24 October 2017

Why service design is changing everything, even your morning coffee

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Last September we gathered around a table in Antwerp to discuss the strategic role of service design. This discipline has the purpose to give a clear direction to projects and businesses, combining client needs and business objectives. Now, what is the secret of service design in playing this role and how does it succeed?

Defining service design

As in a lot of discussions about service design, this one also started with a debate on what the actual definition of the word is. There are a lot of terms describing the discipline, but the main discussion was about the difference between UX design and service design. It soon became very clear that the topic was tense. Everyone gave a lot of input and some participants even came with examples, such as the following video:

After going back and forth a lot, the final conclusion stated that the concept is often mis-used by many people. Also, everyone agreed that the term ‘service design’ goes broader than just digital solutions or services. It is about the creation of products and services based on client needs, that can be digital as well as physical.

"Tomorrowland transformed the traditional festival by putting customer service at the core of their business model."

Knowing that, we can conclude that service design defines the value that projects or businesses deliver to the client. Currently, businesses have a lot of difficulties in reinventing their value propositions based on the client expectations of the 21st century. Due to old IT-infrastructure or conservative company cultures, basic requirements for top-notch client services are often not in place. So let’s forget even about innovation.

Driving change forward

In these times of evolving companies and industries, change management plays an important role. It’s a discipline that is very complementary to service design. We could even state that service design offers a steady base for change management. Before asking people to change, it has to be clear why, how and for which purpose or outcome. Service design helps companies to define the direction where to go and why, guided by client input. The contribution of service design to change management, being mainly an internal process, underlines its potential even more. It is one thing to come up with a value proposition, based on client input or not, but if you have to sell it internally it looses its power. Therefore service designers work with internal project teams and create solutions together. This way half of the change management is already done.

Service design doesn’t only diminish the risk, it also speeds up the process. In an agile work environment, service design helps to iterate on products to build, thanks to different loops of client feedback, research and testing. Furthermore the methodology is based on multifunctional teams working across different entities. This breaks down the internal silo’s, which is also beneficial for the change to spread.

We round up the evening concluding the importance of our discipline, but at the same time the complexity of it. Even if we no longer have to convince industries of the importance of our work, it became even harder to manage expectations.