• Playtime is Over: Reflecting on 2015’s Service Experience Conference

    At this year’s Service Experience Conference, it was clear: playtime is over. Service design has matured. We must get out of the sandbox. It’s now time to deliver.

    The third-annual conference took place November 16-17 in San Francisco, bringing together various industries and organizations to address how we design and deliver great service experiences that create value for both people and organizations. It featured speakers from UnitedHealthcare, American Express, TaskRabbit, Instacart, OpenTable, Fjord/Accenture, IDEO, Doberman Design, Stanford, and 18F.


    Through service design, we can define human-centered service experiences with multidisciplinary input. The first era of its relatively recent history was spent framing what service design could be and experimenting to develop its tools and methods. Now, we know the tools. We know the methods. We can co-create and envision. Awareness of service design and the importance of service experience is increasing as service differentiators become the most important way to stand out in a market, and the ROI of great experiences has been proven. But once we have the vision, how can we see it through? The theme of this year’s conference seemed to hang on that question.

    Most organizations are not set up to consume the outputs of service design; they are too siloed and too large, and individual metrics work against a common goal. There’s often a lack of a solid, guiding value, or a north star. “No one seemed to understand the complete picture of our service,” bemoaned Megan Miller, the Senior Service Designer at Stanford University IT. This is not an isolated phenomenon. Some organizations recognize this and seek out service design as a way to create that vision, innovate, or disrupt. Though, as Strategic Design Consultant Brian Gillespie from Savannah College of Art & Design acknowledged, many organizations get excited about the prospect of innovation but don’t plan enough around how it will deliver. Marc Hébert, Design Anthropologist at The San Francisco Human Services Agency, put it bluntly: “There’s no ecosystem to support it.”

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    On the bright side, multiple speakers shared stories of greater collaboration between disciplines and increased activity to build service design capabilities within an organization. Shelley Evenson, Executive Director of Organizational Evolution at Fjord, stressed the importance of transforming culture as a means for organizations to orient around and deliver great experiences. She pointed out key activities that designers do to help this transformation; namely, defining experience principles (and sticking to them), transforming the environment (to think and work differently), and bridging silos. Gillespie also noted bridging silos as a key activity for service designers, but poignantly asked, “Who at design school is taught how to break down silos?”

    The necessity to “just do it” became a bit of a mantra over the two days. Miller, who attended this conference a year ago brand-new to service design and aching to learn ways to bring it to Stanford IT, reflected on the moment she realized “It’s time to stop talking about service design and start doing it.” For her, that meant stepping over the curb of her defined role in the system and pretending she was “in charge of all of it.” Multiple speakers noted that using service design tools gets people interested. A service blueprint can be a gateway drug, as it’s the first time most people have seen the system they’re a part of illustrated in front of them. Service design artifacts start showing up in presentations, and small, frequent releases grow support for bigger, organization-spanning projects.

    Mark Jones reflected on his 15 years of experience at IDEO and his current role building service design capability as VP of design at UnitedHealthcare to address whether you should buy or grow service design capabilities. He identified key questions to ask when making that determination, like “Are you trying to change the culture of design at the company?” and “Do you need radical change?” To the question of whether external agencies are dying, he confidently said no. Using UnitedHealthcare as an example, he said there is more design work than most organizations can handle. But for a strategic service design engagement, he asked, “If it’s so strategic, why would you outsource it?”


    Service design has come a long way, but as closing keynote speaker Birgit Mager, Professor of Service Design at the Köln International School of Design put it, “it is no longer a playground for storyboards.” She encouraged us to address the next set of challenges as service design matures. How do we implement? How do we infuse service design into a culture? How do we co-create with organizations that have thousands of employees? How do we scale? We need to build tools designed specifically for the implementation of concepts, as the natural evolution of service design moves past defining a vision to strategically making it a reality. There is much work to do going forward. And this work is important, because as Phi-Hong Ha, Creative Director at Doberman Design said, “Organizations can be the greatest agents of change.” So what can we do?

    In short, we need to change culture. Support change agents. Demand more than cheaper, better, faster. Be leaders. Improve our design-business speak. Build relationships. Spend time with service providers. Create small wins that people can see. Then continue…

    Continue building on the success of more than 20 years of service design practice and development. And that’s what it felt like, despite the hurdles. Success. A feeling of optimism and a sense that change is possible. A belief that we can create better service experiences, change our organizations, and deliver on the promise of the vision.

    See you next year.

    You can find full videos of speaker’s presentations on our Service Experience Conference Vimeo channel. If you’re interested in attending our upcoming conferences, registration is now open for 2016’s Managing Experience Conference and UX Week in San Francisco.


    There is 1 thought on this idea

    1. Steven Davis

      You may want to look at the information security industry as a case study of how NOT to educate its customer base.

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