The sci-fi author William Gibson once said that what the coming generations will find quaint about us, is that we somehow distinguish between “the virtual” and “the real”. My standpoint is that the real-world implications of introducing digital solutions into everyday life have been neglected for too long. Whether it is about work or play, Service Design is about designing culture — the shared stories and conversations between people that interact and work with each other. And today, this transcends the superficial distinction between digital and non-digital.

Without an understanding of people, culture, and even politics, the design of services is nothing but yet another technocratic tool. Service design is not only about delivering “an omnichannel experience”. I view Service Design as transforming culture and deliver infrastucture for dialogue and organizational change.

Service design is thus not primarily about the traditional design-oriented ethnographic approach where designers collect data, and return to their ivory towers to design an artifact — delivered in a shiny package. As our clients need to juggle several projects in their service ecology, that all have different maturity levels, Service Design needs to be about creating new (and re-defining old) sustainable pieces of infrastructure that fit an already complex service platform. And this is where the two sides of the Service Design coin becomes apparent. Even though we constantly stress the need to look at the holistic experience from the customer’s (or user’s, patient’s, citizen’s) point of view and break down silo-riddled service delivery, the real deep service design work starts when you start looking at the implications at an organizational level. In order to transform and deliver meaningful services, a lot of internal change in departments and culture might be necessary. And a good Service Designer should be able to help facilitate that.

It is important to be able to shift the mindset from the current products and services offering to new possible futures. The services currently provided by an organization to a customer are merely point-in-time solutions allowing customers to carry out certain tasks or jobs. The current offering should not be the focal point for value creation; that would limit the innovation potential. I think of services as valuable solutions to tasks and jobs that customers and other actors need to carry out. That is why me and my team want to do current-state customer journey mappings, as well as (several) future-state mappings.

Service Design is not only about User Experience Design, even though human experience is of fundamental importance. It is also about systemic change where user-driven innovation and design happens for real. In my work, I employ an asset-driven and impact-driven design model from the standpoint that every organization (whether that is a company, brand, or city) is unique and consists of individuals with different assets and challenges. The transformation that occurs is guided by the tools we have put in place. And for sustainable change to occur, the tools need to be able to stand on their own, and be internalized by the organization after the designers have left the initial assignment. As Brenda Laurel put it: “A design isn’t finished until someone is using it.”

Designing meaningful services takes time. And we must work hard to create sustainable and healthy servicescapes. Designing the services of tomorrow requires skill and hard work within a wide range of disciplines since Service Design takes into account physical, psychological, cultural, environmental and health factors. That’s why we need to use rigorous methods to know which simple and focused interventions are needed for manageable impact. It is also why we need a multidisciplinary approach, involving skillsets and roles such as user research, interaction design, architecture, urban planning, system development, machine learning, organization theory, to name a few. These are skillsets and mindsets that allow us to design meaningful conversations and culture. And conversations and culture make no distinction between virtual or “real”.

Director of Service Design and Human-Centered AI at inUse. PhD and Associate Professor at Halmstad University. Father of two. I ride my bike to work.

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