A recap on the talk: The Role of Service Design in Organizations at FusionConf UX Edition
This past week, I had the opportunity to speak at FusionConf UX Edition in Charlotte, NC, where I met not only UX designers ranging from start-ups to working in large organizations, but also non-designers who were looking for ways to understand more about what design is, what methodologies we use in our everyday work, and what design brings to the organization. The theme of the conference was “methodologies” and my talk was entitled “the role of service design in organizations.”
When I first thought about the theme, my main challenge was to find ways to explain to UX designers what the difference between what they do and service designers do. The more I thought about it, it became clear to me that our differences were based on perspectives. As the conference went on, we heard from speakers the different methodologies that exist inside the UX discipline and the role of a designer in organizations overall. All in all, the main insight noted throughout the day was: design is at a point in organizations where we are asked to be at the table, encouraging people to think differently about what they do and the value that is being provided among actors in a business ecosystem.
Design is starting to speak the business vocabulary, and we are leveling up the conversation to a human-centric approach by demonstrating that we go beyond “making things that look pretty.”
The complexity behind the surface
I’ve always been intrigued about how to fuse arts with science and what that would like for my personal and professional growth. As I learned more about these fields, I’ve started to realize that from biology that the adaptability of organisms mirrors what designers do in their process. We have the power to zoom in and out, recognizing different forms, textures, dimensions. We can find visual patterns that are coexisting and reproducing even in the smallest grain of sand.
In the last 60 years, another scale shaped the ways in which we live in—technology. Through technology, where we are able to share information and values that are intangible, but when represented in a visual form, you can see commonalities, differences, and connections.
As we find patterns when we zoom in and out of space, culture, time, and information, we change our perspectives so that we can help shape a different future. I believe that design plays a major role in my personal philosophy.
Coming from a design background, I’ve explored different levels of zoom, from fashion to web, from research to strategy, until today, where I find myself as part of the community of service design.
Here is an example of how service design works:
I have these special clothes that need to be dry cleaned. Consider how Pressbox, a dry cleaning service, helps makes this common chore as convenient as possible.
The Pressbox business model is very simple. I, as a consumer, have a Pressbox bag with my name on it to add my items to. Once I place the bag in a Pressbox locker, I send a text message with the locker number where my clothes are. I receive an automated message confirming that I’ve placed an order. I then go about my life, occasionally receiving notifications along the way about the status of my order, including when the item was checked and inventoried, an estimate of cost, and when it is going to by ready. A couple of days later, when the item is back in the locker, I get a notification confirming that my order has been delivered.
The value exchange in this service can be described as: I need a dry cleaning service for my clothes, and the lockers act as a tangible medium that connect me to my invisible service provider. They dry clean my clothes and send them back to me, in return I pay them for their service, and I feel great about how convenient this experience was!
That is all great! What does that have to do with service designers and organizations? Well, service design at its core, orchestrates different sets of interactions between service providers, consumers and mediums to deliver a service. We do this by empowering internal and external actors in an ecosystem.
An organization is an ecosystem, and a very complex one. As Stephen Taylor from Harmonic Design says, unlike, industrial design (fabrication techniques), graphic design (visual components), UI design (interface components), the material of service design is organizations. It is a very intangible and strategic way to do design.
The design spectrum
As I was preparing for this talk, I came up with a mapping exercise where I plotted different design disciplines across a spectrum from intangible to tangible. By adding a second axis to the mapping (the part vs the whole), I was able see that the traditional design disciplines clustered together under tangible and the part vs the newer disciplines (e.g. service design, design futures, etc.) that gravite towards the intangible and the whole. As few examples:
• Architecture = building (form of a thing)
• Service design = conversations (cross media)
• UX design = digital experiences (right in the middle)
This also speaks to the UX design discipline today. UX designers can find themselves literally in the middle. Years ago some would consider to be more towards the right, and now a lot of professionals are starting to realize that they want to play more towards the left side of this spectrum. In the case of service design, some professionals would also be inclined to say that although we deal with intangible assets, when we implement a service, it does become tangible. Service design is not only human-centric and business oriented, it is the ways in which we design the conditions for people to experience a service.
Different organizations, different roles
All companies learn…All companies build relationships with other entities. — Arie de Geus
If the material of service design is organizations, and they are living entities, this means that service designers are constantly needing to evolve within their changing context. They must look for new ways to adapt to the business nature, its people, culture, and process. In turn, they can help the organization adapt to better reach its goals, leverage business operations and serve internal employees, as well as consumers.
Our role has a lot to do with finding the right balance between this mutually beneficial relationship between service provider and consumers. And like every relationship, you have ups and downs. It is not easy; it is hard work!
While we all have the same basic objectives, the nature of the organizations that we work with creates unique challenges and opportunities. Common attributes that shape the context for service design include: geography (where is located), size (small/medium/large), market (B2B, B2C, B2B2C, C2B2B, C2B), and industry (healthcare, finance, retail, non-profits, etc). In addition, who service designers work for—a corporation (internal) or a consultancy/agency (external)—greatly define how they approach their process.
Corporate setting: service designers can be found inside a specific department with a specific title/role:
- Innovation labs + Design thinking practice (Design Thinkers aka Workshop Folks)
- CX departments (Journey Map Folks)
- Research teams (Design Researchers, Insights Gatherer)
- Leadership (Head of Design — we have a few of these, hopefully more soon)
- UX design team (Project Manager, design manager, UX designer, UX producer, Service Designer)
Main challenges in a corporate setting: it might be hard to get assigned to participate on an end to end design project, they might be in charge of pieces of the experience instead of the whole, unless you are on a leadership role where you have full visibility.
Consultancy/agency setting: service designers are wearing all the design hats, it is a massive cross pollination of tools, methods and responsibilities.
Main challenges in a consultancy/agency setting: finding the right process for the right problem that is always particular to each organization. You will always have to create and/or adapt towards what you are trying to help the organization solve for.
From operational to service-driven models
When facilitating the transformation from operational (driven by technology) to human-centric model (driven by design), a service designer's role is to shift the organization's focus to build value instead of mainly driving the organization towards profit. It sounds intriguing and challenging and for some organizations it may not be applicable but, I’ve come across an interesting work structure that it was created by Dave Gray (Connected Company) and also mentioned by Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner (Org Design for Design Org) called podular systems. This dynamic of ways of working also speaks to the idea that every organization is a living entity.
A podular system is a set of a small team inside an organization that is autonomous and their main decision driver is to build value for the customer. This system allows creativity to flow and relays on people’s intelligence.
For the pods to exist in an efficient and effective way there needs to be a backbone structure that interconnects the organization network with a strong foundation of standards and goals. I believe that this is where a Service Designer can thrive. They would play the role of the connector between the podular systems, constantly looking for ways to connect and reconnect teams across the organization by integrating initiatives and testing the overall experience execution.
Service Designers should advocate for experience consistency, continuity and flow and make sure that the teams are signed up for their own and customer success.
To bring it to reality, I can state that I see this working at Harmonic today where, service design is already starting to play that role in some organizations helping connect product team, strategy, research and customer.
Generally speaking, a lot of the service design work is still focused on tangible outcomes but it is an emerging practice. It is not about how many service designers an organization has but on the quality attributes that the SD is bringing to the organization. To make it more relatable to the UX world, I’ve met a couple of UX designers who were focused heavily on digital but as they became aware about the SD community they started to migrate to that left corner of the spectrum towards the whole. The realized that although their focus was on digital, if they started to make bridges to the rest of the organizations such as marketing, technology, they were able to spot opportunities to design beyond digital products and expand to a more service level approach as a whole.
To conclude, the role of service design in organizations is to provide different perspectives on methodologies that would enable organizations to create value between who is providing the service and customer.