The highlight of this talk was without a doubt Sankey asking the question in the above slide, and the touché applause that followed.

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Platform Design: Shaping the Organisations of the Future – Louise Downe (Engine)

Louise Downe’s wonderfully controversial talk dealt with the common misconception that we think we can design the future. When we think about the future, we assume it will be a progression from where we are now, and that we therefore can extrapolate our current design thinking into some time later. However, entropy – i.e. uncertainty and loss of information when transferring things through a system – means that you should design modular affordances that can deal effectively with that entropy. One influential factor in this is how people make things up when they can’t figure out how something works (function follows form) So instead of trying to design away messy and complex services, we should learn to adapt, move and change with these services – ‘if something [technological] can be done, it probably will be’ – ; instead of trying to design the future, we should design affordances for a future that can design itself.

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Service Design for Networked Business Models – Aldo de Jong (Claro Partners)

Every time I move flats, I’m shocked at how much stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in my short life and how little of it I actually need. So shocked, in fact, that the more I move, the less stuff I buy for myself, just to not have to go through the nightmare that is transferring all your things every few years (this is definitely not the time and place to mention that I’m also a sentimental hoarder). It’s obvious that the burden of owning so much stuff is challenging to the consumption economy – and so one recent trend that has emerged is a sharing economy growing out of communities of exchange. In this sharing economy, trust between strangers is the new currency. Great examples of such communities are Wikipedia, where people exchange knowledge; Airbnb, where people can rent their homes to strangers for a short period of time; and RelayRides, where people rent their cars to strangers for a short period of time. There is a significant shift from paying for a product (e.g. the car itself), to paying for a service (e.g. the use of the car for a certain period of time), which consequently calls for a shift in the service design approach: what are opportunities in a network of exchangers? What are the networked journeys between several people? What is the value exchanged? What is a brand’s role in the ecosystem of sharing?

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There is No Innovation Fast-Lane (and Other Lessons Learned While Trying to Overtake) – Lizzie Shupak (DigitasLBi)

We can’t really plan innovation as innovation always makes sense in hindsight, where we have a holistic view of the context of innovation – serendipitous discoveries included. With all the randomness involved that make or break great innovations, how can we stay ahead of the digital marketing envelope and make organisations consider other things than conversion rates, brand equity, traffic, and so on? Lizzie Shupak looks to Albert Einstein: ‘If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.’ In other words, to avoid the digital landfill, we should invest time, money, and effort into identifying, understanding, and solving the real problems that matter. This calls for experimentation, in a more scientific way than the commercial world is used to, hypothesis testing and all. Shupak advises us to embrace serendipitous discoveries (that’s how velcro was invented); adopt an orderly procedure of rigorous experimentation; solve the hard problems first by breaking them into smaller problems; and to keep going, keep problem-solving, and keep understanding the world around us to innovate more.

Next year’s conference will be held in Stockholm, on the theme of Design for Quality of Life – physically present or not, I’m excited to see what ideas will be discussed and how service design has developed by then. I’ll end this blog post with this excellent quotation from the Chief Advisor to Thailand’s Prime Minister, Dr. Pansak Vinyaratn (not a service designer!) demonstrating the ubiquitous importance of service design:

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