By Tom Wynne-Morgan
This year, Cardiff plays host to the 6th Annual Global Service Design Network Conference, the first to be held in the UK.
We’re especially excited about this as Engine are both sponsoring and giving a keynote presentation under the theme of transformation.
Why this year is particularly significant
There are a wide range of organisations represented across sectors, which are not only interested in service design but are adopting and practicing it. The challenges they face, ranging from improving business processes to changing employee behaviour, signify maturity within service design and give weight to the notion that service design is no longer exclusively a ‘design’ discipline.
SDN conferences have reflected the growth and change of service design over the years. In the past, the discourse tended to focus on describing the capability of service design, its tools, techniques and methodologies. They have been an opportunity to collaboratively define its edges; to give it identity and discern its value. What is exciting about this year is that, while the iterative process of definition continues, we’re starting to discuss the impact of the work we do; seeing and feeling its effects in a variety of places.
The 'conversation' is shifting
Talks from the likes of Barclays’ Lee Sankey offer up a fresh viewpoint. Putting forward the idea that design, and in particular service design, needs to live up to its newfound responsibility and potentially let go of old definitions. This is an example of how the conversation is set to turn from what service design is or can do, into one about what it has done or is prepared to do.
Service design is not a new phenomenon. Services have been around from the year dot and provide the basis for most social and financial interactions. It comes as no surprise, that in a mature economy we see 80% of revenue coming through the service sector. And, if design is "any activity that seeks to change existing situations into preferred ones", as the oft quoted Herbert Simon proposes, then, we are all designers.
Today however, it is the nature of that ‘change’ which is most significant. When the ‘preferred situation’ is articulated along the lines of better functionality, efficiency, performance, aesthetics and so on, it doesn't specifically address the means by which this is achieved. Design, by its very nature, will always seek to address commercial and non-commercial challenges but as the problems become more intangible, so solutions are becoming inherently multi-faceted.
Organisations are responding to complex challenges
Market places have become increasingly fragmented and complex, with ever more sophisticated customers, shifts to non-ownership and the effect of networks. In response to this, the question becomes one of transforming the capability of an organisation to manage and facilitate ‘change’.
Nicola Piercy’s talk for example, will share how E.ON has built up expertise on the application of service design within the business. What is most interesting about this is that E.ON is an organisation that sells an almost intangible product, in a heavily regulated market not traditionally associated with ‘design’. Despite this, they have ambitions to create great customer experiences that differentiate the brand and create value for both the business and the customer along the way. And, most importantly, they want to do this in a way that can be sustained over the longer term.
Service design needs to respond too
At Engine, we are interested in moving the conversation further forward to embrace this situation; really understanding how we position and operate as service designers within a larger commercial and non-commercial world. We want to encourage thinking and action around how we operate within the constraints of these worlds and how we help organisations adopt new approaches themselves.
From here on in, the design of service becomes a much more symbiotic relationship where all parties involved in the complex challenges rely on one another.
We (service design practitioners) need to embrace new roles
It's 2013, and service design has graduated from the halls of academia. It's had its first job and it’s now making an impact and inroads into spaces, places, organisations and business that it never envisaged. As Joel Baily proposes, “we are no longer the next big thing, we are the thing”.
It’s now up to everyone at this conference, and everyone who practices service design, to embrace the multifaceted and inter-organisational role that design is being asked to take and move with confidence into unchartered territories.