Business 2.0, Design

Reflections on Service Design 2011

Yesterday I had the good fortune to attend the first (and hopefully not the last!) Service Design conference in Sydney. It was great to have the opportunity to connect with so many familiar faces and like-minded folks to explore the emerging field of service design.

I’m not wired to live-blog these kind of things, but I noticed Mal Booth was doing a fantastic job if you’re after a blow-by-blow description (or just check out the #sd2011 hash tag).

The day was great overall (all but one presentation was excellent from my perspective), and over the fold I want to outline three of my highlights from the day.


Tim Fife, In the service of…

This high-level review + a brief case study really resonated with me. Tim outlined a perspective on Buchanan’s “4 orders of design”, ranging from visual communications (2D design), object design (3D design, industrial design etc.), interaction design, and organisation design.

I am particularly interested in the shift towards 4th order design (organisational design) and the challenges of bottom-up vs. top-down approaches, and how service designers might play a role at this level of an organisation.

He also emphasised the importance of balancing organisational intent (which we refer to as purpose in our framework) with human-centred design, but also the importance of supporting systems and operational considerations.

All of this was very familiar from our own practice, but it was great to see it pulled together into such a well presented communication.

Melis Senova, Service design for corporates vs NGOs – is there a difference?

Melis presented some, by her own admission “generalised”, learnings from working with NGOs and comparing these to corporate projects.

I get the sense that a lot of the work/case studies that Melis was drawing upon were donor focused (e.g. working with fundraising teams on donation forms etc.), though I may be wrong there. One piece that I think was missing from the presentation (and I recognise that presentations like this can’t cover everything!) was the role of service design in engaging constituents and stakeholders in the delivery of the “service” — from an NGO perspective, the societal change that is intended.

There are a couple of aspects to this: the use of social networks to achieve/promote change (e.g. the model), the use of tools to sway decision makers (something Melis touched upon in response to my question/suggestion during the talk), but also the achieving of behavioural change within the stakeholder base (which may not necessarily mean “supporters” per se — for example, campaigns for sustainability or public health that aim to change or challenge people’s behaviours — Hello Sunday Morning being one example that comes to mind.

While in a general sense I think Melis’ points were valid, I do question how much NGOs maintain a sense of empathy with their supporters (especially where NGOs are positioned as “experts” within their area of interest/activity), and also while I agree NGOs typically have a much tighter connection to overall purpose, my experience suggests that often the purpose/objectives can sometimes be a bit broad and require clarification to be really powerful and actionable in a service design context.

I make these observations not as a criticism of Melis’ talk — I actually found it very thought provoking as it challenged me to examine my own experience in non-profit contexts, which is exactly what I was looking for from the day.

Siobhan Toohill and Adrian Wiggins, Creating better places to be

I was really looking forward to this preso and it didn’t disappoint. It was awesome to see Ezio Manzini’s work mentioned, along with Collaborative Consumption and a raft of other thinkers (many of whom I’d not heard of — plenty to follow up!)

It really resonated to see the ideas of creating the pre-conditions for communities and value to form presented in a context such as the conference. I also had so many questions — about shared value (especially in a retail context, an important part of Stockland’s business), but also in terms of the role of Stockland in community support after a development has been sold etc. But unfortunately was not able to connect with Siobhan or Adrian after the conference — something I’ll have to follow-up on.

Final thoughts

There seemed to be a couple of themes across the day, but the one that really caught my attention was the connection between service design and “change management”. This is something I’ve identified in our practice — whether it be looking at social media, sustainability, agile management, or design thinking/service design, that a lot of the work is in supporting and enabling change within the organisations we serve to support the implementation of solutions, as much as determining the shape of those solutions.

Having recognised this, I’ve undertaken an elective as part of my Masters study in leading and managing change, and it has been very helpful in understanding different schools of thoughts, frameworks and approaches to change management. I’m positive that this is going to help inform our future work in a service design context.

All in all it was a terrific day, and I’m really looking forward to future events. If yesterday was anything to go by they will be well worth the investment to attend…

One thought on “Reflections on Service Design 2011

  1. Joe

    Thanks for that analysis , Grant

    I also very much enjoyed Tim’s as well as Siobhan & Adrian’s presentations, but for me was the eureka moment tim described that defines service design: that a service can have far more consequences, and therefore many more touchpoints than is initially assumed. Often the stakeholders can span beyond generations and continents.

    The latter also highlighted the macro and the micro viewpoints, one of my key takeaways as a theme from the day

    Thanks for the analysis!

Comments are closed.