Archive for the ‘education’ Category


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.

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.

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.

Richard Whitehall from Smart Design in NYC spoke about the need for both extreme optimists and extreme realists in service design. This essentially translated to the difference between customer experience vs service operations and more broadly between designers and business people.

He began by illustrating the problem with each approach in isolation. First with SAS airlines who hired a barista to serve coffee on one of its flights which resulted in great coffee but wasn’t a very scalable solution. He contrasted that with an example from United which serves millions of cups of coffee and spent nearly a year with a 14-member committee integrating a new process when they merged with Continental airline only to find that people complained that the new coffee was terrible.

I had trouble following this theme through the rest of his presentation. He presented several interesting projects at Smart Design including the Taxi of Tomorrow that tangentially focused on the contributions of front end and backend experience as optimists and realists.

He advocated three best practices in service design:

  • Get up close and personal: Finding shared ground and embracing the differences between partners in designing and delivering services.
  • Take a trip: Getting stakeholders out of their environment and into the world of the service.
  • Tell your friends: Make sure your project goes viral within the organization.

Ultimately, Richard’s talk reminded me of an image I posted a few years ago about idealists and realists.


Birgit Mager and Kerry Bodine presented the 2015 awards to kick off the final day of the Service Design Global Conference in NYC.

Birgit helped to launch a service design competition in Switzerland in 1998. But there were not enough examples of practice at the time. The board decided at SDGC14 in Stockholm to launch a new competition for service design for the 30k people affiliated with the SDN.

Award Criteria:

  • Clarity of presentation
  • Relationship between cause and effect
  • Clarity of results
  • Holistic and multi-channel
  • Organizational change

Prototyping for Organizational Change

  • Travellab: Airline Prototyping
  • Thick: Re-imagining Government Services

Results-Driven Service Design

  • Hellon: People’s Pharmacy
  • Designit: Redesigning Breast Cancer Diagnostics

The awards were not just an example of methods, but of the impact of service design. The projects were exhibited in a gallery at Parsons. The winners hail from Finland, Norway and Australia.

Dr. Nick de Leon from the Royal College of Art spoke about service design within the two-year RCA program in London.

There are 60 graduate and Ph.D candidates working on 10 concurrent projects with industry partners across the private and public sector. Consumer electronics, luxury retail, Ministry of Justice, etc. Students take on these projects to build a mutual capacity for design between the designers and clients. People are the raw material of services.

Dr. de Leon framed the role of the service designer as more of a midwife, not necessarily conceiving the ideas, but helping to bring those voices into the world and nurture them. In the spirit of last year’s disdain for tea cups, he observed that the world doesn’t need another chair or another lamp.

RCA is beginning to work with the public sector both in the UK and internationally in order to align policy and practice rather than developing policy in isolation. Design can help to find the right policy, not just the right implementation.

The final part of his presentation focused on RCA’s work in the public sector across the healthcare industry, criminal justice. Like the previous presentation from GE he advocated for the intervention of designers much earlier in the process.

He also emphasized the importance of partnerships with private sector actors to help deliver aspects of public services.

Christian Bason from the Danish Design Centre spoke about the evolution of design in a sprawling presentation to wrap up the morning sessions.

Design impacts the world through diffusion. Ezio Manzini wrote about the difference between Expert design vs Diffuse design. This is similar to Herbert Simon’s observation that everyone designs who invents ways to change existing situations into preferable situations.

Like the previous presentation, Christian observed that Lunar, Adaptive Path, Designit were recently acquired by McKinsey and Co, Capital One and Wipro. He’s curious about how the culture of these organizations change. Either for the design firm or for the parent organization.

Design is splintering:

  • Craft vs Mass Production
  • Heroic designer vs Co-designer
  • Product vs Service
  • Growth vs Social Change

As design is rapidly transforming, what are the ways in which design can create value for society? He sees potential in changing design policy and design leadership.

DDC wants to make design a top competitive factor in Danish businesses. Today only 15% use design strategically. Can we catalyze design, by design?

  1. Experiment. Ask good questions. What don’t we know about design? Engage business and designers to find out.
  2. Learn: How does design create value, now? Observe design practice in action. Open source. Observe both failures and success.
  3. Share. Give everyone access to new insights. Platforms for catalyzing learning for change.

Micro Design: Shaping the Future: Design leadership as an innovation tool.
Buckminster Fuller: Design as future-making
Herbert Simon: Design as decision-making.

Boland and Collopy 2004: A design attitude views each project as an opportunity for invention and that includes a questioning of basic assumptions and a resolve to leave the world a better place than it’s found

What happens between designers and managers?

There’s a change from: Which decision should I make to what should I make a decision about? DDC documented 14 sample engagements across the US, Europe and Australia.

  1. Exploring the problem space. Challenging assumptions. It was an eye-opener. Leveraging empathy. Sometimes you have to make a choice. Users first, or employees first?
  2. Generating alternative scenarios
    Stewarding divergence, The art of aligning decisions with impacting when many minds are involved in making a plan and many hands in enacting it. Navigating the unknown. It’s a loss of control, but it is a positive loss of control.
  3. Enacting new practices. Making the future concrete. Could we get to a working prototype in 25 days? Insisting on value: I want everybody to win.

Finally, a few potential books for the service design library: Christian is the author of Leading Public Sector Innovation: Co-creating for a Better Society and Design for Policy: An approach to user-centered creation of public outcomes.

Ryan was instrumental in helping the Mayo Clinic to launch the SPARC initiative nearly a decade ago. Now at Harken Health he reflected on the experience of designing for the gaps in healthcare.

Health care in the US has gone through cycles from the 1980s on safety, 1990s on quality, 2000s on access, 2010s on consumerism. Costs have risen to over six trillion dollars in the past 40 years in the US. This is more spending than any other country in the world, but with lower health outcomes.

Ryan asserts that “care” is missing from this equation. It’s something simply assumed but not designed in a strategic way. This leads to frustrated and burned out healthcare providers. His argument was that the system is the problem.

He called for a revolution in service to transform healthcare. Consumerism is about transactional interactions, not relationships.

Care is the foundation of good relationships that build trust between patients and health care providers. Ultimately he argues that this leads to greater health outcomes.

Harken Health is focused on building out those themes from the ground up. They’re exploring how to organize a healthcare system around the theme of “caring.”

Service Design Books is a co-created library of recommended reading for service designers.

The Service Design Network has some interesting new titles available on their site but not all have made their way over to the community library. If you’re more up-to-date on your reading than me please take a moment to add your perspective. It’s easy to add a book, write a review or simply rate your favorites.

Nathan Shedroff’s barn-burner of a keynote focused on the creation of value and the difference between qualitative and quantitative value. This talk was originally scheduled to close out the conference on Wednesday and structurally that would have made sense but it really helped to cut through my jet lag so I’m happy that it showed up when it did.

Service designers have been aware of the gulf between design and business for years but generally the solutions have revolved around designers appropriating the language of business. Chris Downs gave advice on that topic at the second Emergence conference in Pittsburgh seven years ago. More recently, books like Business Model Generation come to mind. Even here in Stockholm, Lavrans Løvlie made a similar observation about the utility of translating for business needs.

I don’t think that Nathan is necessarily opposed to that. He joked that at CCA he’s training the “right” kind of MBAs. But mostly he made an impassioned call to push back against the idea that price and functionality are the only aspects of value that matter or indeed that those are the only things that can be measured. Richard Buchanan made a similar argument a few years ago in the context of his work at the Weatherhead School of Management.

Nathan’s presentation here in Stockholm spoke to the creation of financial and functional value and how MBAs generally focus on quantitative value because that’s what they’re taught how to measure. Nathan outlined how price and functionality complement meaning, identity and emotion as co-equal elements of value. I appreciated his articulation that value exists in the context of a relationship and that relationships happen in the context of an experience.

There’s a lot of great stuff to dig out of this keynote including some interesting visualizations. I’ll circle back with an update once the videos and presentation materials are available.