Romy van den Broek on Best Practices for Service Design Pioneering

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Romy van den Broek from Berge spoke about service design pioneering in the hardware industry and how large organizations are making the transition from being hardware producers to software and services providers. Her framing was one of friction, culture clashes, transition and language. She shared four brief case studies along with lessons learned:

Philips Design Probes was focused on far future design research; the world of tomorrow. But what she learned was that an unanchored vision is no vision at all. Their work failed to align with the rest of the company which was transitioning from being a market leader to a market follower.

Ericsson Innova Squad built on design thinking implementation with a small team of one designer and two “enthusiasts.” She learned that it was important to be a Trojan Horse (a metaphor that Jess McMullin used yesterday). Engineers might not be familiar with design terminology or tools. It’s important to learn the culture of your audience; adjust the way you present. For example, she made a customer journey map in PowerPoint rather than Illustrator so that her entire team could have ownership; she needed to use their tools.

Caterpillar Propulsion was a field study of tug and ferry boat levers. She interviewed the crew onboard. I liked her articulation that you can’t fake curiosity. If you’re not curious about other people’s experience, you really have no business being a service designer. Start asking questions; show curiosity. Like the Ericsson example she tried to fit in; to be one of the guys. Not everyone is immediately enthusiastic so it’s important to build relationships.

Volvo Construction Equipment focused on service design in software development. This was more like interaction design. Fleet management systems. Her learning here was to understand hierarchies and make use of them. The culture at Volvo was very hierarchical and very territorial. Understand agendas; politics. Make friends in different departments and find allies with similar goals. It’s also to stick around; change does not happen overnight.

Romy summed up her experience by noting that the power of service design lies in its many faces. She conceded that service design in a hardware or manufacturing context is not flashy; it’s humble and hard work. Like other service designers she articulated that the designer should not be the star; everything should be about the result.


  1. I’m a bit confused about Philips Probes being ‘unanchored’. That isn’t how I found them. Their purpose was to look beyond the normal 2-3 year business horizon which they did. Finding a path from them to the present was a limitation of their audience. Can you expand on the comments in the piece please?




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