Archive for the ‘methods’ 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Edite Amorim invited me to sit in on her workshop exploring the connection between positive psychology and service design. I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with this branch of psychology but Edite quickly dispelled any misconceptions about the practice and instead framed it as the study of what makes people thrive.

She and her researcher Rita Pureza facilitated an activity based on the theme of “interconnectedness,” one of the basic concepts of positive psychology. She challenged the group to identify strengths in their fellow attendees. Each participant received a set of post-it notes and guidelines to circulate throughout the room, interacting with others and jotting down first impressions which were then affixed to their target’s back anonymously. The observations didn’t need to be strictly accurate as long as they were positive and made in good faith. No criticism allowed.

The ensuing activity reminded me of team-building exercises I encountered during my time as an RA in college. The attendees mingled easily, laughing and making new connections.

According to Edite the exercise was about acknowledging others, paying attention to what’s good and filling each other’s “positive bucket.” This served as a point of departure for attendees to reflect on things they were grateful for in life and to use that insight to identify the potential for new services incorporating those values.

This workshop was the only time I observed any technical difficulties during the conference. The presentation system was offline for most of the workshop and although the conference staff eventually rigged a stop gap measure it meant that the projector was unavailable for most of the presentation. This led to Edite valiantly describing the contents of her slides for the audience to imagine. It worked surprisingly well and to my mind the graceful recovery engaged the audience more than if the slides had worked in the first place.

Edite’s workshop was concerned with exploring the intersection between positive psychology and service design. I can definitely see the overlap. Some of her photographs resembled traditional design research activities such as card sorting or affinity mapping. My impression is that, for designers, the differences would lie with the form-giving activities which follow the initial research and analysis.

I enjoyed Richard Newland’s presentation on customer experience design at HSBC. He talked about navigating the “treacle” of modern organizations and clarified that in the organizational context it’s not enough to be right. There are always bureaucratic obstacles to change. He stressed the need to build internal and external partnerships around a simple design brief that continues to be referenced throughout the intervention.

Richard was funny and self-deprecating. He disclaimed any artistic ability (“I’m a civilian”) but I don’t agree with his conclusion that design should be left to designers. He’s adamantly against “design by committee” and buttressed that opinion with anecdotes about executives with terrible taste. It’s an odd sentiment for a conference that has focused on incorporating non-designers into the design process again and again.

What I think he’s missing is that co-design is actually a research method rather than a design method. The output isn’t a design specification or a blueprint. It’s not sacrosanct. The “designs” are only a way to uncover latent needs. It still falls to service designers to interpret the results.

Low Cheaw Hwei from Philips gave a sprawling talk on service design that touched on his perception of services in Asia, the design of the Lifeline AutoAlert system and the design culture at Philips that spawned the system.

His presentation is tough to summarize but he worked up to the idea of consumer healthcare and engagement of the end-user in their own recovery. It’s worth going back to his slides to pull out his taxonomy of service elements at Philips including Nodes, Small-pivots, Recovery and Constant Calibration.