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Designing Experiences Not Products - Service Design Conference 2015 Recap

Service design was born on the premises of not just designing apps, but looking at the bigger picture: instead of a product, creating systems users interact with. All this because, what people want is often not the same what we think they need. If service design is about anything, it is putting people at the very centre of the design process and creating experiences people actually need. And users want magic experiences.

Best practices and newest trends of user centered design were discussed at the Service Design Global Conference in the beginning of October at Parsons School of Design in New York City. I heard there what the industry is transforming into, and let me share in this article that we are on to something big. Service design methods now go way beyond products and apps, as they can offer revolutionary solutions even for business models and policy making.

Designing Experiences - Together With Clients

We can already see incredible advancement if we first look at the consumer product and service level. Nick de Leon, Head of Service Design Program at at the Royal College of Art, and many others share the notion that it is key to closely involve clients in the process of user-centered-design and to utilize their domain knowledge. By finding the right problems, service design helps to steer projects in the right direction, saving money both in cash and human resources for all companies investing. All in all you can avoid what he called a “Good landing, wrong airport” situation.

One of those stories, when magic happened service-wise came from Alex Nisbett, Senior Service Designer at LiveWork. They worked on the spectators’ experience at the 2012 London Olympics. What bigger design challenge would one face?  They were involved in the project late, when stadium plans were already created. As detailed in the video below, their analysis found that visitors will have to wait in lines 40% of their time, so the experience of the event had to be rethought. Instead of designing it as a sports event, it was rebranded as a festival. Once the idea was born, all interaction / location / service design deliveries were based on this finding. For instance they used marching bands for showing different ways of transport to avoid 80,000 people hitting the tube at the same time.

Another fascinating story was told by a seemingly unusual client: Kenneth A Savin, of Lilly Pharma, the 10th largest corporation by global pharmaceutical sales. Despite coming from a conservative end of the country, the company has a history of user-friendly innovation. For instance, they were the firsts to introduce gelatine covered pills to make the medicine taking experience more user friendly. This time they set up a pilot for collaborating with design and ad agencies to discover why a potential 564 billion USD revenue is lost in the global pharma industry yearly due to non-adherence to chronic disease treatments, while 290 billion USD is spent on avoidable medical costs related to the same problem. A surprising conclusion emerged: the financial loss was mostly due to emotional uncertainties of patients regarding their medication. So, it was the problem that actually needed to be reframed. Instead of selling pills, they shifted their focus on supporting people in executing their own healthcare. Scenarios of long term customer care and support were worked out and involved in their offer.

Piloting Is The New Prototyping

The nature of relationship between organisations and design firms have begun to change: a distant contact based consultation or delivery is slowly becoming co-creation. And this new base requires new tools to work with.

First, to unlock the potential of this collaboration, Claudia Gorelick, US Business Design Director of Fjord, a global design and innovation consultancy, advises organisations to recognize that you shouldn’t look at numbers strictly analytically. “The biggest success metric is customer delight”.

Second, to navigate safely in the unknown, projects must create a framework, where it is safe to experiment and fail. Piloting is the new prototyping, a tool to test real user experience on real market segments.

A great example is the collaboration between Gatorade and Smart Design. They piloted with personalised energy drinks and worked closely with the national soccer team of Brazil during the preparation for the 2014 Soccer World Cup. The best learning is that the a pilot may have been a failure at first sight, as Brazil lost poorly against Germany in the semi-finals, but the project essentially lead to both brand and product success. Four other pilots followed this one that lead to innovation; and despite Gatorade not being an official sponsor, their (social media) presence was outstanding and their sales skyrocketed, as told in the below video. All this proves that designing the whole experience in a close-knitted co-creation team will strictly come down to good business.

Design Influencing Business Models And Organizational Processes

The user-centered-design era has stepped to the next level. Co-creation conversation isn’t any more just about users. The relationship and its changing quality between design(ers) and clients is now in full focus. It is obvious that designers aren't just creators any more. “If you want to be the next Filip Stark and design chairs, that’s fine, but we have a higher calling” said Nick de Leon.

The role of design has matured into the phase where its practitioners are facilitators of processes, dealing with organisational structure and actively influencing the building of business models.

“Design is now a tool of decision making” said Christian Bason, CEO of Danish Design Centre. “But it’s a question what happens between designers and managers? How do designers impact how leaders think?”

We may be each other's jings and jangs - at least this is how Richard Whitehall, Managing Partner at Smart Design depicted the relationship, and suggested that we look at design and managerial skills as complementary ones. Where a business person loves excel, a design person will prefer Post-its; when a business guy excels at navigating organisational politics, a design person will offer an outside perspective; a business guy uses data to quantify problems, a designer will tell human anecdotes to convince; and a manager will want to start with the idea, while a designer will want to land on an idea. These differences should serve as great force of creation when matched and mutually respected.

“Design thinking is fundamentally different from problem solving / opportunity finding organisations used to have” said Billy Seabrook, Global Head of Design at Citi Bank. While there is hesitation on the business side, this changing landscape may lead the way to the incorporation of design thinking into organisational restructuring. A reason in particular why the lack of startups was visible at the event. This was also pointed out by Bay Area based independent customer experience consultant and author, Kerry Bodine. Startups are often built by design-thinkers and known for their agile and lean problem solving. Their methodologies may easily match up with and offer alternatives to the transforming industry.

Apart from the speakers numerous workshops illustrated live during the conference how to implement this collaboration and I will share the practical guide in a coming blogpost soon.

Imagine Design Even Influencing Policy Making
How can service design interlace with government and policy? On one hand governments have the means to encourage the implementation of design thinking between design agencies and companies. Supporting this process mitigates the risks of implementing such collaborations on the private sector’s side. As forerunners, Finland is investing 17M euro into design advocacy, and the British Council has poured 9M into design integration into strategy creation.

On the other hand when it comes to the public sector itself, the role of design will also become part of the package. Nick de Leon drew up the levels of engagement, how design influences business where the highest level was the role of design for policy.

Levels of impact:

  • Level 1 - Design for interaction
  • Level 2 - Design for services
  • Level 3 - Design for systems
  • Level 4 - Design for policy

He also shared a story how applying design research and service design have already helped the jurisdiction get more citizen friendly. The challenge was understanding why so many witnesses do not fill their duty at court. To figure this out they created an app, called “Trap my crime”. Research found that people had all their knowledge about the courtroom from movies. Most of them had no idea about the actual rules. By simply finding where the problem roots the government avoided a “nice landing, wrong airport” situation and saved a lot of money, otherwise spent on a possibly less effective solution.

Conference participants also could test their skills on the field on a workshop ran by the US based International Refugee Committee and Sweden-based Veryday. The teams had to come up with a solution for one of the presented refugee personas to support their integration into society, using service design tools. Look for the #refugeeswelcome on twitter to see the solutions.

The links among the business world, the public sector and design has never been so strong. If this tendency goes on predictably thousands of public servants will have to be trained for design thinking skill sets in the UK alone and an even higher demand comes from the private sector’s side. “Everybody will need to be trained in design thinking independently from their field of expertise“ said Billy Seabrook of Citi Bank, as a manifestation of that they have invested in creating a program within the company.

This change will greatly influence businesses and organisational workflows, and the sooner they invite design professionals into the inner circle, the quicker this transformation may take place and the more progressive solutions will be born. Service Design is up for changing the world.