Erin Muntzert from Google spoke about how they utilize both qualitative and quantitative data to drive design research fieldwork. She articulated five principles to build support for design research in an engineering-driven organization.

She framed data analysis as a designer’s homework; it helps to formulate hypotheses than can be investigated during field research. I’ve seen it work the other way too; where qualitative hypotheses can be investigated via quantitative metrics.

Five principles for Design Research:

  1. Data-driven Decisions
  2. Influencer Participation
  3. Preciousness of Time
  4. Collaborative Recommendations
  5. Meaningful Impact

Her advice about integrating stakeholders into the design research process resonated with my experience. Field research can be as much about building empathy as gaining insights. This has both short and long-term impacts on those involved in the process.


Oliver King from Engine in the UK has been a perennial feature of the service design conference landscape for nearly a decade. His keynote focused on getting the right services to market through design-led change. Not about doing things as quickly as possible, but doing the right things as quickly as possible.

He articulated seven aspects of design-led change:

1. A compelling vision overcomes uncertainty. Design helps with aligning stakeholders, choosing directions and looking at the bigger picture. This inspires people to embrace the change.

2. Beautiful design connects emotionally. This point echoed Don Norman’s observation in Emotional Design that attractive things really do work better.

3. Design can provide clarity to stakeholders and reassure them about adopting a particular solution. Broad support means faster adoption with fewer changes.

4. Making ideas tangible and well-crafted helps them get to market faster. This echos the observation by Bill Buxton in Sketching User Experiences that “once something seems real, making it real is a lot easier.”

5. Following on that point, design-led change helps to structure the best conditions for getting to market quickly. It helps people remain engaged and motivated and creates the conditions for success.

6. He made the observation that projects with a clear design process help to motivate employees. As important as it is for customers to be engaged, the needs of the service providers also need to be considered. Engaged employes are more productive and more likely to solve problems.

7. Finally, well realized outputs build confidence in the value of design. I like the formulation that “quality invites ambition.” The things created in the process matter not only because of their immediate utility but because the act of making them reinforces the value of the process.

Jess McMullin from Situ Strategy in Alberta spoke about service transformation. He defined it as the required organizational and systemic change in order to design and deliver new services which become integrated with the business in sustained, ongoing strategy, structure and operations at scale.

He argued that we need new tools and perspectives for organizational change; that service blueprints aren’t enough.

There were lots of useful tidbits from this presentation but one that stood out to me was the matrix of problems from Dave Snowden at Cognitive Edge. He classifies problems as complex, complicated, chaotic or simple and observed that each category has its own set of methods and tools for resolution.

Jess introduced a framework for dealing with organizational complexity by making that complexity visible. It’s still in the early stages but his Service Architecture Canvas is a tool to see within and across our organizations.

The SAC consists of three layers, each with three components: 1.) Delivery: Experience, interactions, operations;  2.) Foundations: Infrastructure, Decision DNA, Structure and Incentives and 3.) Bedrock: Mandate, Culture and Context. He framed it as a guide to strategic conversations within organizations.

I noticed some parallels to Dick Buchanan’s Emergence keynote from 2007 on the value of seeing the whole system. You can contact Jess at for a PDF of the architecture.

Update: one of the most interesting aspects of this talk actually occurred during the question and answer period. Jess articulated the Pine and Gilmore perspective about how services are the raw materials for transformations; essentially the Trojan Horse for organizational change.

Francis Rowland from Sigma Consulting and Michele Ide-Smith from the European Bioinformatics Institute used the recently declassified 1940 OSS manual on organizational sabotage to draw insights for service designers in the form of anti-patterns.

If you’re not familiar with the OSS manual, it included procedures for spies to disrupt an organization through inefficiency; for example: “Insist on doing everything through the proper channels. Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.” It struck a chord across the internet because people recognized dysfunctional elements of their own workplaces in many of the guidelines.

Francis and Michele realized that they could invent examples for service design that were similarly counterproductive. For example: “Prevent people from using the service as much as possible. Disorient people with confusing and contradictory signage.” This is obviously the opposite of what we strive for as service designers.

But Francis and Michelle argue that anti-patterns can be a useful tool for idea generation, drawing off examples such as Donna Spencer’s “Reverse It” or the anti-problem methodology from the 2010 Gamestorming book.

Their argument is that as service designers we often co-design with people who are unfamiliar with the design process. This is foreign to them and without structure non-designers can have a difficult time getting started. Framing problems in reverse can be easier. Imagine the worst possible solution and then simply consider the opposite approach. This is essentially the George Costanza approach to service design.

Linn Vizard from Bridgeable opened with a quote from Herbert Simon, “Design is moving from existing situations to preferred situations.” I’ve always liked that quote but then she raised the bar by moving on to Buchanan’s orders of design and Stratification of Design Thinking by Stefanie di Russo. I knew right away that this was going to be an interesting talk.

Her presentation was built around a simple observation. Service designers use empathy maps, journey maps, stakeholder maps; all kinds of maps. Why are we making so many things called “maps”? There’s a proliferation of maps in the designer toolkit. But why? Maps are tools to wrangle complexity; they’re representations.

Designers are map-makers. They make the invisible visible and the implicit explicit. They reveal the gaps as knowledge is made tangible.

I especially liked the formulation that “all models are wrong but some are useful” from George E. P. Box. The map is not the territory but some people confuse the model with the reality. How do we equip our clients to understand our intent? There’s an important distinction between mapping to understand (synthesize) and mapping to communicate.

She pointed us toward an article entitled “Don’t Make a Journey Map” by Shahrzad Samadzadeh. What do we intend to design for? What are we hoping to achieve?

img_0479-0Joe Macleod spoke about death, denial and debt: why services need closure experiences. His presentation defies summarization but it basically focused on identifying the lack of closure in many aspects of our lives centered on closure in the service landscape. He quickly moved from example to example across cultures, from UK to Stockholm to Japan and ended with the observation that every emotional hello deserves a heartfelt goodbye.

Update: This synopsis of IxDA 2016 includes a paragraph about the presentation that does a pretty good job of capturing the sprawling nature of the talk.


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.

china-bridgeCathy Huang & Xue Yin from CBi China Bridge spoke about shifting China from an industrial powerhouse to a service powerhouse. From making goods to providing services that deliver goods.

They recognized key differences between traditional Chinese value systems and western value systems common to service design. Because of this divergence, western service design practices have not been successful in China. Instead, service design requires a different approach to get traction with C-level executives in China. Their tactic was to focus on organizational elements using the metaphor of the relationships of Five Elements: Wood, Fire, Water, Metal, Earth. This led to insights into Strategy, Leadership, Culture, Creativity and Data that were more widely adopted.

In their experience, clients better understood the value through this framing. The SDN Shanghai chapter has been successful in promoting this approach.

Katie Koch from Spotify spoke about integrating service design into organizations. This was a great talk about what has worked in her experience.

Whose job is it to practice service design in a product company? In her early career she focused on a traditional model of design for designers to control experiences. Her views have changed based on experience collaborating with teams of stakeholders.

She used service design at her previous financial service job at American Express and brought that experience into her new job at Spotify. They have 60 designers in eight different offices around the world. Her squad in Stockholm is focused on particular aspect of the customer journey. Their group focused on reducing the barriers to adoption.

Their process is: Think it, build it, ship it, tweak it. That allows them to iterate the experience from things that are okay to things that are great.

For designers, that poses some challenges. It’s harder to think more broadly and strategically. The connection between siloed experiences can be lost. Katie promoted service design at Spotify to solve this but it’s tough to shift product-minded people to a service perspective. She noted that service design is not magic.

She recognized the tension that service design represents to agile or lean processes. Thinking strategically is tough when everyone else is focused on shipping.

Katie acknowledged that they needed to shift how they used service design so it fit into the process of a fast-moving team. Is there a way to get the benefits of the service design process along with the pace of lean or agile?

The first step involves building relationships. Think of stakeholders as partners. Learn about them as people and not just requirements. Drop the idea that you need a formal service design practice. Just talk with each other. Bridge gaps between silos.

Next, make things together. Once you find allies; start making things like journey maps. It’s tangible and understandable for new stakeholders. Focus on tangible and participatory journey maps, storyboard, service safari. Service blueprints, task analysis, mental models can be abstract and complex. Use small products to build service awareness.

Throw away your artifacts. She encouraged designers to work at a low fidelity at the beginning of a project. Her admonition to throw away your artifacts reminded me of Marc Rettig’s YAGNI acronym (“You Ain’t Gonna Need It”). Use just enough fidelity to move the conversation forward but the process is a means to an end; not an end unto itself.

Birgit Mager, the founder and president of the Service Design Network spoke about the history of service design and the organization’s place in its development.

Service design as a profession did not exist when she began teaching in 1995. She shared a quote from Design is Invisible: “It is not the tram that makes transportation a successful experience. It is the schedule.” This is essentially the difference between process and outcome service experiences. Twenty years ago they had no vocabulary for the design of services but designers were able to essentially invent techniques that are more commonplace today.

But in 2000, London saw the introduction of service design agencies such as Live|Work and Engine which had migrated from interaction design and experience design. Practitioners and academics met in 2003 to create the service design network manifesto. Formal programs began teaching service design as Ivrea and Carnegie Mellon.

Service Design creates services and that useful and usable and desirable from the customer perspective and efficient, effective and different from a provider perspective. They framed service design as interdisciplinary. The design doesn’t know everything; they function through co-creation. Methods and tools were important to this early incarnation of service design.

The first Service Design Network conference in 2008 was held in Amsterdam. The SDN purchased a supplement in the Guardian for over 10,000 euro in 2009.

In 2010, service design choreographs process, technologies and interactions within complex systems in order to co-create value for relevant stakeholders.

In 2012 the network began to focus on the return on investment and government agencies began to take notice and request service design.

She shared a project from Lufthansa in 2014 that showed how far service design has evolved over the past three decades. Demand for service design agencies; service design moving from front stage to back stage, business perspective; measures of impact.

She shared a brief glimpse of an Evolution Map. She cautioned designers to maintain some control over the quality of their deliverables and not create 3-day workshops that unrealistically make people into service designers. I would have liked to see some more expansion on that point because it strikes me as counter to the ethos of co-creation.

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