There seems to be some criticism of the upcoming Service Design Network conference floating around the web. There are even rumblings of a counter-conference in the coming year from the likes of Wenovski, 31Volts and Live|Work Brazil. The price of the Berlin conference seems to have sparked the discussion along with the practice of charging presenters for attendance.

Arne van Oosterom is leading the revolt with an online survey that seems less than neutral (to put it charitably).

But the issues do have some merit. The Service Design Network charges presenters (not keynote speakers) the full cost of attendance but SDN is not alone in that regard. The now-defunct DUX conference in 2005 was the first conference I attended as a presenter and I remember finding the same practice there. On the other hand conferences such as the IA Summit and the IDSA Conference offer all speakers roughly a 50% discount.

As to price the upcoming conference in Berlin is far and away the most expensive service design conference when compared to last year’s Nordic Conference on Service Design and Service Innovation and the now-defunct Emergence conferences at Carnegie Mellon. (All rates converted to US dollars, where applicable.)

  • Emergence: $650
  • Nordic Conference (3 days): $543
  • SDN Berlin: $969

To be fair both Emergence and last winter’s conference in Oslo were organized by academic institutions. But putting the Service Design Network conference into context with other professional design events, it still seems to be on the high side:

  • IA Summit (3 days): $600
  • IDEA Conference: $550
  • Interaction: $749 (plus $250 per workshop)
  • SxSW Interactive (5 days): $450

The IDSA conference starts to put things into perspective at $1,595 for three and a half days, UX Week at $2,495 for four days and CHI 2010 at $1,160 for six days.

It’s only when you compare the SDN Conference with other design and business conferences that the registration fee starts to seem a little more reasonable.

  • AIGA Business and Design Conference (2 days): $1,075
  • How Business Conference (3 days): $1,195
  • DMI Design/Management Europe (2 days): $1,279
  • Service Innovation (2 days): $2,195

Of course price isn’t the only criticism of the conference and there isn’t much sense in the Service Design Network framing Berlin as a budget event. I have no idea how a free conference would fare in competition (if it’s even possible) but it’d be fun to see.

  1. Nick

    Er, hate to stoke this up, but all the practitioner events organised by groups via the site are free! They include talks, meetups, bookclubs and more. The design and business conferences you mention are as much about client networking and biz dev as they are about practice. Not sure that the SDN conference is really going to deliver the goods in terms of new biz, seeing as the vast majority of people there are practitioners.

  2. Jeff

    That’s a good point Nick. If you drop the business conferences out of the equation SDN is still high but not outrageous when compared to other practitioner conferences. It’s only crazy when you compare it to the academic conferences. The Art and Science of Service conference was just $200.

    And the stuff is great. But those events have got to be more than a couple hours long to justify stepping onto a transatlantic flight. 🙂

  3. Jeff

    It looks like this requires some clarification but the “revolt” I’m referring to in this post is about the price of the upcoming conference, not a revolt against the organization in general.

  4. Arne

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for this great post.

    I was not planning to and I will not be to leading any revolt. I just channeled and visualized the massages I received. And I received many. I think people did not know I left the SDN Conference planning board, since I did not wanted to make a big thing out of it.

  5. No need for a transatlantic flight, as a event takes place in your home town. Last night in fact! Where were you?

  6. Jeff

    Sorry I missed your event Jamin; I’m not in San Francisco at the moment. But my point more generally was comparing the scale of the events and their value.

  7. Birgit Mager

    Some facts need to be straightend. If you book now as a member you pay 630 Euro for two days of conference plus the members day with full catering throughout these days and two evening receptions.
    If you book now as a non member you pay 830 Euro for two day conference and one evening reception.

    And just to pick one example: The arts and science is sponsored by IBM to a great extend and has access to university room for free.

  8. Hey Guys,
    Just to add on. The free service design conference to be held in Brazil has nothing to do directly with the price of SDN. We were already aiming to do something big here in 2011. And it needs to be free if we want business executives/owners sitting over there and not just designers and students (which are more than welcome either of course).
    Fact is, at least here, business owners and executives are in the curiosity phase and they will gather over a free ticket, but not over a 500usd up priced one.
    This discussion just happen to delivery a good opportunity to expand the discussion with Arne’s participation and the community outside Brazil.


  9. Jeff

    Hi Birgit, I’ve listed the full, non-discounted prices for all conferences. Some have member discounts and some have early bird pricing, but some do not.

    I’m having trouble understanding the 630/830 euro prices in your comment. They don’t seem to match the prices listed on the SDN registration page.

    As I read that page (clicking the blue, non-members ticket button) it seems to say that the early bird prices are 850 euros for new membership+conference and 650 euros for conference only (without membership). I would expect the prices to go up by 280 euros and 100 euros, respectively, after the early bird deadline. So the non-discounted price for non-members would be 750 euros. That’s the price that I’ve listed above, converted to USD.

    If I understand your comments correctly, the early bird price for non-members is actually higher, at 830 euros. Placing the non-discounted rate after the early bird deadline at 930 euros?

    Of course SDN can set whatever prices it chooses but I don’t see them listed. Am I looking at the correct web page?

  10. Birgit Mager


    this is the overview – we will put it on the front page next week so there is more transpareny.

    Early Bird Non Members 650
    Regular Non Members 750
    Early Bird Members 490
    Regular Members 590
    Students 60 per day

    Then we have a package: full year membership plus the full conference ticket (three days) for 850 Euro.

  11. Birgit Mager


    we had the very first conference planning board meeting on January 23rd 2010. As a result of the meeting you had offered to take repsonsibility for the social medea part – and you did open a discussion about the conference on Wenowsky. You reacted on our discussion about the title, you suggested some potential speakers- alltogehter I receved 13 mails regarding these two topics from you in almost four month – and then you stepped back from the planning board in May. Still nobody understands why you did not take contructive responsibility for the co-design of the conference, your contributions would have been very much welcome. But of course we respect your decision. I am just a bit surprised about your “criticism” now. But sure this is also welcome!

  12. Birgit Mager


    “I’m having trouble understanding the 630/830 euro prices in your comment. They don’t seem to match the prices listed on the SDN registration page. ”

    I had converted the early bird prices into $ .. and then I wrote “Euro” 😦

  13. Jeff

    Thanks for the clarification Birgit.

  14. Arne van Oosterom


    (funny place to have this discussion… but I’m flexible :-))

    I explained to you why I left, but I sure did a bad job. You’re still not getting it. I’m very sorry about that. I won’t go into detail in public, but basically I said you and I are not a very good team. Our approach to leadership can’t be further apart. We just don’t agree on how a community and service design organization should be build. And I’m not interested in the idea of presenting service design as a new expertise. To me it’s a mindset and the term “service design” is unfortunate, internally focused, and should disappear.

    So we don’t agree. This is no big deal. What do I know!? And we can’t all agree. That would be very boring now would it.

    SDN is your organization and not mine. Obviously 🙂
    And you have your vision on how to build SDN. And I think you are doing a great job realizing it. I say just go for it!

    And if you think disagreeing does not help than I won’t help you. But I will keep disagreeing… I’m a very reliable guy 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s