Malin Orebäck is the Director of Design Strategy at Veryday. She closed out the first day of the conference in Stockholm with a presentation on services that aim to create a “full circle of winners” rather than taking a zero-sum approach. Her overviews focused on Pollution, Criminality, Education and Hunger with each service identifying a way to build solutions for all stakeholders rather than creating winners and losers. The focus on what she calls “the big challenges” resonated with Kigge Mal Hvid’s plea earlier in the day to address systemic problems.

Malin’s talk was primarily an inspirational collection of vignettes but it also included some high-level guidelines for identifying these types of opportunities. She ended with the observation that “if you don’t look for win-win scenarios you’ll only see trade-offs.”

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.

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.

Mea Culpa

I’m catching up on this morning’s blogging rather than attending the Deep Dive talks but I can hear snippets of Andrea Siodmok’s presentation about the UK Policy Lab in the adjacent room. Definitely worth checking in on later.

Kigge Mal Hvid spoke about wicked problems and the need to build systemic solutions rather than piecemeal solutions. Actually, that’s the takeaway. I don’t think she used the term “wicked problems” but there’s a long tradition of design thinking on the topic. She’s indirectly talking about problems without a clear solution, with multiple stakeholders, fuzzy boundaries, and where the outcome is never known and usually unexpected.

It’s hard to disagree with her observation that “the world doesn’t need any more white tea cups.” She’s talking about trivial products but by analogy she’s also arguing that the world doesn’t need tea-cup-level services either. She offered several examples of product/service systems during her presentation but seemed hostile to the idea of designing services that fail to address the root problems of human life.

I can’t join her in that indictment. It’s important to consider the larger context for service design problems but we don’t always have access to the levers we need to change a system [PDF 51k] at a fundamental level. Grappling with constraints isn’t an abdication of responsibility; indeed, it’s fundamental to the design process. Ultimately I hope there’s room for both pragmatism and idealism in the service design community.

After nearly a decade in San Francisco my general impression of the start-up culture is a bunch of 20-something Stanford grads designing exclusively for other 20-something Stanford grads. Fred Leichter’s presentation on Fidelity Investment’s work with the Stanford helped to change that assessment. He talked about teaching people to listen.

I enjoyed his framing of “empathy work” as a way to understand the activities that make up design research. Engendering empathy is one of the most important outcomes of field work. It’s also a great argument for the importance of co-design activities with clients. That’s why integrating external research is so tricky.

He advocates visiting established service cultures as a way to build an appreciation for the problems that surround service design. For example, he mentioned visiting fire departments, airports and cemeteries as a way of raising questions that aren’t immediately superseded by a rush to identify the answers.

I still think that this type of work is very much the exception rather than the rule when it comes to Bay Area design culture, but it’s nice to see Stanford students focusing on audiences that present an empathy challenge.

The Service Design Global conference has been embracing the digital component by offloading traditional question and answer sessions to Twitter to be addressed later in the day.

This is a new experience for me after missing the most recent two conferences in Paris and Cardiff. My general impression is that without the space for reflection it seems too much like a relay race. The applause has barely died down from one speaker before the next one is spinning up their slides. To me it’s an uncomfortable pace and one that doesn’t really save time. It just shifts it until later in the day.

The sociologist Erving Goffman identified an arc of human interaction that involves initiation, maintenance and leave-taking. The structure of the conference presentations this year focus on initiation and maintenance but leave-taking seems to be short-circuited.

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.

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