What is to be a service designer
Since service design still may sound exotic, this article will help you explain what it is in a simple language.
In November 2017, the global service design community will come together in Madrid for the annual SDN Global Conference. This year, the conference marks a significant milestone: It’s the tenth event that the SDN has hosted. In anticipation of the occasion, SDN President Birgit Mager, and Event Board principals Jamin Hegeman and Alex Nisbett looked back through the years at the milestones that have brought us to this point.
This year, the conference marks a significant milestone: It’s the tenth event that the SDN has hosted. In anticipation of the occasion, SDN President Birgit Mager, and Event Board principals Jamin Hegeman and Alex Nisbett looked back through the years at the milestones that have brought us to this point.
Jamin: It was very exciting, and very cold. It snowed in Amsterdam. It was late November. I remember because I flew home the day before Thanksgiving in the US. The conference was simple: one day of speakers, one day of workshops. I introduced the speakers and ran a workshop with Alex Nisbett and Shelley Evenson. I had never met Alex before the workshop. We planned it remotely. Alex and I have been great mates since.
Alex: Did it snow? I don’t remember that – the first conference was too exciting to notice! Our very first Member’s Day introduced me to ‘silent brainstorming’. Highlights at de Rode Hoed (where we were for Member’s Day in Amsterdam last year) included Virgin Atlantic and McDonalds describing their industry-leading approaches to delivering service design inside organisations. Wasn’t the second day venue formerly a prison? Or a hospital? For me however the real highlight was making enduring friendships and realising just how big service design was going to become.
Birgit: Not to forget the very first Member’s Reception on a boat! It was hot, it was crowded – and it was fun! We were all overwhelmed by the amount of SDN members and conference participants that joined in such a short time since we had launched. It gave me energy that lasts until today!
Jamin: Madeira was small and beautiful. The conversations were intimate. It was still early days. We were still figuring out what the network and the conference was all about. There was a photo of Oliver King leading a group conversation by the edge of the sea. That really summed up the experience. I introduced speakers again. It was great to present these world leaders in service design. We left eager to make service design and the conference bigger.
Alex: I missed out on Madeira, but it looked like an awesome event and I vowed not to miss another one.
Birgit: We were so worried. The economic crisis had hit – and we held a conference on beautiful Madeira! Wouldn´t that look like holiday to all the decision makers? It was hard work though, great presentations and workshops with an excellent, small group of people, and my first ever infinity pool!
Jamin: We expanded the format this time. There were many different tracks, lots of workshops. The size of the conference doubled. I gave a talk on the struggles of selling service design. There was an amazing boat party with currywurst and dancing. I created the playlist for the dance party on an iPod. In its third year, the conference had established itself as a mix of great content with good fun.
Alex: I remember Birgit meeting me with a big hug and presenting me with a speaker’s goody bag. My first time on an SDN stage was alongside a client, a format I’m very fond of. The venue was great, although the workshops and breakouts were full to bursting. Berlin was when we realised just how popular meeting face-to-face was going to become, and how important it was for the conference to move around from city to city each year, embracing the network.
Birgit: We provided rickshaw vouchers for people to connect on rides through beautiful Berlin! So the design of the experience had moved more into the focus, now that we had built some routine around the basics! We started to discuss having an organisational structure to the organisation!
Jamin: Alex and I directed this one. It was in downtown San Francisco at the historic Palace Hotel. The setting was grand. The workshops were packed. Adam Lawrence flew a shark over the audience during his talk while singing a parody of "We Didn't Start the Fire." After the closing talk by Richard Buchanan, I invited everyone to my neighborhood in the Lower Haight. A swarm of people packed onto trains and followed me. It was a great experience. And lets not forget that a minor earthquake struck during one of the plenary presentations, leaving chandeliers gently swinging above us!
Alex: It was a pivotal shift for us in San Francisco, with the theme 'From Sketchbook to Spreadsheet' reflecting how service design was maturing to embrace the needs of business, and beginning to refer to business design explicitly as a thing. With so many speakers’ proposals to review, so much to plan and execute, we realised the importance of having a local team – a National Chapter – involved. I think this was the first time I came across Airbnb because some of the SDN’ers were using it instead of staying at the hotels. Yep, an awesome few days.
Birgit: Yes – the theme was amazing; it really reflected what was going on. And we had the first ever SDN Management Board Meeting, officially setting up the structures of volunteers who have worked hard ever since then to make service design more and more relevant!
Jamin: This was the first conference to prototype having a National Chapter run the event. We changed locations each day. I remember Nabeel Hamdi, author of ‘Small Change’, saying, "If you want to do something big, start with something small … that has long-term strategic impact." That really stuck with me.
Alex: I missed this one too, I was busy at the London Olympics.
Birgit: We were hosted by EDF during the first day, a very corporate environment! And then the next day was pure improvisation at the EnsAD university. It was a relief that the service design crowd is so open-minded, good-humoured and flexible!!! By the way, I was always worried, every year anew, that this spirit would fade away as we grew. And I have to say: Even up until today, it just seems to be getting stronger!
Jamin: The UK Chapter spearheaded the event and went big. We expanded the conference to 600 attendees. The professionalism and quality of the experience increased as well. There was a strong emphasis on service design for the public sector.
Alex: Yup, creatively and organisationally this event really stepped up a gear. The theme of ‘Transformation Through Service Design’ gave huge scope to a number of really inspirational speakers and we saw record numbers of attendees. I loved what the UK Chapter did to present some of the local flavour, and a personal favourite was a brewery sponsoring the Member’s Day reception. They also created some very nice posters overnight after day one, featuring key quotes from speakers. I’m sure they’re collectors’ items now. Also, let’s not forget that was the first time we were able to announce the hosts for the next year’s conference on the last day. We’ve not been able to match that since, but we are trying!
Birgit: A breakthrough event! Suddenly we were playing in a different league of professionalism! Sponsors even started actively approaching us and asking, “Can we sponsor your conference?” This gave me so much confidence in the future of service design and the Network!
Jamin: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland Chapters collaborated to host the conference in Stockholm. The team did an amazing job. We even had an espresso cart in the conference lobby, and an ambulance drove through a side door up to the stage to promote a workshop. With the growth of the Network and of service design in general, different voices were being heard, and there was a healthy tension between designers and non-designers. (More post-conference notes here: SDGC 2014 - Stockholm)
Alex: After themes around business and transformation, Stockholm quite naturally focused on ‘Creating Value for Quality of Life’. For me as a designer this was one of the most inspirational conferences, thanks to the huge energy and love that the local team put into every aspect of the conference. From the lagom/hygge staging, to Lavrans Lovlie’s presentation on the Nordic model of service design, to our Buddhist monk leading early morning meditation, all enjoyed by 600+ attendees from over 40 countries. The one thought I left with? “There are things in life you can’t design.”
Birgit: I was so impressed by the genuine co-creation mindset that the organisers had. They took their time, they cared and they created an almost loving experience! I remember when a lucky group of attendees were invited to the Nobel Prize Ceremony room at City Hall! It was evident that the government and the public sector were perceiving the strong relevance of service design, and embracing it as a partner for change and innovation.
Jamin: Hosting at Parsons The New School was a fully New York experience. It immersed attendees into an experience that blended the conference and the city in an energising, dynamic, and inspiring way. I loved many of the talks. Though Nick de Leon stood out with quote: "Delivering on time and on budget doesn't move the dial for customers or the organisation." In other words, he said, "Nice landing, wrong airport." (More post-conference notes here: SDGC 2015 - New York)
Alex: Looking at the attendees and speakers, I was struck by just how international the SDN had become. We literally had every continent and every major country represented in New York (with one third of participants from the US), with stunning presentations, workshops and panels, albeit in a rather wet Big Apple. The conference highlight for me was the first SDN Award and the opportunity for the Network to celebrate the very best in service design. These awards are now an integral part of every conference.
Birgit: New York was New York! Great on the front stage, musicians playing, an amazing auditorium – and stressful behind the scenes! Lara Penin had stretched every rule and regulation to bring us to Parsons and make this an outstanding event – and still we were bumping our heads all the time! The rain! The different locations! And still a total energiser – crazy and courageous!
Jamin: We were back to where it all began! But bigger. Better. All grown up. There was so much great content, it's hard to pick a highlight. But if I have to choose one, it was Johannes Landstorfer, from IXDS, talking about how we need more service design, but don't have enough service designers. To scale quickly, we will need to empower others to do it themselves. The scale issue is one we all face as service design continues to gain momentum and increases in demand. (More post-conference notes here: SDGC 2016 - Amsterdam)
Alex: Amsterdam was proof that we go from strength to strength, and also that Northern Europe continues to be an epicentre for the development of service design. The local team pulled out all the stops, carefully curating every minute of the two days. They entered the -auditorium on Dutch bikes, we explored the theme ‘Business as Unusual’ and realised just how much our favourite design discipline is maturing. We also introduced a new identity for the SDN. Some people wonder if the conference might have its home permanently in Amsterdam… Me, I’m not so sure. Moving from city to city each year, taking the show on the road, going out to you, the Network, seems just the right thing to do (although we’d admit it can be hard work).
Birgit: Back to Amsterdam – one year too early and still just right. It was the most amazing local team, passionate and considerate, loving and rational, creative and structured. And our conference manager Ines not only worked her ass off to put a great conference on stage, she also fell in love with a Dutch guy, so we lost her there!
Jamin: Building on the scale issues mentioned in Amsterdam, we felt ‘Service Design at Scale’ represents the next great challenge for the Network.
Alex: I’m really looking forward to Madrid. Tickets are selling fast, do you have yours yet?
Birgit: We are so much looking forward to this amazing anniversary. I would never have dreamt of this and it still feels unreal how service design has matured and how rele-vant and attractive it is. We are attracting new audiences, and scaling is on the agenda for many of those that have moved to service design early. All the feedback I am getting says, “We will come. It is the community and the topic!”
This article is part of Touchpoint Vol. 9 No. 1 - Education and Capacity-Building. Discover the full list of articles or flip the preview to get a sneak peek at more fascinating articles on this issue! Touchpoint Vol. 9 No. 1 is available to purchase in print and PDF format. Become a SDN member, or upgrade your community membership to be able to read all articles online and download the full-issue PDF at no charge.
Since service design still may sound exotic, this article will help you explain what it is in a simple language.
Since 1995 Birgit Mager has held the first European professorship in service design at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne, Germany, and since then has developed the field of service design constantly in theory, methodology and practice. Her numerous lectures, publications and projects have strongly supported the implementation of a new understanding of the economical, ecological and social function of the design in the domain of services.
When a project wins a Service Design Award there is certainly something to learn from it.
Good services aren't enough to excite people anymore. What happens when everybody around you does service design? Maybe you should brand your experience.
Please login to comment