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.

Sarah Brooks and Julia Kim presented on their work with Veterans Affairs for the US Federal Government. Their project was part of a transformation within the US Federal Government, using service design to change the relationship with customers.

VA is the 2nd largest federal agency in the United States.

  • Healthcare (largest system in the US)
  • Social Services (employment, education, loans)
  • Government Agency

The system is brittle at three levels.

  • Strategic: Mistaking tactics for strategy
  • Operational: Products and services are not well-designed, deeply siloed
  • Local: Human touchpoints

Much about the VA is designed in Congress. They know their constituents but their solutions aren’t rooted in design research. There are legal restrictions but it’s possible to find some gray area for innovation.

The VA aspires to do right by their customers through three principles:

  • Predictable: Be transparent, set expectations
  • Consistent: Have systems in place to achieve minimum standards
  • Easy: Make it easy to be a customer

The team conducted immersive research with thick, qualitative data. They talked with over 100 veterans over many weeks of field research. Importantly, they including veterans who weren’t actually using the service. The team came up with 7 personas.

Building a co-design competency within the organization by training employees. Planning new interventions for the coming year to work directly with customers.

Also working to consolidate hundreds of VA websites into, launching later this year.


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.

Jon Campbell from Continuum in Boston and Dr. Munib Karavdic from AMP Financial in Australia gave a presentation on building a sustainable engine for growth within established organizations.

The number one issue for most commercial clients is getting ideas commercialized and into market. Not generating ideas or developing them, but launching them.

AMP partnered with Continuum.

Disrupt or be disrupted. Industries need to adapt but actions don’t ensure the best outcomes when it comes to impact on the market. Results are paramount. Companies need to focus on the implementation. They underestimate their ability to find or acquire new ideas but overestimate their ability to implement new ideas.

There are a range of ideas. Incremental Change is comforting. Cold Fusion is aspirational which is comforting because the technology isn’t there yet to worry about implementation. In between is the “scary zone” where implementation becomes difficult.

The Implementation Dilemma:

  • Don’t focus on the wrong problem (nice landing; wrong airport). Build the customer case first rather than the business case.
  • Avoid expensive approaches.
  • Organizational constraints.
  • Measures for success based on time and budget

Three critical elements of an innovation pod.

  1. Empowered Team: 5-7 individual full time pulled from the core business. Availability is not a competency. We need the best of the best: business, design, product, marketing, digital. Led by a design lead and business lead who report to an offer owner no more than two levels from the C-suite.
  2. Physical Space: Co-located space for the team members. New governance model for this team. White boards, tack surfaces, posting space for artifacts. Behavioral perception vs space configuration; the space needs to feel different AND look different than their normal environment.
  3. Common Approach and Tools: No handover. Front end design-led core tam carry through to the end market test. Back end business-led extended team is integrated from the beginning.

They also identified some important enablers for innovation pods.

In terms of training, they created a common vocabulary around the project, so that everyone understands concepts like “prototyping.” Not everyone needs to be a designer, but they need to share a common language throughout the organization.

There are also elements to minimize the appetite for new risk.

  • Outline leaderships risk tolerance
  • Place small bets with market tests
  • High fidelity front-end, low fidelity back-end
  • Measure ROL (return on learning rather than return on investment)

Finally, some thoughts on radical transparency and the importance of communication. Check-in sessions and brown-bag lunches. Then distribute those reflections throughout the organization.

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.

Katrine Rau and Katrina Alcorn from GE Energy gave a talk on how GE is developing the Internet of Things. They started with several familiar household examples but pointed out that the internet can also connect on an industrial scale to things like windmills or jet engines or gas turbines. They call this the Industrial Internet (or the internet of big things).

The devices are consumer, commercial and industrial. Billions of devices. 30 to 90 billion dollar value. Intelligent machines, or dumb machines with new sensors. Plus software and analytics. Finally, people at work use these analytics.

This is a hard problem. 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. For example, two million miles of oil transmission pipelines. Half were installed prior 1970. Important to maintain this infrastructure, but every 30,000 miles of pipeline generates 17 terabytes of data per day when instrumented.

How do you glean insights from the data without overwhelming? How can we anticipate what people might need? There are also performance issues: sometimes it takes 24 hours to crunch the numbers.

The industrial internet stakeholders have very specialized jobs. You have to work with hard-to-reach users. You can’t just guess what they need. Research is crucial.

The technology is also really new. The unknown can be scary. Data security. May require new ways of working. GE Energy uses co-creation to bring together diverse stakeholders to overcome some of these issues. This is most useful when the solutions are not clearly defined and the stakeholders aren’t yet in alignment.

Co-creation helps to:

  • Ensure we’re addressing the right problem
  • Clearly define solution and desired outcome
  • Create trust with our customers
  • Engage stakeholders in decisions
  • speed up the sales process
  • Reach solution faster
  • Avoid costly changes to code later on

Co-creation empowers stakeholders to be designers. At GE Energy they’ve identified five principles to share from their work:

Place design at the leadership level. Don’t fight against the company language and existing organization. Whoever controls the language controls the debate. Whoever translates the language can bring people to a common solution.

Practice “co-creation” just like an engineering best practice. Utilize a “federated facilitation” model that benefits internet and external teams. Spread this message through brown bag sessions that evangelize the culture of co-creation.

Sustain relationships that make things happen. Invite yourself to meetings. Remember that “people issues” are “design challenges.” Shape relationships during the pre-project.

Demystify empathy and make it practical for anyone. UX begins with the needs of the people who will use the product. Bring new people into the research and let them listen in to learn about stakeholder problems.

Help every touchpoint, without exception, to be better by design. Make realistic plans for integration design earlier and in more places.

Five takeaways:

  1. Add co-creation methods to your toolkit. Break out of your silos.
  2. Start co-creation before the project is defined. Designing the brief.
  3. Make friends with developers and data experts.
  4. Take your helicopter crash course (do your homework for research).
  5. Plant seeds in your organization.

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.

Danielle and Margaret from TACSI, the Australian Center for Social Innovation, spoke about their work with the Family-by-Family program.

Their presentation focused on the child protection system in Australia, which they described as a crisis with 125,000 reports and 64K at risk of serious harm. They asserted that radical change was necessary. In their view, child protection hasn’t failed because of individuals, it’s failed because it’s the wrong system.

Family-by-family worked with 100 families interfacing with the child welfare system and engaged in a co-creation process. Sharing families vs seeking families vs family coach. The organization seeks to save $7 for every dollar spent. They prototyped this system over 14 weeks of iteration.

They identified four key design elements:

  1. Families as change makers
  2. The family coach
  3. Brand is less bureaucratic
  4. Evaluation iPad app

A longitudinal study evaluated the families to find that the participants stayed in contact after their initial engagement. This helped to reduce the incidence of social isolation across the community.

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