Service Design Capabilities

Does possessing service design tools make you automatically a service designer? Or does a person need to have special capabilities in order to be a service designer? This question was examined by Nicola Morelli, Professor of university of Aalborg, Denmark, and co-writer of a recently published book called “Service Design capabilities” in a workshop that was organized 15 October 2021 by the Swedish Experio Lab. According to Professor Morelli, the ethos has been that proper tools made a service designer a designer. However, if you have all recipes, ingredients and kitchen utensils, does it make you a cook?

The answer is obviously a no. In order to be a cook you also need technique, skills, and understanding of how different ingredients mix together. In short, you need special capabilities.

The same applies to service designers.

Who designs?

Perspective is important. The famous scientist and Nobel laureate Herbert Simon argued back in 1969: “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”. Meaning that each time a person finds new solution to an everyday problem on the basis of her/his own knowledge and competences it is about design. But, if everyone is a designer, what is then the role of designer training, professional designers and design agencies?

There has been a significant change in how services are perceived. Some decades ago, services were something that products were not, and the value was seen to be in the good itself. Whereas now the value is seen to be defined by the beneficiary, and it is based on the interaction with users. A bank is nothing but an office space before a customer starts using the banking services. Or, a bus is just a box with wheels, unless a customer uses it to move from place A to B. Physical artefacts and products are only tools for value creation, and value is produced when the beneficiary of a certain service interacts with the service. Producers and service providers don`t offer value itself, but only a value proposition which must be made concrete by the beneficiary by aggregating resources and hence being a co-producer of value.

In comparison with the Goods Dominant Logic, in the Service Dominant Logic the value is perceived and determined by the customer, not by the producer.

A service designer is hence the link that facilitates value co-production by providing a logical infrastructure in which the customer then aggregates resources to create value. If the designer personally participates in the value production process, the interaction is direct, but it can also be indirect. In that case the designer designs products or services that engage the beneficiary.

Professor Morelli linked the GDL with a project-based approach, in which the circle is closed: the process has a beginning and an end. While SDL can be seen as infrastructuring approach and the duration of the process depends on how the customer aggregates the resources that are made available. In the infrastructuring approach also the results are controlled by the customer.

A Map

If service is seen as an interaction and the value of it comes from the co-production, then what is the roadmap for designing better services and better problem solving? Professor Morelli saw three logical levels in seeing service as a systemic institution:

  • Value in use: Solving the problem by one`s own devices and based on own knowledge, or asking a friend for help. The key is interaction and exchange. But does service design have any role on this level?  
  • Infrastructure: Interaction with experts, expert design, organization.
  • Institutional systems: for example access to health care system, rules, legislation etc. System design implies that replication and scalability are embedded in it.

The first level can affect the second and third levels, albeit not directly, but by changing patterns and practices step by step.

Navigation tools = service design capabilities

What capabilities should a service designer then be able to sell to the potential client? According to Nicola Morelli, the needed capabilities depend on the level we operate on. On the first level, Interaction, the designer needs to be able to address the context, build vision, engage stakeholders, model possible solutions and control experimental aspects.

On the Expert Design level, in addition to the requirements of the first level, the designer must be capable of building logical service architectures and engaging in open problem solving. Working on the System Design level requires working across different logical levels ja modelling in a bigger scale to make solutions scalable and replicable.

One example of a System Design level could be the 15-Minute City concept. This concept, created by Carlos Moreno and popularized by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, is designed to ensure that urban residents can fulfill six essential functions within a 15-minute walk or bike from their home: living, working, commerce, healthcare, education and entertainment. With its four components, the 15-Minute City would improve the urban experience and quality of life of its inhabitants, as well as boost community participation in the planning.

Image:  Every Street In Paris To Be Cycle-Friendly By 2024, Promises Mayor. http://www.forbes.com

Service design is always also political. The aim of design is to create something better. The question that inherently comes along is: can we provoke change with the design? And can we imagine the effects that this change would lead to? The core task of a service designer is to visualize something that is not yet there.

And that brings the focus on capabilities rather than tools. After all, it`s not the kitchen utensils that make a chef, but his/her capabilities.

– Laura Ekholm

For more information:

Morelli, N., de Götzen, A. & Simeone, L. 2020. “Service Design Capabilities”

Simon, H. 1969. “The Sciences of the Artificial”

15-Minute City. https://www.15minutecity.com/about

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