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Dominic Burton

Service Designer at Livework UK

9 March, 2016

Dom, what is your background?

I studied industrial design at Brunel almost 7 years ago and whilst doing some of the projects I've worked on, I realised I got frustrated because I couldn't really solve the challenge I was trying to, as things needed to change beyond the product. I think I've walked through service design even if I used to call it system design. I ended up doing a research aimed at making housing more sociable: looking for some wider inspiration I found out about social innovation - that lead me quite quickly to service design.

During the last year I got quite excited about service and social innovation and I tried to make my final year project include some service elements: I worked on one project for the "Royal National Institute for Deaf People" about how to remanufacture old hearing aids they no longer used so that they can be used in developing countries. I spent part of the time thinking on how to deliver the service, but as I was still doing product design I had to add an element of product in the project anyway. When I finished my degree, I decided I wanted to work in the service and social innovation area: it was 2009 and service design was already existing.

Interestingly, when I was doing my Master's degree there was very little literature to refer about - the only thing I found about service design was a small chapter inside the "Designing Interaction" book by Bill Moggridge. When I graduated I did an internship at Livework, I've been doing some freelance work for a year and a half and then I started working with Livework in 2011 and I've been here since then.

How did you find the service design industry changing in the last few years?

I think the market has got a lot more mature. It comes in waves: there was a time when everyone was interested in doing workshops and processes - now there's a trend towards digital with GDS (Government Digital Service) and big banks wanting to become digitally focused.

"In the last year market has picked up a lot and it seems like there's much more opportunities for service designers"

Definitely in the last year market has picked up a lot and it seems like there's much more opportunities for service designers; consultancies got a lot more busy in the last year - and I think it is probably also a trend to integrate the "business thinking" into design agencies.

I don't know whether that is driven by the market or consultancies realising that designers were not having the impact they wanted because they didn't have that business understanding, but it's definitely been in the last three or four years a big focus.

How would you describe the difference between user experience and service design? Some of the experienced UX designers I’ve been speaking with, think service design is just a different terminology being used to describe what they’ve already been doing for years.

I think there are probably different types of UX designers and probably, unfairly, UX and UI got lumped together in one thing, hence UX has started to be focused on digital solutions only.

Actually, part of the projects service design agencies work on is about digital transformation...

Yes, but if you think about a balance, a centre of gravity, UX is probably closer towards implementation or building stuff while we rarely get to the stage of building a website or what an actual user is going to see.

"We are much on a higher upstream, which is about the strategy, user needs and so forth."

We are much on a higher upstream, which is about the strategy, user needs and so forth. We rarely ever deliver a functioning website, while I think a UX designer would be expected to work with developers and actually produce this website. I think at the beginning Livework did that a lot more - probably some service design company still do that, while we usually have partners and we take care about the service strategy.

Speaking about service design with people coming from different background, it seems like everyone is talking about the same topic but they actually don't. The reason is probably to be referred to the multiple backgrounds of service design itself - like marketing, design and management - causing it to struggle to find its very own identity. How do you see it going to evolve?

It will continue to mature I think. I wouldn't say it's struggling, I believe it's just a new discipline, a new field. As more people will start working on it and developing more perspectives, it becomes more mature. Maybe it will have a clearer, focused identity as now it feels like it's getting amends all the times.
But it seems to be picking up in the US; when I started, it was rarely mentioned in the US where clients were very focused on the UX. Now they sort of expect you to speak about service design.

So I think it'll probably develop further on: maybe the scope will broad or maybe it will shrink, we don't know yet. It might even broad more to include some more strategic. And, probably, the trend of big companies developing in-house service design departments will continue. At the beginning here we had a lots of projects with “telcos”, but it started to dry out: that’s probably because they are starting to develop their own in-house capabilities. They have less of a need for consultancies.
Maybe we'll also work more with "smes" (small-medium enterprises and companies). I think we would be valuable to them as they don't have the capabilities already in-house.

What you found out about the different vision about service design is true. I also had my specific view before joining Livework and I had no specific training in service design. Than that got combined with the collective of Liveworkers, but probably, internally, you still have different views about what service design is.

Considering the academic descriptions of Product Service System Design, how would you sketch a venn diagram which represents the relationship among service design, strategic design, PSSD and design thinking?

Strategic design and service design are quite related and they definitely partially overlap. I believe LiveWork is located in this "intersection". I think you could do service design focusing more on how you realise the service and environment: service design would mean focusing more on the implementation and less on the strategic - which is what strategic design is about in my opinion.
Dominic Burton service design map PSS is obviously product and service related. You probably are doing something similar to service design whereas sometimes you might be focused more on the product and sometimes more on the service.. And then you have design thinking, which seems to be in a way becoming less popular all the time: I think it's just a way of thinking - and sort of selling design to business. There's probably a bit of design thinking in all of them.

How is it like for you to work as a service designer? Your profile description says you “do some user interviews in the morning, some concepts in the afternoon and then some coding in the night”. Is it actually this much multidisciplinary?

It varies a lot depending on which project you are working on, but I was literally doing a user research interview this morning! Yes, it's quite varied: lots of meetings, spending a bit of the time in the office.. I've been doing a project recently with GP (General Practice) surgery and I had to go up to Manchester to work in different surgeries with them. And then there's a part of work which is about involving businesses – it might be writing articles or similar activities.

Livework Rotterdam has both business and service designers. In terms of role and responsibilities, what are the differences?

We don't have any business designer in London. Maybe some service designer would cover that role. It depends by what you mean by business design: probably they would be more competent in framing things and thinking more about how a business would adopt solutions. We often work with clients who define the business-side elements. For the project I'm doing at the moment, we offered them to do it by ourselves but then they decided they would take care about the business-side and we would focus on customer-related things. It's hard to break the two apart really.

Only Livework and a few similar agencies adopt a purely multidisciplinary approach which requires professionals capable of managing different aspects of a project, while bigger agencies prefer hiring specialists: UI designers, UX researchers, strategists etc.

I think some companies do divide things down to specific roles, but we tend to take the approach where we have small project teams and the team will stay with the project for the entire duration. We would start with the research, then continue with the ideation, the prototyping and the entire thing. And it seems to work well. We have quite content - intense projects and a lot of knowledge would need to be transferred when working on team with specific activities and roles. But I can see how it might make sense to divide more if you are a bigger company.

In London, during the past few years, service design and social innovation became two separate worlds. How did it happen?

I think there are two types of social innovation approaches. The one taken into account by the public sector - which is quite strong at the moment - and the more “pure” social innovation – which is the space where charities and social enterprises work. There's been quite a lot of service design focus in that areas – including a few companies that unfortunately don't exist anymore like Participle or ThinkPublic. I think it is difficult to get funding, specially when there are not many investments around and people are focusing more on delivering standard services rather than trying to innovate. But I think a lot of people do want to work in that area, it's quite popular. Livework would be interested in that area, there are just not too many projects. And there's a lot of public-sector work around it anyway.

One thing somebody told me some years ago about social innovation that I believed changed a bit my view was related to how you could make a valuable contribution even doing commercial. Contributing to the middle class is important and actually creates positive impact. And that was quite a different perspective to me.


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