Archive for the ‘community’ Category


The SDN Global Conference in Amsterdam is distributed across several buildings on the Westergasfabriek grounds. I’ve set up shop over in the theater for the balance of the morning. The topics focus broadly on Expanding the Service Design Palette. I’m looking forward to the speakers but incidentally the theater venue from 1885 seems much more conducive to blogging because I can set up my equipment in the wings with access to electricity and a table (or at least a bench).

Update: this didn’t work out quite a well as it could have; primarily because the theater is smaller than the main hall and the sold-out conference resulted in several dozen attendees sitting on the floor.


The 2016 Service Design Global conference at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam is set to begin this morning. From a glance at the program is looks like there are quite a few speakers I haven’t heard at past conferences. I’m particularly looking forward to Joe Macleod’s talk on Closure Experiences just before lunch.

I’ll be blogging each of the sessions I attend this year. All the rest should be on Twitter under the #sdgc16 hashtag. If you’re in Amsterdam stop by and say hello.


I’m really looking forward to the 2016 Service Design Global Conference later this month. After eight years the SDGC is returning to Amsterdam on October 27th and 28th and the Westergasfabriek looks like an interesting choice of venue. Amsterdam will be a first for me this year but I’ve attended the SDN conferences in Berlin, Boston, San Francisco, Stockholm and New York and I’ve been thinking about the differences.

Last year the SDN tried something new with distributed proceedings between buildings on the Parsons School of Design campus in New York. It’s a beautiful place with some fantastic architecture but the weather didn’t cooperate that week and scurrying back and forth through the rain between sessions was a distraction. I was live blogging the proceedings as I did in Stockholm the year before but the New York venue imposed itself on my awareness in a way that hadn’t been a problem at any of the earlier conferences.

Juggling a laptop, tablet, voice recorder and camera in theater-style seating with a packed crowd and locked-down campus internet isn’t really the best way to cover a live event. Especially when you’re constantly relocating. If you see me zealously guarding my place at a table in Amsterdam this year, now you’ll understand why.

For the past couple conferences I’ve been attending as a member of the press but logistically I’ve been on my own. This year things are a bit more organized. Daniele Catalanotto will be blogging many of the sessions and SDN photographers will be providing a pool of imagery. There’s always going to be some friction running a conference at a new venue but I’ve wondered whether it might be possible to do this job from home by asking an SDN intern to Skype the sessions to me over a video call.

The downside is that I would miss out on connecting with the people who make the Service Design Network so vibrant. My hybrid role already cuts down on socializing during the conference and I’d hate to miss that part of it altogether. And I don’t want to wait another eight years to visit Amsterdam.

Maybe there’s a middle ground. All services need to consider not only the needs of their customers but the needs of their staff. This year I’m formalizing my relationship with SDN a bit more and I can see a future with a press table off to the side of the main auditorium stocked with the accouterments of a home office and functioning as a hub to synthesize interviews, video, photographs and presentations into a live conference stream.

We’re not quite there yet, but maybe I should check in with Daniele and ask about his strategy. I’ve got a day or two in Amsterdam before the conference starts. Maybe we can find a way to smuggle in a table from IKEA.

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.

Anders Frostenson from Doberman stepped in at the last minute for a substitute presentation on the development of their NYC studio, focused on digital products, service design and innovation capability.

He shared a story about the founding of their NYC studio four years ago. Transplanting a new studio was all about prototyping. They took established methods from their Stockholm studio to develop their new office. They created a three year business plan for expanding to New York, assembled collaboratively on white paper with post-it notes. All 60 people in Stockholm were activated to be part of the decision.

He also shared an example focused on NYC citizen-driven innovation. It involved radical collaboration, innovation tools, guided research and experience prototyping.

Finally, he observed that capacity building is about sharing design culture. Not just tools or methods.

Chelsea Mauldin from the Public Policy Lab in Brooklyn spoke about capacity building for emerging and latent problems in society.

The Public Policy Lab is a nonprofit founded in 2011 that works in partnership with federal and local governmental organizations to improve public services with a focus on poor and vulnerable stakeholders.

She shared several examples of past initiatives. First, a project on affordable housing with NYC agency, another for the Department of Education focused on students with disabilities. Next, a project on jail and substance abuse in Louisville, KY to understand the detoxing population and identify points of intervention. Finally, a project with the VA on veteran access to mental health care to address the rate of suicide.

One of the problems she observed is that civic tech tends to presume “digital solutions” as the answer to any problem. Luckily, it’s possible to co-opt methods from the digital space. AB/testing, Lean, etc. Co-opt the interest in digital innovation to introduce designers and other decision making methods.

Chelsea also believes in the importance of impact assessment. Design is sometimes viewed as a luxury good. But in 2015 we need to demonstrate value. Deepen what assessment means. Be more rigorous. RCT-based testing. Thicker data about qualitative experience. In combination with quantitative data. Light weight short cycle assessment tools.

Human subject design, professionalize it. We’re mining the content of people’s lives for design initiatives. Are we designing ethically? Need to adopt more serious consent procedures.


The 2015 Service Design Global Conference is ready to kick off in New York City. I’m covering the sessions here at Design for Service like I did last year at Stockholm. If you’re at the conference stop by and say hello!

On my flight back to San Francisco I reflected on the past few days at the Global Service Design Conference in Stockholm. I’ve always taken notes at conferences but this year I committed to live-blogging the event as a member of the press. That brought a different level of focus. I was essentially listening to speakers, reflecting on their words and synthesizing my response all at the same time. Which is crazy for a two-day conference with dozens of speakers.

The pace of the conference added to the challenge because there were no gaps between presentations for the audience to ask questions (or for me to write). Without that interval I found myself listening to each new speaker for just long enough to grasp their thesis before switching gears to finish my post on the previous presentation, occasionally switching back to the current speaker when a salient quote caught my attention. Twitter was invaluable for this because it crowdsourced the note-taking burden whenever I missed a slide. I continued to switch back and forth between taking notes by hand and wordsmithing on my computer as the post began to take shape.

Once a new draft was finished I submitted it without much editing and then closed my laptop in order to preserve battery power and to devote my attention fully to the person on stage who was normally at the midway point in their presentation by then. I scanned through my notes and started reflecting on the content of the talk while mentally crafting an argument. That forced me to blog mainly from my own perspective without much time for research, which is too bad.

It was a valuable experience but also exhausting and isolating. Every spare minute of the conference was devoted to catching up on my notes or typing a post and even then I found myself blogging the last few presentations of the day from my hotel room. That left little time for the social aspects of the conference since every meal and every coffee break was devoted to blogging or finding a power outlet.

Ultimately the burden of real-time synthesis interfered with my ability to be present at the conference. The alternative would have been to wait and simply blog about it afterwards but in my experience that doesn’t work. I have notebooks full of observations about past conferences in Pittsburgh, Berlin and San Francisco that were taken with the best of intentions but that have never seen the light of day.

By live-blogging the conference I returned from Stockholm with 20 posts to my credit which is some kind of record for me. I’m pleased to hear that people found the recaps valuable and I’m already thinking about ways to accomplish this type of thing more efficiently in the future.

It was nice to dust off the cobwebs here at Design for Service and reconnect with the service design community.

Denis Weil closed out the 2014 conference in Stockholm with some reflections on the emerging frontiers of design. Formerly an innovation executive at McDonalds, his perspective is that Human Centered Design and Design Thinking are each showing their age (20 years and 10 years, respectively) and that designers are becoming complacent by following these paths. He identified Social Design and Venture Capital Design as the new vanguard.

Social design has certainly established its relevance. Denis spoke about the affinity between social design, service design and public sector design and the book Design Transitions offers a contemporary overview of these developments but if 10 years qualifies as long-in-the-tooth then social design is hardly the vanguard. Ezio Manzini has been writing about social innovation and design since the early nineties with a focus on sustainability. A more direct precursor is the work of Participle in the UK and the RED group from the Design Council in 2004.

I believe that Denis makes a better case for currency when it comes to Venture Capital Design. It certainly caught my attention when John Maeda left the world of academia last year to join Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Silicon Valley. Denis sketched a few examples of startups that exemplify this model such as Airbnb, Jawbone and Nest but the idea of a community of practice centered around this niche strikes me as fairly tenuous.

Throughout his talk Denis identified the qualities of a new breed of designer and a new model of collaboration. Phrases like “radical empathy” and “outspoken risk takers” stood out to me. He emphasized that these new areas of design require sacrifice and that the patterns are still emerging. He ended by quoting Allan Chochinov from the School of Visual Arts who observed that design has been moving from the aesthetic to the strategic to the participatory. Both the design and content of the Stockholm conference reflect that shift.

I would have liked to see more of an argument about why Denis felt that HCD and Design Thinking had lost relevance and how he sees our ecosystem changing in light of the new frontiers he described. But maybe that’s a question for the next conference.

The presentation by Wim Rampen focused on his journey through the world of customer experience and service design. Wim started blogging shortly after I launched Design for Service and I remember following some of that initial journey. He spoke about how chance, luck and the unexpected all influence change and how change is hardly ever consciously designed.

To cope with the impact of change he recommended five strategies centered around recognizing the potential for positive and negative change and preparing for these disruptions in advance by building a diverse base of knowledge. It’s important to embrace potential opportunities rather than dismissing them as a hazard.

Note: If you’re following along with your schedule, Wim was originally slated to present yesterday. Things got shuffled around a little through some last minute changes, thus reinforcing the theme of Wim’s presentation.