Anna Whicher and Paul Thurston from PDR closed out the Future Directions session of the conference by speculating on the next five years of policy trends in service design through 2020.

Their presentation began with a bit of a roll call to demonstrate the balance between government employees and designers in the audience. More than a quarter of the presentations at the conference this year were from government.

They shared a trend toward more inclusive, transparent policy making and the potential for design to engage with the political system. They also shared some success stories from over 100 workshops for 1000 government officials to learn hands-on service design methods for policy.

Less encouraging, the team also reported the results of a design survey conducted in the US and UK where less than half the organizations surveyed used any design at all. I’m not totally convinced about the numbers because only 14% admitted they even used design for styling and that’s the basic thing that every organization already knows about design, whether it be logos, web pages, signage or printed material. That number should be somewhere around 100%.

At any rate it called to mind a pair of studies from the late 1980s in the UK that explored organizations using design without calling it by that name.

The final part of their presentation focused on nine trends in the design innovation ecosystem:


  • Agile procurement will become the norm.
  • Government digital services.


  • Growth in niche design support programs
  • In the past they were broad (small businesses, etc)


  • Design promotion will be treated as a strategic investment.
  • Design investment in a very high level.
  • Promoting awareness and capacity of design in private and public sectors.


  • Thirst for knowledge. Increase in courses and training for service design.
  • People are asking about accredited courses.
  • We’ll see specialized design courses for government services.


  • Using design for policy making (not just for service development)
  • Using service design research with seniors exploring euthanasia.
  • A provocation to enable debate.
  • Design in innovation policy.


  • Design in innovation funding programs.
  • Government support for small companies is quite common.


  • Design and research getting closer.
  • The connection between the two domains is tightening.
  • Design research as a flagship investment priority.


  • Job specifications for policy makers will include design skills as standard.
  • Two examples of current UK contracts.


  • Government as service design agency.
  • The opposite of the acquisitions trend.
  • Internal groups will spin out as private industry.

It was interesting to see the speculation about internal groups spinning out as private industry. That’s essentially what happened with Participle in the UK eight years ago. The trend in the opposite direction toward design firm acquisition has certainly caught people’s attention; I’ve heard it mentioned in several presentations throughout the conference.

Olof Schybergson and Claudia Gorelick from Fjord spoke about the need for continuous innovation. They started with a disquieting quote from Matthew Bishop at the Economist Innovation Forum who observed that the pace of change will never again be as slow as it is today.

They spent their talk exploring these shifts in innovation and the conditions that drive change, pointing to three aspects that influence customer expectations:

  • Direct competitors
  • Experiential competitors
  • Perceptual competitors

Customers have been conditioned to expect magic but the most profound technological changes over the past decade have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Slow hunches rather than sudden bright flashes. Olof pointed to the development of the iPhone as the synthesis of existing technologies with uncommon execution or Amazon’s development of one-click shopping as an outgrowth of their dominance in supply chain management.

They proposed that the current decade is building on the success of the web, internet and mobile technology with the emergence of “living services” that are profoundly customized for each user and that serve as the antithesis of the one-size-fits-all strategy at the heart of the industrial revolution.

Living services have the ability to learn, evolve and change over time. Olaf and Claudia predicted that these living systems would have wide-reaching effects on our homes, bodies, families, education, work, transport, finances and shopping. I enjoyed the followup question from a biologist in the audience who observed that living things eventually die…

Ultimately, Fjord tied this back to service design with the observation that user centered processes were already at the heart of the discipline. That positions service designers to help organizations grasp the importance of user-centric understanding.

Cameron Tonkinwise and Terry Irwin from Carnegie Mellon spoke about their ongoing efforts to redesign the curriculum in the School of Design across several design tracks and areas of focus.

They summarized these efforts in a 32-page monograph called Transition Design 2015 [PDF 635k]. I haven’t had time to dig into the details but it immediately called to mind the RED group’s influential 2006 paper on Transformation Design in the UK as well as Pine and Gilmore’s framework about transformations representing the final stage of the evolution from commodities, goods, services and experiences.

Terry framed service design as a key component of designing for transitions and the long-term future. Carnegie Mellon has always set itself apart in its approach to interaction design which goes beyond interactions with things to interactions between people, the built and designed world and the natural environment.

The shift in Carnegie Mellon’s curriculum represents an evolution with service and social innovation take center stage along with a new emphasis on transition design concerned with system level change and an awareness of place.

Cameron’s half of the presentation was more aspirational and caused the only moment I witnessed during the entire conference of spontaneous applause from the audience.

He pointed out that transitions are at the heart of service design. As service designers, we’re designing roles for people and transitioning them into new relationships with co-workers, organizations and customers. This focus on the employees of the service in addition to the customers is a key distinction between service design and CX or UX design.

He also cautioned that as a community we may not have the right organizational forms for transition design. Stand alone consultancies are often too small to efface long-term change. Teams within management consultancies typically deliver commoditized plans and aren’t built around longer-term engagements. Teams within corporations are often too insular to reach beyond their local mandate.

Finally, he presented quite a bit of new service design literature, including a paper by my former advisor. I’ll work on digging up the references and adding them to my service design archive.

Camilla Buchanan from the UK Cabinet Office spoke about designing social investment.

She didn’t define the term and it wasn’t clear to me from context, but a quick search turned up a definition: “Social investment” is the use of repayable finance to achieve a social as well as a financial return. Essentially loans and equity arrangements to fund social programs around areas such as youth unemployment or homelessness.

With a background at the Design Council, Camilla was most interested in the design patterns behind successful government programs. She saw value in a grounded, practical discussion and complained that those types of tactical details were often missing from case studies in favor of broad themes and high-level strategies.

She made the observation that you need to be able to translate that high level vision into concrete results. How do you get there from here? In her experience, the policy folks are creative already and don’t need as much help with the empathy side as with the operational aspect required to take control of some aspect of the experience.

I heard this theme a few times during the conference from presenters who claimed no shortage of ideas among their clients but a real deficit in operational knowledge required for implementation.

Camilla shared some examples from her experience and showcased other organizations around the UK focused on similar goals. She also offered a framework of ideas around social investment:

Knowing the users

  • Questionnaires
  • User Research
  • Changes how we see our constituents

Clear and visual communications

  • Shouldn’t seem like gloss
  • Elegant and legible design
  • Clear presentation paves the way
  • Habits around legible mapping
  • Norms of visualization

Framing problems

  • Exploratory area
  • Design in a non-design context
  • Want to see higher level project patterns
  • Blueprints, etc

Camilla ended with a plea for others working in this area to share project patterns in order to help network with others working on these problems. From her perspective, design is good at generating insights but the handoff back to the policy team can still be a little rough.

Yegor Korobeynikov and Mikhail Belyaev from Aventica spoke on how to design new urban experiences. They used the case study of Innopolis, a newly established city in Russia designed specifically to attract highly skilled technology workers.

One of the questions asked during the Q&A afterward captured my general sentiment. The questioner asked “is this a real thing, or is this fiction? Because it sounds incredible.” He was referring to the idea of creating a new city from whole cloth for a particular target market with no established services or infrastructure. Which, to be fair, seems a lot harder than trying to update an existing city literally anywhere else in the world.

To me it sounded like the company towns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries where timber or mining organizations would establish temporary communities on the frontier for their workforce. These company towns were built around the commodities they were extracting. Innopolis seems like an updated version for the 21st century to attract tech workers, but since tech can be done anywhere it’s hard to imagine a fabricated city being a better draw than actual cities with actual culture.

Yegor and Mikhail shared several examples of city-based services from around the world and then moved into the idea of the city itself as a service looking at the macro-level, mid-level and micro-level across social, information, services and the physical realm. Many of the ideas seemed like scaled up versions of a college campus where every conceivable amenity, from food and entertainment to housing and utilities are available in one place.

There’s also a bit of resonance with the planned, walkable communities that are a facet of New Urbanism pioneered by AndrĂ©s Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Those places are built around design guidelines that are desirable but rare in the modern world. The Innopolis example seems much more centrally controlled than places like Seaside, Florida or McKenzie Towne in Calgary. I’m curious to see how it unfolds.

Hefan Wong from the Singapore Ministry of Manpower in the Behavioral Insights and Design unit spoke about design transformation within that agency over the past six years to achieve a more human-centric culture.

The agencies in Singapore were known for speed and efficiency, but not really for customer experience. Customers often didn’t understand the process, and there was often a large reality gap between the policy intent and customer perspective.

The team changed the way they presented their agency, the organizational tone of voice and how they measured outcomes, including prototyping and randomized control trials. Hefan presented several examples of new initiatives, some that were successful and some less so. All centered around using design thinking to build empathy and understand customers.

She acknowledged that the Ministry of Manpower hadn’t reached the tipping point yet in terms of cultivating sustainable habits for design within the government but she shared several tips for success. Start small, build confidence and demonstrate what design can do. Be brave and keep testing.

Sandjar Kozubaev, a Ph.D student from Georgia Tech spoke on the concept of Transmedia Storytelling and how it might relate to service design.

He began with Henry Jenkins’ concept of Transmedia Storytelling in which integral elements of fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.

  • Spreadabilty/Drillability
  • Continuity/Multiplicity
  • Immersion/Extractability
  • Worldbuilding
  • Seriality
  • Subjectivity
  • Performance

He illustrated these concepts through the books, films and media environment surrounding the Hunger Games franchise.

The idea behind this presentation was interesting, but other than a brief, tantalizing chart, Sandjar failed to draw any substantive parallels between transmedia storytelling and the principles of service design embodied in user centered ideals, co-creation, sequencing, evidencing or holistic scope. This was left as an exercise for the audience.

Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider presented an overview of their tool for mobile ethnography called ExperienceFellow.

The app allows participants to record their journey through ratings, photos, videos and geolocation. At first I drew parallels between their offering and other established apps like which I’ve also seen used for this type of journey documentation.

Where ExperienceFellow stands out is in its attempt to combine the quantitative and qualitative aspects through some basic analysis tools like search, filtering and geo-clustering.

Here’s a rundown of the product features:

  • Real-time visualization as journey map
  • Graph emotional reactions to service encounters
  • Filtering by demographics, search terms, etc
  • Map view by clusters of positive or negative experiences
  • Export in PDF for printed deliverables

Something in the back of my mind kept telling me that I’d seen this app before. Back in 2009 I wrote a post about Marc’s Ph.D project called MyServiceFellow, which appears to be the precursor to ExperienceFellow.

It looks like a valuable addition to the service design toolkit. Sign up with the code SDGC2015 to document one sample project.

Luis Alt from Live|Work in Brazil gave an awkwardly placed presentation during the Methods and Tools session that was almost certainly intended for the Selling Service Design session across campus. He acknowledged the complete mismatch without any real explanation and directed us to the Live|Work website to learn more about tools and methods.

Instead, he started with a question: why do you do service design? He spent most of the presentation focusing on the emerging climate for service design in Brazil and sharing some ideas from his upcoming book.

Rather than summarize a Service Design 101 talk, I’ll follow his advice and direct you to Live|Work’s website for more on service design tools and methods.

Alex Nisbett from Live|Work in London gave an impromptu presentation that closed out this morning’s sessions. He spoke on the design and delivery of the London 2012 spectator experience where he worked as a PM and covert service designer.

The presentation included dozens of examples of touchpoints and crowd control assembled with practically no budget. Much of the experience had already been locked down years previously in signed contracts for the Olympic games and it wasn’t until late in the process that the team was given input on the spectator experience.

He and his team realized that it was important to focus on the entire journey, including the 40% of each day spent waiting in line. He also communicated some useful tips for operational planning and for getting buy-in for service design within the organization by focusing on weak spots that were at risk of failure. This became more like error testing than a traditional design process and focused instead on building clear feedback channels and concise reports so that the experience could be improved on a day-by-day basis.

Near the end of the talk, Alex acknowledged that ultimately the spectator experience isn’t the focus of the Olympics. You’re really there for the sports, to watch the athletes. That’s when this clicked for me as a service design talk.

You can frame it in terms of process and outcome theory. People may complain about the process but that’s nothing compared to the complaints that arise from a failed outcome. And if the service outcome is successful people will excuse some process errors but not vice versa. Ultimately the London Games realized the goals set by the city.

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