Archive for the ‘insights’ Category

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.

Zack Brisson from Reboot gave a presentation on taking design techniques from the private sector and applying them to the public sector.

He started with a provocation: Design has changed the private sector; but we have a way to go in the public sector. He identified four principles for improving this.

  • Address the public sector’s unique incentives. More complex than simple profit. It differs widely by location and by sector. That changes how we use the tools of service design to intervene.
  • Service designers must think and work politically. Even when it’s not always comfortable to think in that way.
  • Don’t just ship, but build capacity. Very different than product design.
  • Speak the public sector lingo. Budget cycles. Political considerations.

Zack shared a recent project from Nigeria that won a Core 77 service design award. They collaborated with the World Bank and the Nigerian government to focus on the delivery of public services. They focused on the feedback loop of service delivery in rural areas. After 18 months they developed My Voice, to enable discussion of service problems.

Reboot focused on addressing a broader range of stakeholders than a typical project. This process helped to identify new leverage points.

They had to understand the political context. Many stakeholders viewed the project as surveillance rather than as a support system. This was important to address in order to get buy-in from stakeholders.

How to build capacity? Added this as a parallel stream. Stakeholders were much more involved than strictly necessary for a typical design process. Reboot also implemented training as applied experience rather than in a classroom.

Finally, they translated design lingo into the local parlance. Process guidance documents for translating design terms into policy terms. Use the language of a World Bank document in collaboration with public policy specialists.

Empathy with public sector agencies. Respect the experience of our counterparts. Be humble about the scale of the problem and our capacity to make an impact in isolation.

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.

After receiving two duplicate badges at the 2011 SDN conference in San Francisco, I spent the better part of my first day in Stockholm without any conference badge at all. After a few unsuccessful attempts to correct this problem one of the conference organizers finally scrawled a hand-written badge.

It’s an interesting contrast because the printed badges have incredibly tiny type for an object this size. Mine you can read from across the room.

I’ve written before about the futility of critiquing service design conferences as services themselves. They’re an easy target, and the irony is overwhelmingly tempting but when the venue keeps changing every year and the events happen so infrequently it’s tough to iterate the experience itself. But the individual touchpoints you can iterate. Certainly over seven years. Here’s a great post by Michael Lopp on the spectrum of conference badges he’s encountered throughout his career.

My recommendation for SDN is to make the attendee names bigger. That’s what the badges are for. Also, we already know where we are. There’s no operational need to devote half the badge to the conference identity, the date or the location. The color coding is great, the lanyard is functional and the stamps for special interest groups are a fun idea. Just make the attendee names bigger.


To kick off the final day of the 2014 Service Design Global Conference in Stockholm the organizers invited a Tibetan Buddhist monk named Tenzin Shenyen to provide inspiration. His slides are an interesting exercise in meandering reflection rather than straightforward narrative. He hoped that they would simply wash over the audience.

His stories helped the audience to recall that design isn’t always a conscious activity and even though we’re designing the world there are aspects we can’t anticipate. It’s an act of humility to admit that we can’t design everything.

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.

Stan Phelps on Lagniappe

I enjoyed Stan Phelps’ talk on the unexpected extras that make a service memorable. He spins off the French/Spanish word “Lagniappe” which refers to the practice of giving something more or a little something extra. I’ve explored this idea but it’s inspiring to see the concept illustrated so richly.

Most of Stan’s examples come from his book “What’s Your Purple Goldfish?” which he says should be available for free today (though I’m not sure that’s kicked in yet). I’m curious about the 12-types taxonomy he developed. I’m still not entirely clear about the time difference but hopefully the shipment will beat me back to San Francisco. Update: Looks like it’s the Kindle version that’s available for free.

Most of these presentations and slides should be available online after the conference. This particular presentation is especially worth checking out as a nice example of how to complement an oral presentation with visuals that support the message rather than simply repeating it.

Mark Levy is the Global Head of Employee Experience at Airbnb. His conference presentation centered on the employee experience at the San Francisco-based startup. I’m glad they started here because this talk really helped to highlight how service design is different from UX design. Service design isn’t just about designing the user experience; it’s about the employee experience too. It’s important to design for both halves of the equation.

Airbnb is an interesting edge case for this distinction because for a distributed hospitality company like Airbnb, the primary human touchpoint for users is not the employee but the host–which is really just another class of user. I’d like to see a presentation that focuses on the actual moments of truth between employees and customers.

I’ve visited the Airbnb offices in San Francisco and the focus on the employee experience (like Ground Control) can be a little off-putting to the uninitiated. I’m curious whether it’s possible to craft an engaged employee experience without inadvertently designing a cult.

Welcome to Stockholm


Things are ready to kick off in Stockholm for the 2014 conference. It looks like a great turnout. A few of the CMU grads in attendance have coalesced at a table near the back of the venue and it’s nice to see folks from past conferences.

Looking forward to the proceedings today.