Take-outs from the Service Design Global Conference 2018

Service Design Global Conference 2018
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Take-outs from the Service Design Global Conference 2018
Oct 26, 2018 . 7 mins read
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Last week we set out to visit the grey-but-beautiful city of Dublin, the hometown of Guinness and U2 and tech/tax hub for Google, Facebook, Linkedin and since recently Airbnb. Dublin was the host for this year’s Service Design Global Conference (SDGC).

SDGC is an annual expert event where inspiration is shared, thoughts are triggered and friends are made. For us at Koos Service Design this year’s edition was extra special, with an award nomination and my colleague Floor Smit being invited to talk about why we need to care about culture if we want to deliver real innovation.

“Service Design doing”. 

This year’s overall theme of the Service Design Global Conference was ‘Design to deliver’, focussing on the complex, muddy and unsexy aspect of implementing Service Design projects into organisations. We were challenged to get out of our post-it palaces and start finding connections with others. The talks that stuck were those provoking service designers to look beyond our own Service Design bubble or ‘tribe’, strengthen our design leadership skills, and start engaging employees.

This will be a quick summary of what we thought were the most interesting and relevant take-outs of the Service Design Global Conference for anyone in and around the Service Design field today.




1. Work the culture.

The first point of business is to listen to company culture. Understanding the culture enables you to adapt to it before helping to change. This way you anticipate for implementation early on.

Service Design is about looking at a service-related problem in a holistic way, breaking silos and starting from the customer perspective. However, in order to implement your customer-focused solution you ironically need to reach out to the people in those silos. Work hard to understand their culture, language, tools, fears, and barriers. Floor Smit emphasised that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’: “You need to dance to their beat” because eventually, you need to propose a solution that works for the employee’s needs and values in order to be fully embedded.





And don’t forget, even Service Design is a silo.  Patrick Quattlebaum made a refreshing comparison with rural tribes when he described how Service Design functions within an organisation. Our ‘service design tribe’ is fighting against other tribes such as Agile, Lean Six Sigma, Customer Experience, Design Thinking or Sprints. All these tribes are fighting to grow within the organisation, getting more people to join our tribe with tactics such as generosity (free templates!), rituals (“from now on we’re doing ‘stand-ups”) and imposing new language (“Did someone say customer journey map?”). Patrick states that we should stop building our tribes and start finding out what common threats and drivers there actually are. He calls this ‘competitive collaboration’. We’re all in the same organisation and need to empathise with each others tribe to deliver results.

2. Work your wolfpack.

Another aspect to becoming a better service deliverer is building some design leadership muscle, both towards your own design team and your clients. For some reason most of the leadership talks I’ve heard before seem similar; the speaker wants to boost the audience’s self-esteem by showing a bunch of true-but-cliché leadership quotes from established leaders.

Credits therefore to Lina Nilsson, a senior service designer at Designit. She’s a service designer who was given a leadership role but had no clue on what a good design leader is. As she states it:





Designers are so passionate about the work they do, but are not always prepared for the leadership role that they find themselves in.

— Lina Nilsson Senior Service Designer, Designit

Lina did explorative research with design leaders at Designit. Her insights into ‘the qualities that foster awesome creative teams’ were refreshingly straightforward. Moving forward with my professional life, we will definitely use her quality descriptions to improve ourselves as Service Designers. Her inspiring talk can be viewed here.

3. Work the workers.

Lastly, what about the workers? What about the people that serve the people? As service designers, we tend to empathise customer centricity, sometimes at the expense of the Employee Experience.

Stefan Moritz, head of Customer Experience at McKinsey Design gave a confronting fact that 72% of employees are unengaged with their job. He marked a milestone; in the coming years, we will move from digitising to humanising the workspace. It’s nice that we’ve moved to a paperless office, but how do we make work itself more enjoyable?




Service Designers need to seize this opportunity at organisations, look at work broader than the tools that employees use, and make work fun for everyone. We’ve climbed out of the economic crisis, which was all about digitisation for efficiency. Now comes a time of economic prosperity and talent scarcity, which means companies need to reinvent themselves to become more attractive as employers.

“For implementation, you need to design the desired employee journey.”

We recognised the frustration of being unengaged with work. For the city of The Hague, we were asked to design a digital tool to help civil servants record conversations with citizens in dedicated files. There was a sense of resistance towards the project from the staff members involved. Wouldn’t this tool be just another addition to their stack of paperwork? Or even worse: Will this make me obsolete any time soon?

However, when they realised we only wanted to make their work easier, and get rid of tedious repetitive tasks without ruling out their expertise, they were both surprised and relieved. In other words, when you are scoping your customer-focused Service Design project, empathise with their hopes and fears, get them to be a part of the solution they can support.

Work your magic

As Lorna Ross from Fjord said it right:

“It’s easier to describe a problem than to fix it.”

Regardless of how tricky the implementation part of Service Design might be, we shouldn’t be held back by resistance. We shouldn’t hide behind our Customer Journey Maps and Service Blueprints, wishing the implementation obstacles dissolve magically. We must identify the barriers, provide support where needed and turn enemies into friends where possible. At Koos we like to say ‘you’re only as good as your last project’. We might want to turn that into ‘you’re only as good as your last implemented project’.

Service Design Global Conference 2018
Written by
Take-outs from the Service Design Global Conference 2018
Oct 26, 2018 . 7 mins read
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