How to fail in service design?

Here is my presentation from Service Design Breakfast that we have been organizing in Helsinki with Aalto University and punch of fellow companies.

The summary is pretty much that no service concept survives its first contact with people. Service design is done too much in the back-stage: in meeting rooms, workshops and design studios with post-its and customer journey maps. Instead of that we should do much more real co-design and actually do it on the front-stage: experiment with people in as real context as possible and as early as possible. With services it’s not about good ideas, it’s about right problems and finding the keys to change behavior.


The future of corporate innovation

Steve Blank’s blog has a great article that really summarizes the situation where many companies are now struggling, and how they should organize themselves around continuous innovation.

Companies will need to have an organization that can do two things at the same time: executing and improving existing models and inventing business models that are totally new and disrupt the market. But the existing structures in most of the organizations are not flexible enough to do both of these parallel.

Based on what I have seen, it also often demands two different kind of development cultures that are quite opposite. When well established organizations develop existing services they typically use approach where which aims to analyze everything first to avoid making mistakes. You can see this in any organization when you take a look what all those specialists, managers and lawyers are doing there. On the other hand, with new services and business models there is a call for startup-like development path where experimentation leads to mistakes and failures that actually help to find the right direction. And there isn’t much time or need for advance analysis.

It’s a big question if corporations (and public organizations) can actually create development environment where these two cultures can coexist.

Read Steve Blank’s article: The Future of Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Service design needs a better understanding of the raw materials of service

This post is a critique on service design, and especially the thinking and talking side of it. This is based on both my own experiences as someone who has been involved in quite a few service design projects during past years and how those have changed my own view, and what I have seen and heard my colleagues around the world are doing. Of course there’s as many ways to use the toolbox of service design, as there are people who practice it. However, among those who preach and practice service design there’s plenty of enthusiasm and talking, without real life experimentation and implementation of conceptual ideas and actual proof of delivered effects. And that’s a thing I personally have been a little frustrated about.

I think that in the whole community of service designers and so called design thinkers we need a bit more self-criticism. It’s pretty easy to get excited about the healing power of customer centric approach. But at the same time we should also estimate that power based on the change that we can actually help organizations to make.

What I quite often see in many service design projects is a lack understanding of the challenges in the implementation. It’s lot of research, ideas and post-its without reality checks. The challenges that are neglected or not realized typically include challenges in behavioral change, introducing a new culture and reorganizing the structures of service delivery. This is especially common with very people-intensive services. Making a new iPhone application can be quite straightforward but it’s a totally different thing to reorganize the way the personal customer service. This is where the materials for service design start to play a role. Service designers often lack a lot of understanding in their raw materials when they set out to craft new concepts. Would an industrial designer, architect or interior designer create a concept that is based on materials that can’t be used for that purpose, or that don’t even exist? Probably not.

Of course the raw materials for service are quite complicated and often hard to handle: including stuff like time, space, people, processes… and even customers, who are part always part of the service production. In my experience a service design project is almost always about changing behavior. And behavior is something that you can really change from outside just by defining it or drawing a nice concept. It’s a common understanding that people share about what is valued, how desired outcomes are measured and how those things are talked about, among many other things.

Often the most important recourse in service delivery is people. And whether it’s the customer service staff or guys at the back stage, behavioral change always needs to start form inside, from a personal motivation to change. A when designing with people the designer can’t stay outside and craft nice models and concepts that just should be implemented. Often a service designer needs to understand how to facilitate the behavioral change and the change of service culture, which in the end is pretty much the same as the organization culture. This is, at least for me, the biggest difference between designing for services and product design. They both aim for value creation in customer experience, but the raw materials for design and process of the delivery of the experience are quite different.

In services, people, both customers and service personnel, need to be understood from holistic perspective. Because without people, there is no service. And for many designers this change of perspective is actually quite challenging. Together with the desired outcome you have to understand the limitations and possibilities in you raw materials. This requires sometimes really deep understanding and insight into the structures of service delivery and organization’s culture. You cannot be an artist type of designer who lives in a bubble and imagines nice experiences for customers. Service delivery is the core business of companies, so when you are touching it you are touching something that is quite sacred.

Still too much service design is done in meeting rooms, workshops and design studios. Playing around with ideas but not really involving those whose life the ideas will change. We designer need to learn an approach where we can’t anymore afford to be the authority who just defines how things should work. With service design we need to work with people from the very beginning and help them to realize and define the possibilities that they themselves can get motivated to achieve with the service. Actually with services co-design is the only kind of design there should be.

Surely, new ideas themselves can have a huge value to organization and lead to important realizations. However, if the goal of the project is to make a change happen – to create more value, to be more efficient, to change purchase behavior, to increase customer loyalty, to get a bigger market share, to what ever – the value of the tools, processes and ideas should be estimated against the delivered results, not the possible results.

Often the only way to really see if a concept has potential is to do experimentation in a real environment. When the money changes owner we have a proof that we have been able to change the purchase behavior, for example. Before that it’s just ideas and guessing. Real life experimentation is also a good reality-check for the materials of design. It gives valuable insight about what needs to be considered for implementing changes. Designing this “anatomy of change” should be part of the value that we think service design can offer to those who buy it. And I personally think that if service design fails to get this, it mostly has value as the realm of academia and study of new possibilities, instead of making those possibilities actually to happen. Understanding the materials you are working with is the first and foremost thing to consider when crafting a new model for service.

My advise to anyone who buys or plans a service design projects is to make sure that design of the realistic implementation is included. Or at least an understanding of the implementation challenges, that is based on real life experimentation with real people, in a real context. Otherwise it’s just thinking, talking and guessing. And where service design needs to grow is to more doing and experimenting.

The first entry

For about five years I have had a plan to start to write a blog about design of experiences and future of services. That’s pretty long while to get nothing done – so it’s about a time for the first entry! Developing services of all sorts and flavors is my line of work, but actually the reason behind this blog is not only to write about my professional experiences. The ideas I have in mind now are more related to the big question: “where are we going to go next?”

Six year in a service design agency gives a rich perspective to how different organizations work when they develop new stuff to market. All of them are now struggling because they know that they need to adapt a new culture and start actually pursue human-centric approach. But making the change happen in real life is painful, for many it’s actually extremely painful. However, those who are agile and learn fast can take big leaps in short time. The age of sustainability and value in customer experience is here, and those who find competitive advantage in intangible will write the future of business.

Working in many different fields and markets also gives interesting perspective to how we as customers make our decisions in our everyday lives. Whether it’s about queuing for “compulsory” public service or to a restaurant that we actually would die to get into… What drives us, what we want to achieve and what makes our lives more meaningful? Services and contexts change but it’s always about human behavior – and on the both sides of the table of the service delivery. Whether it’s B2C, C2C or B2B setting, the ones who make purchase decisions and tell stories about their experiences are always humans.

In theory a very holistic approach for designing for experiences is probably the thing that everyone thinks is the way things should be done. Design thinking and service design (I actually hate the whole term for many reasons… but more about that later) have tried to be eyeglasses for organizations to see their offering, problems and new opportunities from where and how the customer sees them. To take a holistic look instead of working in silos and creating stuff that just makes everything more and more complicated to use, change and even understand.

But what is quite obvious, holistic design of experiences is actually extremely complicated. And not only because of how companies for example are organized to create and deliver value to their customers. What works great in theory is often a whole another story in practice. The change in human behavior is hard to predict. And culture cannot be changes from outside. During the past few years in my day job in a service design agency we have for example systematically reinvented our approach a couple of times based on our real life experiences. Services are all about living organisms and constant change – and so is service design, at least for me.

Many of the ideas and realizations I hope to write about have to do with the possibilities of applying human centric design approach to solve various problems of all sorts. But some of them are also about frustration, and failures. The greatest discovery and creation is often seeded from pain and struggle.

Whatever the approach, I guess there’s no denying that the future of business is in service business. With tangible it is hard to find your share in the market and unique slot in the minds of the customers, because we are in the situation where each and every organization is forced to think how to create more value with less resources. And making more stuff just isn’t something that this planet can handle in the long run. That’s why the future of value is in intangible: in radically innovative service concepts and service business, and in ability to deliver meaningful experiences. I believe that instead of more mass-produced crap we as customers need just a hand full truly well-thought items that actually make our lives meaningful. And outstanding services that help us buy, access and take care of those items that really matter to us.