Experiences from organizing the first German SDN Service Design Conference

by Melanie Wendland, Master Programme SID 2011
Conference Context
As Group Design Lead of Fjord’s Service Design Academy, I was involved in organizing the first German version of the Service Design Network conference. Together with Thomas Schönweitz, the leader of the German chapter, Nancy Birkhölzer, Group Director of the Service Design Academy, was co-chairing the event.My main responsibilities for the organization of the conference was contributing to the topic definition, paper review and acceptance process, communication with the invited speakers, sponsorship communication as well as contributing to the conference program with ideas and suggestions.The topic that was created together with Thomas Schönweitz and Birgit Mager was
Creating Value(s): Transforming Business, Society and Individual Behavior through Service Design.
The Idea behind this topic was to find cases and highlight practices that showcase how service design has not only created new and innovative service concepts but look at the underlying transformations that it has had on society at large but also on the individual and the service business itself.

The goal of the conference was to create more awareness of the Service Design discipline in Germany, as it is still a very unknown and new field for many organizations and institutions despite the efforts of Birgit Mager, who has been teaching and promoting Service Design at the Köln International School of Design for the past 15 years.

We took an extra effort to invite more participants from the industry to create a closer dialog between the Service Design practitioners and academics and those who really have applied Service Design to their products, services and organizations. The event was attended by over 130 participants, both national and international. Even though the focus of the Conference was Germany, most speaker presentations were held in English as there was a fair amount of foreigners amongst the audience.

Summary of conference highlights

On the opening event reception at the MHMK Nancy Birkhölzer and myself delivered a keynote speech business value of transformative services. We believe strongly that the future of service businesses lies in the facilitation of transformations for the individual and that offering these transformations will have a beneficial impact for society at large but will financially feed back to the organization as well. With transformation we mean the lasting behavioral changes among individuals or a group of people. We worked out eight ingredients that we believe are at the core of transformative services and that applying these ingredients will foster transformations amongst its users. For any detail on the keynote speech, please read the complete article at http://conversations.fjordnet.com/2012/06/29/a-business-case-for-transformative-services/ or check out the slideshare presentation at http://www.slideshare.net/fjordnet/fjord-service-design-academy-a-business-case-for-transformative-services-13444327

On Friday Birgit Mager, co-founder and president of the International Service Design Network and Professor of Service Design at KISD , opened the conference day with her keynote on shareholder value and shared values. In what was a very engaging argument she shot down the three statements ”Growth has no value”, ”Service Design is superfluous”, and “The customer is to blame”.

In her paragraph on “Growth has no value”, Mager critically analyses the the value of the growing field of Service Design. Mager recalls that In the 1990’s Service Design was an unknown discipline but discussions around the need for Design for Impact were already active. Today, Marger argues, too many companies label themselves with Service Design but actually do not know about it in the first place. However she says, there are three layers on which Service Design is applied in organizations today: Interface Level, where Service Design is all about designing user experiences and journeys. System Level, where Service Design looks at organizational processes and structure and deals with designing the invisible processes to facilitate service experiences, and finally the Strategic Level, where Service Design deals with the strategical orientation of an organization.
In analysing where the real value of a growing Service Design discipline lies, Marger leads over to her second statement “Service Design is superfluous”. With this statement she questions the role of a Service Designer. Mager outlines how there are so many successful and beautifully working services designed and delivered without the involvement of a Service Designer or Service Design approach. The responsibility of delivering successful services within a company should lie within the managers. But too many managers, according to Mager, do not have the right skills or education to think in customer centric ways. Too many services are not functioning and do not take the customer into account. In these cases, the Service Designer has the right tools and methods to ask the right questions from these managers in an organization. Design, she argues is not about beautifying things and putting band aids on wounds, but finding the core of the problem and designing the cure. The core problem in many cases is that the company is driven by shareholder value. The company has to function to produce returns of investments to its shareholders.
Mager states that focusing on shareholder value in itself is not a bad thing, and that it is indeed possible to create customer centred services that proof financially viable to shareholders. When doing a poll among the Service Design community about what is the most important aspect of Service Design Projects, 65% of the respondents clicked customer value. But Mager argues, that without profit there will be no business, and without business no Service Design Projects. Mager concludes that the future of Service Design lies in looking at stakeholder value, meaning the creation of indirect value back to everyone holding a stake in the service. Marger claims that the Service Design community needs to develop more skills and capabilities to better cater to this need.
In Mager’s final statement “the customer is to blame” , she discusses whether the customer is to blame for buying services that are not customer centred, are bad for the environment or use resources irresponsibly. After showing the video “The End of Publishing”, Marger underlines that it is just the way we look at things that so often determine our opinion. Mager claims that often organizations might just need to reverse their look at value in order to find the right orientation.
Concluding Mager states that her three statements proof all to be wrong. Growth does have value when channeled and used in the right way, Service Design is not superfluous as it has shown to be beneficial for so many organizations and services and the customer cannot be blamed, as organizations should have the responsibility to lead and guide their customers into the direction of the right behavior. With these closing statements Mager opened the day’s conference track.After the great introduction by Birgit Mager the presentations of three of Fjord’s own clients showcased with very practical examples how Service Design has made an impact on their business and offerings. Michael Rabenstein from Emporia, talked about designing for cross-generation communicationand how inclusive design plays an important role in creating customer value while at the same time positioning the company as a pioneer in designing communication devices for the elderly. This project clearly highlighted how the stakeholder value, as claimed by Birgit Mager, is an important aspect of making Service Design successful within an organization, especially in small and medium enterprises with long traditions.Alexander Gerstner from Baur shared the exciting journey of the company from analog products to digital services. Baur, one of the major players in the niche market of testing and measurement technology, has worked closely Fjord on a Service Design project to develop a new digital service that will revolutionize the measurement business. Also this speech highlighted that behavioral change happens at several levels within the organization. By applying a Service Design Approach and designing a new service with focus on the customer and innovation, organizational structures need to change, value chains replanned and stakeholder interests taken into account. On the other side, for the users of the services using the measurement devices in a new way radically changes the way the profession and skillset of measurement technicians is perceived and executed. Behavioral change is happening both front stage and back stage.

Prototyping was another big topic at the conference. Manuel Grossmann together with his mates of Service Design Berlin presented in Dimensions of Prototyping the value and practices of prototyping, which stirred interesting discussions and viewpoints. Verena Augustin from IxDS looked specifically at the role of technology and physical prototyping during the co-creative design process.

The SDN member’s day was introduced with a speech from Julia Schaeper from the UK National Health Institute on how service design can better the healthcare experience . Schaeper gave a thorough introduction on what the challenges of the UK National Health Services are and how the department of Innovation, in which Schaeper works as a Service Designer, is trying to spot opportunities and helping the NHS to transfrom public and private health care. Schaeper outlined how important their approach of design thinking is with regards to being open to the solution and applying creative methodologies but also how Service Design should be open to include non Service Design methodologies such as lean thinking and Sig Sigma. Schaeper demonstrates a few projects, one of which took the so called Experience Based Design Approach. This approach has a focus on sending out staff to experience first hand the condition of their patients at home or in their daily routines in order to identify opportunities to better services of the NHS. In the end of her speech Schaeper shows how the NHS benefits from taking these new approaches and new services in lowering costs, reducing the number of specialist referrals and lesser intakes of patients. This speech again showed that focusing on customer needs in the first place, will result in financial benefits for the organization in the long run.

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