What does Scale mean for Service Design?

By: Alistair Ruff Date: 28/11/2017

With the 10th anniversary Service Design Global Conference being held this year, it was an opportunity to look back on the developments we have seen through the conferences and how this reflects Service Design as a whole. It's almost impossible to encapsulate the sheer volume of content and discussion across the 9 years since the inaugural conference held in 2008 but there are some themes and conclusions we can draw.

Over the years so many people have contributed to the conferences, the core SDN team, individual conference organising committees, and of course those who spoke at and attended the sessions. The number (and backgrounds) of attendees alone gives an indication of the development of Service Design since 2008, going from around 220 to a reported 650+ in Madrid. Three times the number of people, and increasingly from organisations who would not have traditionally attended a ‘Design’ conference.

PDR’s own relationship with the conferences really kicked off in 2013 as we played our role in bringing it to the UK - hosting the Service Design community in our hometown of Cardiff for three busy days.

Cardiff 2013 – Transformation Through Service Design

With the talks exploring the ability of Service Design to transform organisations, there was a mix of speakers from across design organisations and those looking to build design capability within bigger organisations. Ben Terrett’s Keynote explaining the role of Service Design within the UK’s Government Digital Service particularly stood out, especially after the platform had won the Design Museum’s ‘Design of the year’ award.

Other memories of the event included Kerry Bodine (Forrester) challenging the over-reliance on ‘Big Data’ and the need for a balance of qualitative and quantitative research gathering, as well as Lee Sankey (Barclays Bank) questioning whether Service Designers are more in love with processes than outcomes.

New York 2015 – a Journey to Value

PDR took a strong public-sector focus to the conference in New York, with Anna and Paul jointly presenting on ‘Service design in policy trends 2105 -2020’. As well as PDR’s presentation, representatives from Veteran affairs, the Public Policy Lab in the US and the UK Cabinet Office were also present. In fact 28% of presenters were from public-sector bodies, demonstrating the recognition that Service Design can bring value to public services.

Alongside this strong public-sector theme, was another of applying service design within Healthcare. Ryan Armbruster from Harken Health called for a move from transactional healthcare to relationship-based with a focus on “care” to build trust between patients and providers. Marnie Meylor of the Mayo Clinic for Innovation presented her work redesigning Pre-natal care, moving to a wellness model focused on the mother-to-be as opposed to the clinic. Farhad Attaie and Hellosmile had developed a new non-profit to empower children to take control of their own health and ultimately prolong their life. Different perspectives, but all seeking to use Service Design to improve healthcare outcomes.

Madrid 2017 – Service Design at Scale

Madrid saw a continuation of speakers from across design and industry, with BBVA having a strong presence in their native Spain, along with a keynote from Jamin Hegeman at Capital One. As established financial services providers, their market has been significantly disrupted by Fintech in the past 5 years. They have both recognised the benefits of service design to provide greater value to their customers and ultimately maintain their market share despite the new competition. BBVA demonstrated examples of them empowering their staff to make design-led decisions, and Capital One’s acquisition of Adaptive Path (Including Jamin) shows a clear commitment to bringing design to the heart of their operations. Capital One’s Money Coaching Service was one of the shortlisted pieces of work for the SDN Service Design Awards in Madrid.

A trend that was apparent in Madrid, but cuts across the years, is the talk of mergers and acquisitions of Design specialists into larger organisations.

This includes Management Consultancies:

·       Accenture and Fjord
·       McKinsey and Lunar
·       EY and Seren
·       Wipro and Designit

It also includes direct service providers

·       Capital One and Adaptive path
·       BBVA and Spring Studio
·       Airbnb and Lapka

(This is just a sample, taken from John Maeda’s Design in Tech Report 2017)

Of course, individuals move between organisations all the time too and a shift towards designers moving ‘in-house’ as organisations seek to build their own design teams was identified in Madrid.

What’s Next as Service Design reaches Scale?

The past 9 years has seen Service Design adopted by Governments, financial services and healthcare, putting designers in a position of significant power over fellow citizen’s lives. As organisations seek to minimise risk to their stakeholders, there can be a natural uncertainty when looking to adopt new ways of thinking or working, as evidenced through the continuing popularity of ‘Selling Service Design’ discussions.

The differentiating factor for Service Design in these discussions is the combination of management understanding with robust user-centred design practice. We champion this within PDR - our experience developing products using user-centred methods has heavily informed all Service Design we undertake. Service Design’s position within organisations that underpin our society is simultaneously a real opportunity and challenge. Misspending taxpayer’s money, negatively impacting upon people’s health, or casting thousands of people into financial disarray is on Service Design’s doorstep, and we cannot step over the issue on our mission to scale the practice. As Service Design becomes a tool within business and government worldwide, we all need to ensure this user-centred thread remains the cornerstone of our work, leading to solutions that genuinely lead to beneficial innovation for society.

Work presented at SDGC over the years, and our experience at PDR shows that it can be done, the value of working closely with a user research team and ensuring that user needs inform all design decisions is routinely reinforced. Of course, not all service designers have the luxury of large specialist teams and we need to recognise the positive impact that small scale research gathering exercises can have, including ethnographic approaches, co-creation, and participatory design methods.

‘Service Design at Scale’ will therefore vary based on organisation size, location and sector. Though global corporations carry great risks, they can trial new ways of working with minimal impact on day to day business. For the small and medium enterprises that make up the bulk of the global economy, adopting service design can be a challenge. Anna’s team and their work understanding how design innovation is funded by governments across Europe reflects on this. When appropriate government support for accessing design is in place (and the government understands the true value that design can bring), the adoption of design at a strategic level within SMEs significantly increased. For Service Design, getting influence on the board of major financial services may be the easy part, integrating strategic design practice sustainably into a small product-centric operation like Nuaire may prove the greatest barrier to true scale.

Service design is already in a position of profound influence, practitioners (not forgetting trainers and facilitators) therefore need to ensure a continued focus on the human factor, designing and delivering innovation that responds to genuine need. Adoption of Service Design at the ‘smaller scale’ may not seem a priority, but bringing the value of design to these SMEs is likely the most impactful application of design with Europe and globally. Ultimately the scaling of service may see it lose its identify as a discipline, as it is absorbed within organisations, however this is preferable to it being thrown aside as a management trend that failed to deliver meaningful change.

If you want to see that change in your organisation, get in contact with PDR to start your own conversation about Service Design.