Takeaways and reminders from SXC18

Service Experience Camp is not just another conference. Thought by service designers, for service designers, it is a 2-day “unconference” whose new edition always tops up the previous ones thanks to an amazing selection of design leaders as speakers, a passionate and proactive audience of practitioners, and a long list of carefully planned details that make participants feel like they don’t need to worry about anything else than just enjoying rich conversations and an inspiring atmosphere.

Gathering around 300 people from all over Europe on the first weekend of November, unfortunately this year’s edition – the fifth –  was announced to be the last. Perhaps this was the reason why its bar-camp, a grassroots format to provide participants with an informal space to run their own sessions, was so successful.  In fact, throughout the two days participants held a total of 30 open sessions, alternated by keynote speeches, networking moments, and delicious meals.

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One of the sessions run by participants

 

Before SXC18: Service Design Tour

This year, the conference program was preceded by a day-long Service Design Tour across 4 Berlin-based service design agencies. Having planned a longer stay in town, as soon as it was announced I immediately reserved a spot to discover different agencies approaches to service design and collect insights on how they overcome their most pressing challenges.

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The Service Design Tour kicked off at Service Innovation Labs

 

Starting the day with a breakfast in Kreuzberg, we first spent a couple hours at Service innovation Labs and then moved to Aperto by IBM. After a quick lunch on the way we visited Fjord, and lastly, Idean.

Here is a summary of my key insights from the Service Design Tour.

 

  • Impact beats enthusiasm

Whether we mean “impact” as financial, societal, environmental, or most often as the effect of our work on the client, the random and enthusiastic use of design thinking in business contexts seems to have come of age, leaving room to an increasing tendency towards making sure our service design efforts have a meaning and leave a long lasting, positive footprint not only on our users and clients but also (sometimes) on a larger scale.

 

 

  • The rise of new professional roles, a.k.a. what the heck is a business designer?

Something that really caught my attention concerns the rise of the new role of business designers, which just a bunch of years ago was not common at all. Perhaps due to the two world of business and design increasingly leaning towards each other, not only all 4 agencies we visited have business designers in the team, but they are actively recruiting more! Hence, upon investigation, I now understand a business designer is someone who is in charge of researching, testing, measuring and implementing a range of business related aspects into the service development process (like business models, service pricing, etc.).

In addition to business designers, another emerging professional role seems to be that of legal designers, as in those figures who take care of different legal aspects to take into account in innovation, and that are no longer engaged as an external party as in the past. In facts, it seems like almost all agencies we visited, regardless of stressing their core value proposition around service design, try to build a team of different professionals whose aim is to address and overcome challenges in the innovation journey from many different points of view.   

 

  • Team work

As opposed to the classic consultancy offering, most of these service design agencies seem to believe in building up (internal) multidisciplinary teams around a challenge, rather than allocating individual consultants to project. I really liked learning about this, as I strongly believe that sharing the joys and sorrows of a winding road with someone that has your same mindset leads to greater results.

 

Service Experience Camp 2018

Following the past edition theme “struggling for change”, this year focused on the topic of “crafting delight”, meant as the art of crafting experiences that delight users.

 

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Top 3 talks

Like in the past years, this edition’s content was very well curated from A to Z. Yet there are 3 talks that, in my opinion, will stay memorable:

1) Designing for Future life events  – Karolina Kohler, Lead Design Researcher @ Kaiser X Labs

Having never worked in the insurance industry nor bought myself an insurance, I had hardly reflected upon how different the characteristics of an insurance service are in comparison to any other service. Through her fun, engaging speech, Karolina Kohler walked us through her reflections on how aspects like value proposition, touchpoints and loyalty require a different approach in designing insurance services. In facts, in this context the purpose is not to delight users with enjoyable experience, but rather to provide concrete and efficient help whenever a tragic moment in life happens. And since that future tragic moment is something people prefer to not think about and that, by definition, is unexpected, insurance services are like “buying shoes that you receive yearly updates on, but never wear”, “or buying a movie by only knowing the title but without being able to watch it before the next 30 years”. Through a bunch of simple examples we all realised the design of insurance service runs on completely different premises than any other services!

 

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Karolina Kohler, Lead Design Researcher @ Kaiser X Labs

 

2) How making accessible services benefits all users – Alistair Duggin – Head of accessibility @ Government Digital Services UK

1/7 people in the world suffers from disability, and with an average of population age continuing to rise, it is likely that sooner or later disabilities will affect us – either directly or indirectly. With the mission of designing digital services that any citizen in the UK can use, Alistair Duggin reminded us how solutions designed for extreme users may positively impact other “less extreme” users. For instance, providing users the option to indicate whether they prefer to be contacted via written text only, they not only remove barriers for people with speaking impairments, but also for people who can’t answer calls during the day or that have very limited time to check their phone.  

 

3) Future-proof design for urban mobility in growing cities – Hanna Kops, Head of Experience @ Transport for London

Starting her speech with a blunt statement: “design is not about solving problems, it is about creating a space for people to experience something differently”, Hanna Kops set the stage in no time, walking the audience through a few important moments that marked the interesting story of the London tube. One of these is when the first pocket map of the tube was distributed in town: it was visual, tangible, and it helped people have a reference when defining London’s boundaries. By including all tube lines – from the central ones to those that touch upon the greater London geographical area, this first version of the London tube made people living in the most remote outskirts start feeling like they belonged to the city. “If the tube gets me home, I am a londoner too”. By redesigning the way people would experience public transport as a public space, over time London created a culture of public transport, by design.

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Hanna Kops, Head of Experience @ Transport for London

 

Cool hacks

During the conference I spotted a few practical example of cool workarounds that people have come up with to overcome their daily challenges.

  •  Lost in Jargon

The airline industry, like any other industry, is packed with acronyms and abbreviations. To deal with complex jargon, Maria Lumiaho and her team at Finnair created a Slack bot that, upon request, will suggest what these acronyms stand for whenever being lost in jargon during a meeting.

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Finnair team’s slackbot to navigate through acronyms and abbreviations

 

  •  Spread the news

To deal with complex stakeholder engagement, Frankie Abralind from Sibley Memorial Hospital hospital came up with the idea of making weekly postcard-like micro reports of his team work’s status updates and started distributing them on desks of key internal stakeholders, with the aim of informing them and making them feel like their involvement counts.

 

 

Takeaways and reminders

 

  • Stakeholder management goes beyond PR, a.k.a. design for perseverance

 

In a session about stakeholder engagement, we all found each other on the same page in facing lots of difficulties engaging with people in the organisations where we work. The conclusion drawn during this sessions was that we should apply some simple tricks like inviting people for coffee or having a smoke together to set up a space to communicate informally. I must admit, I was pretty disappointed about it. In facts, stakeholder engagement needs to push itself way beyond the basics of PR to really be effective. Thankfully, later Frankie Abralind reminded us during his talk that no matter the environment where we work, the only way to break through is to be persistent, make and update internal stakeholder maps on a regular basis, and create ownership over progresses by keeping everyone informed. In a nutshell: try, try again, and again.  

 

  • Will ethics in design ever go beyond recommendations?  

 

Two years ago I was sitting in the main room listening to a talk about ethics in design. In this edition, two years later and in the same room, here we go again. For how interesting it always is to listen to different people’s perspectives on the topic, I couldn’t do but noticing that in the meanwhile conversations about ethical design are still where they used to be, meaning they haven’t really moved beyond a set of general recommendations about aspects to take into account. So the question is: will they ever?

 

  • The measurement tension

 

From these two days, it emerged really clearly that nowadays everybody is busy measuring the tangible and mostly the intangible (yes, against all odds even More Than Metrics has fallen into the measuring trap), yet everybody is still struggling to prove the value of service design and having troubles showing that we are actually able to bridge concepts to implementation.

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A snapshot from a session of SXC18

  • Many in distress make the sorrow less

 

300 people is not a huge number. However, the audience at SXC18 was a very specific crowd of passionate people who are deeply involved in practicing and advocating for service design, from an organisational to a a global level. To this extent, the fact that that the service design community might not be enormous, but that on the other hand is very active, collaborative and dedicated was a good reminder. No matter how challenging our journey as practitioners can be, it made me feel like we are all allies in driving a disruptive, powerful mindset change.  

 

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