Putting tomorrow in the blender
This year’s Service Design Days revolved around the relationship between humankind and technology. ‘A blended tomorrow – expanding design horizons with technology’ is not only quite a mouthful but also very multi-interpretable as we found out during the conference. It apparently both refers to an app for Harry Potter fans and a redesign of the popular Sydney clubbing scene in Kings Cross. With such a wide range of topics, it can be hard to distil the main findings, but luckily we did this hard work for you.
Foresight, intention and ethics were hot topics. The common thread through many of the talks was that we don’t see the bigger picture anymore due to our beloved incremental methods, like Scrum and Lean. They make us design for the near future, which in turn is pretty much the present. Therefore, we’re not looking forward and unleashing services into the world without considering the effects on people in the long term. Unintentionally, we implement services with new technology that widen the wealth gap, create more inequality, and decrease our overall well-being. In every session, the key message was that designers should take their responsibility. Sharpen our ethical lenses and use foresight methods to design services more inclusive, equal and sustainable.
We were off making this our biggest learning until Lou Downe managed to pull us back to earth with her sobering speech. Most services are bad, if #8 FAQ on the gov.uk site is a phone number – there is loads of basic stuff to fix. Ok, so we should balance the far future while staying humble and fixing the basics. As always there is no easy answer, but for us this is a wake-up call to be more conscious about the different design horizons. You might want to check your current design project and see if you are designing for today, the near future, the far future, and whatever comes after that.
Once you made sure you’re a horizon inclusive designer, the second common challenge proposed during multiple talks is how to implement innovation at scale.
Because of course, WE KNOW what service designers should be doing to realize true impact. But sometimes, we seem to forget that other people don’t. And this causes all sorts of problems when scaling up. We need to be open and connect to other disciplines. Build partnerships in traditional organizations, and let the ripple effect of small projects rock the mothership. Service design is just a method, a means to an end. Let’s not forget about the goal we try to achieve.
Finally, we’ve seen the first examples of successful implementation of new technology at the conference itself. With spaceships being built in Miro and full-fletched multiplayer experiences being offered to participants. And in the end, all we can say is that gamification is back and more powerful than ever in this blended environment.
The elephant in the room
Due to the sheer amount of experts, stories and insights shared in this three-day schedule, the SDD managed to live up to its reputation in terms of content. But what about the big elephant in the room? What is a conference experience like in this completely new Covid-caused condition?
An online event presents its own challenges, not only for the speaker but also for the audience [Insert mute joke here]. How to break the ice at the beginning of a session, feeding off the crowd’s energy, when to respond and when to keep silent. The online etiquette hasn’t been fully developed and thus these heavyweight public speakers were suddenly found outside their comfort zone. But hey, we are designers after all. So let’s embrace uncertainty, iterate and learn. Let’s be honest about a couple of things that we can improve in the online context of the conference.
- Experiencing these days through a screen challenges the attention span. There is this thing called screen fatigue and we must say that we were seriously considering a digital detox after three days of screen staring. In Dutch, we would say “we were getting square eyes”.
- Listening from your comfortable and known working context has its consequences. The multitask monster and ‘instant gratification monkey’ is ever-lurking and bites every once in a while.
- Nothing beats the magic of the stage. Both for the presenter and the audience. There is just something about being in a room with 300 experts and having the decency to be silent and collectively engage in someone’s story. The bravery alone for a speaker to put oneself in such a stressful real life situation is interesting enough to watch. This magic is just unmatched in the online world.
Having stated the obvious disadvantages of experiencing these days in an online setting, we noticed some upsides too.
- Small hubs originated. Participants shared screens and watched lectures together. Allowing for immediate discussions on the topic.
- The random network roulette was a pleasant alternative to get to see some new faces in a short time. Very refreshing to talk to some strangers in these times.
- The chat served as a constant interaction enabler. It allowed participants to ask questions when they arise – without disrupting the flow of the presenter. Moreover, sometimes relevant discussions between participants were taking place during a session. Allowing the presenter to jump in the discussion at his or her preferred moment to step back from the slides and see what the conversation in the chat was about.
A blended tomorrow
There is no point in comparing this edition with its predecessors. The optimistic thing to do here is to see what positive elements we can take away from this year’s edition. These unique circumstances have forced the SDD staff to think on their feet, be creative and use today’s technological capabilities to create a completely new SDD experience.
What if we could blend those learnings in our session next year. Combining tanning, cervezas, and hugging the shit out of each other with the accessibility and smooth interaction of the online world. A blended tomorrow – see you there.