Service Design Network Global Conference 2014 – Recap

The 7th annual Service Design Network Global Conference recently took place in the beautiful city of Stockholm, Sweden. I had the pleasure of being among the 600 plus attendees of the two-day event, as well as participating in Members’ Day prior to the conference. Under the theme of ‘Creating Value for Quality of Life’, diverse topics included employee engagement, customer experience, business performance and societal impact.

Service design as a discipline is evolving, as demonstrated by the wide range of conference attendees and speakers from design, business and government. Several key themes emerged throughout the talks, panels and workshops.

Big fish little fish

The recent acquisition of Adaptive Path by Capital One had the community buzzing. Many see this as an emerging trend, following Accenture’s acquisition of Fjord in May 2013. Joydeep Bhattacharya, Managing Director of Accenture, gave the members’ day keynote, providing some insight into the coming together of these firms. He mentioned the demand from clients for design thinking and service design approaches as a driver, as well as a customer focused transformation of the services Accenture offers. The customer life cycle is getting ever more complex, and service design approaches can help in mapping, managing and designing in this challenging environment.

Access to the C-suite

The question on everyone’s lips was – ‘What’s in it for service designers?’ There are many challenges, especially culturally, when small, design driven studios merge with big, corporate entities. One of the advantages is the ability to work at a scale often only dreamed of by designers, reaching many hundreds of thousands of people or more. A further advantage is the access to people who can make changes – bringing designers beyond the middle management layer. Access to the C-suite was something repeatedly mentioned during the conference. In his keynote, Lavrans Løvlie of live|work talked about the importance of service design being in a symbiotic relationship with business and organizations in order to create impact.

Engaging Staff across an Organization

Of course, it takes more than just C-suite decision makers to create change. Often, this is a length process that requires engagement and trust at all levels of an organization. Mark Levy of AirBnB wowed attendees with the company’s commitment to a robust and exciting employee experience. Highlights include office spaces designed to look like AirBnB listings from around the world, three healthy meals a day and the opportunity to give back through community work. Engaged employees were also key to Systembolaget (the Swedish state owned alcohol sales monopoly) being able to become recognized as ‘Best in Service’ in Sweden. Mia Kleregård talked about the three year journey to engage staff to deliver outstanding customer service. Trust, involving employees and a clear company mission were key.

Beyond Services towards Systems

The themes of organizational change, and the complex interplay of business, design and people point to the evolution of service design towards a meta discipline. Perhaps we are at a stage where we are ‘beyond service’? Andrea Siodmok talked about her work with Policy Lab in the UK – an experimental space bringing design thinking and design approaches to government policy-making. One of the points raised is that often for design to be effective, we need to be involved at the pre-procurement stage. Interestingly, digital has played a role here, with being instrumental in introducing new ideas and approaches to the UK government. Designers are looking at the very structures that influence how we live our lives. In Kigge Hvid’s talk, she made a call for designers to move beyond services towards systems. She pointed out that we have many services making improvements in the world, but we now need to focus on interconnecting these in a larger system.

These are exciting times for service design as we see the potential for future impact, and a seat at the table in how we do business, work, live and play.