Woman shopping for groceries in South Korea at a HomePlus display using her mobile phone
Earlier this month, Adaptive Path held the Service Experience conference in San Francisco, CA. The conference invited designers and business leaders who are out there 'in the trenches' to share insights, tips, and methods from their case studies in service design.
Service Design is an emergent area of design thinking that's been percolating in design circles for many years. Though corporate brands like Apple, Nike, P&G and Starbucks have built their success on the principles of good service design, it's an approach getting more serious consideration in countries like the U.S. after years of being developed in Europe.
Service Design, Service Experience, or Consumer Experience is a design approach that understands that the process by which a product is made and the organization that produces it, not only affects the product, but also defines the experience of the product. Service Design is made up of many ecosystems, including a company's own internal culture, their approach to production and development, as well as the context of the product as it exists in the day to day life of the users. Think about how Apple represents not only the product, but also customer service combined with the branded architectural experience of the Apple store. Or how Tesla motors is not only considering the product (an electric vehicle) but also mapping out a plan for a network of electric charging stations in California.
Service Design is a holistic system that takes into consideration the end to end experience of a product, whether it be a car, a computer, a trip, or a book. It is invested in creating the infrastructure that supports and empathizes with human needs by prioritizing people and experiences over technology during the design process. Service design is a design approach that can be applied across fields.
Swimming in Culture
A key perspective of Service Design is the ability to grasp organizational culture. Ever wonder why you had a great time working for one company and another company, not so much? Maybe it's not all 'in your head': According to keynote speaker David Gray of Limnl, culture is a summation of the habits of a group, and that "people swim in culture the way fish swim in water," using the analogy of dolphins and sharks.
In order to change culture, one must be able to find its foundation first. Ask dumb questions, talk to the newbies, gather evidence, and the evidence (what you see) usually leads to levers (how and why decisions are made and the protocol used) which leads to the company values (the underlying priorities and what's considered important) that uncover foundational assumptions (how they view the way the world works and what is the reasoning behind those values).
The Human Touch... or Snow White's?
As Jamin Hegeman noted, the future of Service Design would be a hybrid culture of design and business built from scratch. Enter Airbnb, a company founded by a couple of designers and a developer. The story of Airbnb's inception (originally Airbed & Breakfast) is of a two design students who decided to sublet their amenities and lend visitors their expertise as guides during a design conference after they finding themselves short of making rent one month.
Airbnb uses Disney's "Snow White" as a humanizing Service Design narrative framework in order to better understand and empathize with guests and hosts for the end to end experience. Since Airbnb's product is the trip, it requires understanding and empathizing with guests and hosts, throughout the end-to-end experience. It also requires the tricky feat of choreographing online and offline activities. With the help of a storyboard artist from Pixar, they explored nuanced end to end scenarios of the trip, using frame by frame storyboard illustrations that freeze key moments, or 'moments of truth.' The language of safety, journey and hospitality is the foundation (or assumption) that the Snow White story—whether simply a project codename or inspirational narrative—lends to the project. And as Airbnb's Rebecca Sinclair points out: Airbnb is only as good as its hosts, making the nurturing of culture a priority. This brings us back to David Gray's talk on Culture Mapping and why understanding culture as a crucial aspect of good service design.
Airbnb approaches culture in several ways:
1. They have Neighborhoods, a project to understand the geographical and local contexts of AirBnB rentals.
2. AirLove, which is a campaign that listens and responds to hosts' feedback by communicating through physically mailed goods.
3. They promote photography, which captures the "facts and feelings" of a place and context.
4. They created a Hospitality Lab that explores what hospitality is and can be. Through this, they are also better able to inform hosts with feedback that can teach them to be better hosts.
5. They've invested in perfecting the dance of mobile communication, since mobile is the main bridge between online and offline interactions for their users.
Snow White is AirBnb's human version of a narrative framework that identifies and makes sense of the human moments that matter in the end to end journeys of both their hosts and guests.
Winners tend to be "Touchy-Feely"
As we head into the era of the Internet of Things and networked design, there is no better time to frame design challenges through the lens of Service Design. And as Brandon Schauer notes in his talk, the 2012 US Trade deficit is $-753.3 billion and a surplus of $195.3 billion for services, which shows that Service Design now has a hard enough bottom-line case.
Or another way think of it is the way Thomas Friedman put it in his 2005 book The World is Flat: "No matter what your profession - doctor, lawyer, architect, accountant - if you are an American, you better be good at the touchy-feely service stuff, because anything that can be digitized can be outsourced to either the smartest or the cheapest producer".
Translation for circa 2013 where numerous startups and companies vye for niches in a saturated market of ideas: those who pay attention to the details of designing a good service experience will be richly rewarded by distinguishing themselves from the pack.