Service Design Global Conference: Madrid 2017

14 Nov 2017 - Vicky Midson

Orange Bus UX Designer, Vicky Midson went to Madrid for the Service Design Global Conference - an event designed to surface the views of some of the discipline’s leading proponents and increase collaboration in what is still an emerging design community. Here are some of Vicky’s observations from the event.

Service Design Global Conference held its 10th conference this year in the beautiful city of Madrid. The theme for the anniversary conference was “Service Design at Scale”, with topics covering:

  • Scaling Service Design
  • Selling Service Design
  • Business impact and management
  • Organisation, culture and change
  • What’s possible with Service Design
  • What’s been learnt over the last 10-15 years

Back in June, we celebrated Service Design Day with the Service Design Network, which threw an enticing competition to create a vision of what Service Design actually means; we chose to make an iced cake depicting a wall of scattered, themed post-it notes that attempted to describe some basic concepts.

We were thrilled to discover that our entry won Orange Bus a ticket to the Service Design Global Conference in Madrid. My colleague Anna Rzepczynski and I were the lucky ones chosen from our UX team to attend.

Before the conference began, we were very excited to see the wealth of Service Design thought-leaders who were going to be speaking and running workshops. Choosing who to see and what to do, over the two-day conference was a tough task to say the least. So big congratulations to the Service Design Network for putting together such a comprehensive and informative conference, with over 70 speakers and workshop facilitators.

Here are some of my key takeaways from my favourite talks of the two days.

Scaling Service Design in Government - A New Approach to Service Design in Large Organisations:  Louise Downe, @LouiseDowne

Louise is Director of Design and Service Standards for the UK Government. She spoke about how design is not fast enough to keep pace with new services, and how tiny decisions can impact thousands of people - citing the recent Ryanair situation where a small staff rota error led to the cancellation of just 2% of their flights, which in turn affected 4000 people.

Louise’s key messages were:

  • Collaboration: Designers should have meetups and build communities, share and publish their findings for Service Design to grow.
  • Standards: Develop centralised, regularly assessed patterns (GDS Design Principles) and toolkits for prototyping that everyone can use, lowering the barrier-to-entry for design.
  • Get your hands dirty: Strive to understand the technology and medium you are working with.
  • Think ahead: Design something the future can work with. Design small, modular things that can be pulled apart and iterated upon, so they can be useful in the future, evolving over time.
  • Measure impact: Understanding how well you are doing is fundamental - metrics help show if a service is meeting its intent.
  • Create alternative powers of structure: A challenge that is complicated but important. If we want to bring change to big organisations we need a subtle approach. Change won’t happen overnight, so we have to start small and increase efforts.
  • Be critical: Be an ethics practitioner as a designer.

Louise wrapped her talk up by stating:

Tech shows you what can be done; design tells you what should be done.

Finding the Future First – Frontiers of Sophisticated Service Innovation: Larry Keeley

Larry is an Innovation Strategist at Doblin in Chicago. He spoke about successful innovation including, the ten types of innovation, (a framework that provides a way to identify new opportunities beyond products and develop viable innovations), and how to have a truly innovative product or service, you must have five or more types of innovation across three areas: Configuration, Offering and Experience.

He drew on examples such as AirBnB, who used five types of innovation. This led to their industry breakthrough and growth which made them bigger than the largest three hotel chains put together.

Larry also talked about:

  • Platforms and ecosystems: The importance of understanding platforms, the diversity out there and how learning to think at platform level will ensure you get it right.
  • Technology: Understand the tech stack you are working with, and that the fastest innovation comes from using existing open source tools
  • Ethics: Have heart and sense about what the world needs right now in products and services. Also, don’t just test prototypes in a lab, but test with your heart and your head too - do you want your kids to live in that world?

Finally, Larry’s advice on innovation was:

If your idea is bold enough you can deliver it slowly. If you are being told you are not moving fast enough, your idea might not be bold enough and could be quite ordinary.

Visualising Services Workshop: Mauro Rego, @mauroalex

Mauro is a freelance Designer and the founder of, Being Visual, in Germany. He ran a couple of sketching activities during his workshop to:

  1. Illustrate how differently people think even when given the same topics to discuss and the same tasks to complete;
  2. Get people to think creatively, even when working within a structured framework.

The two activities really inspired me, and I will be trying them out in some of our own Orange Bus workshops as soon as possible. Also, as a UX Designer with a visual background, the illustrations he used to guide us through the workshop were superb.

During the session, he talked about:

  • Visual vocabulary: Understanding your audience including clients, the language they use and the importance of using the right metaphors that will make sense to them - use their language, not just ours.
  • Complex services: Need visuals to help people understand concepts faster. Storyboards are a powerful visualisation tool.
  • Collaboration: Co-creation workshops when done well, applying context to each client’s needs, allow us to design better services together.
  • Create/sketch first: Give people a starting point to a discussion by creating or sketching an idea or concept out first. This makes it easier to talk, rather than starting from nothing.
  • Frameworks: Give consistency and structure to a storyboard. A good framework is always made up of:
  1. Problem: Main user + problem that has to be solved
  2. Solution: Main touchpoint or product staging
  3. User action: What does the user do to activate the service?
  4. Service action: How does the service/product react/work?
  5. Happy end & value: What is the delivered value? What does the expected end scenario look like?

My top piece of advice from Mauro was:

You have to feed the same fish over-and-over again for a concept to be fully understood.

Midway through the conference, came the, Service Design Awards 2017, ceremony. A celebration of all the excellent work within the Service Design industry over the last year. Categories included Commercial, Non-Profit and Student. We were blown away by the quality and creativity of all the finalist’s work and the impact they had.

We especially loved:

  • DMA: Design In Schools Australia - a design and education collaboration. Getting Service Design into education by collaborating with school children to help them design a better car parking system.

Servizz Design by Ella Walding - an MA student project where Ella designed a set of service design tools for the Government of Malta.

Revolutionizing the Air Travel Experience Through Innovation & Human-Centred Design - Lee Moreau, @moreaulee

Lee Moreau, an Architect turned Strategist, is a Principal at Continuum. He told us of his latest project for SouthWest Airlines, redesigning the airport experience and all the challenges and methods they had to adopt.

He showed us a few examples, including:

  • Smart Flight Information Displays: Moving away from the “travel by spreadsheet” we currently have. This means that displays only show relevant information to travellers depending on where they are within the airport.
  • Smart Gate Signs: Stripping away airport jargon and only showing what’s relevant to travellers.
  • Sharing more information: Showing passengers useful data that is otherwise locked away out of sight, and answering frequently asked questions like “how full is this flight?”, using smart signs and information panels.

The prototyping of this service redesign was huge and had to be done on a massive scale. We saw how the airport experience was translated into a VR prototype - a real walkthrough prototype in a converted warehouse - and finally a pilot version rolled out in an airport using real data and passengers.

ENDS: When We’re Finished With Products and Services - Joe Macleod, @mrmacleod

Joe has worked on a diverse range of projects for organisations and companies. Over the last four years he has established Ustwo, and is the author of Ends. His closing keynote was all about how the end of a service or product is often neglected, and how we could do a lot more as Service Designers to deliver emotional endings. We haven’t got a vocabulary around endings yet.

He spoke about:

  • Lifecycles: Historically the lifecycle of a service has been a lot longer - people were familiar with having the same bank accounts for most of their life, or perhaps a pension pot running for decades before it’s released. This meant we didn’t think far into the future, whereas in the modern world, lifecycles such as these are much smaller as we switch products and services much more frequently.
  • Waste: There is a quickening of consumption in our lives which also means there is much waste too.
  • Zombie apps: Not the flesh-eating shoot-em-up games, but an app that doesn’t appear in the top three hundred of any of Apple’s twenty-three different genre lists. Most apps in the app store are zombies.
  • Hidden endings: Some packaging avoids the real ending. He gave the example of a printer cartridge lifecycle as follows - “Onboarding”: Getting a printer, “Usage”: Using the ink cartridge, then “Offboarding”: What do you do with the empty cartridge? Recycling information is hard to find and buried away from us.
  • Emotional endings: Endings add a sense of closure, as well as moral and social order to narratives. His advice is to start thinking about them, run an audit of what we already have, map-out engagement over time, and plan for the aftermath.

Summary of the Conference

I have mentioned but a few of the many excellent talks and workshops we attended. It was absolutely packed full of exciting and thought-provoking information. As a UX Designer moving into the world of Service Design, it was an invaluable experience for me. I was also comforted by the knowledge that others in the industry have the same questions and challenges I do. My key takeaways are:

  • We need to work collaboratively with clients and customers/users alike
  • We need to use language and visualisations better to help clients understand Service Design
  • We need to better understand the platforms and ecosystems we are working with for us to deliver bold ideas fast
  • We need to keep developing the tools and methods we use to implement good services
  • We need to keep prototyping, working iteratively and not to be afraid of starting small to eventually go big
  • We need to show the impact of what good service design brings to earn trust and win over hearts and minds
  • Finally, we need to be ethical, consider how our decisions now will impact future generations.

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