29 November 2017
Susanne van Mulken
Susanne van Mulken

Service design at scale (Madrid)

A trip report of SDGC 2017

What is the best strategy to scale-up service design? That was the central theme of this years Service Design Global Conference of which Informaat was a key sponsor. The 10th anniversary edition of this conference took place in Madrid (2-3 november). While the service design community itself seems to be scaling-up quite well (the conference had 650 attendants), the theme of the conference revolved around challenges of and approaches to scaling-up service design in organisations.

Increasingly, service design gets not only regarded as an important methodology supporting organisations to design valuable services, but also as an approach helping them to transform in order to design and deliver these services on a structural basis. Still, lots of organisations struggle with delivering sustainable services with great customer value at a pace fast enough to stay relevant.

With a few (Asian) exceptions, conference speakers came from Europe and US, with many different backgrounds: banking, telecom, travel, (local) government, a few agencies and some from academia. As always, the atmosphere was great and informal with lots of open-minded designers, consultants, design managers and directors sharing their latest insights and experiences.

Scaling is training

For quite a few presenters, scaling-up service design seems to be a matter of training employees in this design area (Louise Down, gov.uk) and also a matter of ‘letting go’ even if you think the time is not right yet (Jamin Hegeman, CapitalOne).

According to Stina van Hoof (Knightmoves), the best approach to scale service design in an organisation has three activities: Spark interest (do small projects), show impact (larger project showing results) and go viral (i.e. train the organisation).

Judith Bastiaansen and Meddie Versteeg (ING Bank) talked about how two years ago ING restructured themselves into tribes, squads and chapters (along the Spotify model) and about their current challenge to educate 700 customer journey experts. Their current initiative focuses on formalising methods and training.

In general, in scaling efforts three advices remained: don’t be the agency, take small steps, and be a facilitator (rather than a designer).

What was striking was that the service design community seems to have adopted the viewpoint that spreading the service design gospel to change culture is a better strategy than to set an example with a few well-positioned super-valuable services. Is this ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’? Focus on cultural changes and accept that at first you’ll make only small improvements.

For those worrying about this, Marta Perez talked about how to generate high-quality ideas. Among other things, make sure to combine individual idea generation and collective thinking, pursue quality over quantity in idea generation, put time and resources in the preparation of innovation, establish a set of idea evaluation criteria, and use bespoke visual templates.

Scaling is thinking in platforms

Larry Keely (Deloitte) talked about how there are ten types of innovation in categories, such as business, engineering, and social. Rule of thumb: For innovation to be successful, you need five types of innovation in three categories. And, if you’re looking for leverage, you need to think in platforms. Platforms such as Amazon, Facebook, AirBnB, Uber, or Salesforce allow for third parties to use their service as a basis to build new aggregated services on.

Modern innovation is more about elegant integration than about invention of the new. Keely showed that AirBnB’s service consisted of a tech stack of some 57 technical capabilities of which only seven were proprietary. So, he argues, these days you hardly need anything else but a good idea to become successful and rich. You don’t need any geniuses to build it for you, because it’s a matter of putting together the Lego bricks.

As designers, he points out, we need to lead with design values, not only make things compelling but also decent. Design ethics. Is this thing you’re designing is really for or against users? Do you actually want to live in the world you are helping to build? Service design is vital. It will take great design to move beyond mere technical elegance.

Scaling is technology

Peter Fossick (IBM) approached scaling-up from a technology point of view. He sketched the development of Economy 4.0, in which there is a shift from selling products and solutions to selling platforms and outcomes supported by artificial intelligence to deal with vast amounts of data. We need technology to help us gather and interpret these data. Analog interpretation (which we service designers staring at walls covered with PostIt-notes seem to be very good at) is too slow. Tech 4.0 requires Design 4.0. That is, design that regards services as agent-centric, transformative, data-informed, heuristic driven, autonomous, and connected.

Scaling is delivery

“Service design is not just about the ability of a service designer to design a service but about the ability of an organisation to deliver that service.” (Louise Down)

If we want to achieve sustainable services, we need to apply service design and support the transformation of the organisation and the organisational culture. So far when discussing this, the people in which to establish this mind shift were mostly managers, marketers, analysts, and developers. In Madrid, the ‘Delivery’ part of the service design discipline was regarded as the new area to attend to. So don’t stop at training your backstage customer journey experts or at coaching managers, marketers and developers. Instead, train and coach on-stage employees as well. Make sure that those who are implementing the service on a daily basis can change and improve it as well.

Scaling is doing things faster and better

Another approach to scaling-up is to save time. Do the most important stuff in less time and then turn to the next assignment. Combine service design and lean thinking with Agile. Marc Stickdorn talked about triangulation. Apply several quick methods to get to results rather then one method that may be more profound but much more time-consuming. Work from assumptions and test them later. And in the service design sprint, try to infuse customer insights from research through user stories for minor improvements as early as possible into the iterative cycle.

Scaling is getting allies

As always, Kerry Bodine very courageously gave a wrap-up of the conference. But apart from doing that, she also suggested to learn from the field of customer experience and to introduce a new role (or ally?) in scaling service design in the organisation with journey managers. These managers can do some important tasks to help you scale-up, like understanding customer needs, creating a long-term vision, making the business case, herding cross-functional stakeholders to execute on the vision and measuring ongoing impact.

All in all, the team of Informaat enjoyed two days packed with super-inspiring presentations, tapas, workshops, tapas, and tapas-conversations in an area that is gaining more and more of the right impact.

Want to know more about this conference: keynote presentations on Slideshare and Youtube.

About the author

Susanne van Mulken (/susannevanmulken) is managing director Strategy & Delivery and responsible for the development and application of experience design models, methods and expertise. As senior C/UX strategist and service designer, she has more than 15 years of experience in strategic design of (digital) services in various industries, such as retail banking, insurance, telecom, climate control, and government. Before she joined Informaat, she worked on the development of intelligent user interfaces at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). She has a master degree in Cognitive Psychology and a PhD in Cognitive Science.

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