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Eva Kirchberger

DESMA Research Associate at Engine

24 November 2015

Eva, what's your background?

I’m a researcher, but I’ve always worked in the creative industry for corporates. I've been for a year in a branding agency where my role was the “insights manager” and with my team we brought design thinking to the whole branding agency. Moreover, as part of a program for design management I’ve also worked for three months at LiveWork and now I’ve been at Engine for more than three years. The program ended but I’m still there providing strategic advice to the board on business decisions and for specific projects.

Considering Engine Design, how did you recently see the business evolving?

I’ve seen changes at all levels: what I’ve studied in my PHD and what I’m trying to unravel is where this need for change actually comes from. It seems like Engine has been responding to some requests from the market – service design is very trendy now and as we all know consultancies like McKinsey, Accenture, as well as digital firms are moving into this field.

"So there’s this kind of frenemy situation: the management consultancy is kind of the enemy because they pitch for the same jobs, but at the same time they can be clients."

That causes a lot of pressure for Engine and also the clients’ expectations change because they start to compare the offered services to what they get from other firms. As those firms are mostly from other disciplines and areas, it is a strange place for Engine to be in because there are some expected things they wouldn’t necessarily have done.

On the other hand, it is also a huge opportunity because different expectations and needs make projects become bigger and they become comparable to the one which are typically done by management consultancies. So there’s this kind of frenemy situation: the management consultancy is kind of the enemy because they pitch for the same jobs, but at the same time they can be clients. Therefore, Engine has started to respond working on projects that become longer, more complex. They actually call it Design+ and it takes care about the implementation phase more. If you think about this double diamond process people use – I think they’ve mostly done the research ideation and strategy phases but not walk so much down the path of implementation.

Which kind of agency is Engine?

Engine is a pure service design agency.

Which kind of clients does it work for?

Engine doesn’t do any public work anymore. It was an intentional decision, took many years ago. From what I understood within the public sector, projects don’t have the same budgets as they have in the corporate world.
In terms of digital there are no "digital-only" clients: it's the other way around. If we consider service design as designing experiences both on and off-line - that's how I explain it to people - then you actually have digital cutting across anyway. You also have digital increasingly in the physical world. That is inherently part of it and therefore I would say that Engine works closely with digital designers or with digital agencies they partnered with when they have to deliver something related, just because the whole service is much bigger than just the digital side.

Which kind of business design services are usually requested by your clients?

Business design is kind of new term and I think everyone defines it differently. We don’t use the term business design, however since we move more into implementation we move more into change management. We think more about how the customer experience effects a company: how would it impact on how people work? On the processes? They are basically all relevant, being the core offering. Remember that service design is about designing experiences.

How many people work at Engine?

Around 25 in London.

What is the contribution of each member on your team and how is it applied?

It depends by the size of the project. If it’s a small project there are two people involved in it from the beginning to the end: the role of the service designer at Engine is very generalist, so people can actually do everything – from doing research to ideating concepts or doing workshops. They sometimes even go to the client side and help them implementing. I don’t say this might be the future’s structure but it is how it currently works. When it’s a complex project such as the latest in Dubai – we are talking about a two-years engagement – then it’s a bigger team of about 5 members and you can also find more hybrid skills. That team is composed by a change manager, a graphic designer, a product designer, someone coming more from a digital background. So it’s more varied.

Service design agencies like Engine and Livework have pure hybrid – multidisciplinary minded people in their team whereas agencies like IDEO or Fjord tend to look a bit more for specialists. What’s the reason behind this?

There might be several reasons for this. First of all the size, as IDEO is much bigger then Engine, and then also the nature of the job you do. If your firm is very generalist, people will probably be able to understand and manage a bit of everything. But probably, when a project becomes bigger, there might be the need to specialise. Another reason is how mature the company is. Engine might increasingly have more specialists on-board in the future – we don’t know yet. Moreover, IDEO was known for bringing product innovations and with product you can be much more radically innovative; in service is much more difficult because it is mostly tied to people’s behaviours. So to be radically different it’s tricky and therefore you maybe don’t need so many different specialists.

What about service designers' background?

Engine has a strong product design background coined by the founders, whereas for example Livework has a more digital background. We know that founders always coin the DNA of a company hence at Engine there are more product designers while at Livework more digital designers.
But then you also have interaction and graphic designers. I believe the specialism is not the most important characteristic to hire someone, there are many others which are more important. For example in smaller, boutique agencies you should fit in the culture of the company rather than having a particular skill.

Have you ever heard about product service system design?

Yeah, I’ve heard about it at a conference where I spoke. But still, reading the different academic descriptions, I can’t really understand what it is and how it connects to the work we do. Apparently the difference is that a product service system designer doesn’t consider the problem from a customer perspective but potentially also from the provider’s point of view. But I'm still not sure how is it applied in practical terms.

That’s my personal definition: you've got online and offline touchpoints. In terms of time and place: online is “always” and “wherever”, offline instead is limited to a specific moment and a specific location. Sometimes digital devices are embedded in this physical world so there’s not a real separation. If you change a touchpoint, it would affect the wider system of this company.

We at Engine apply the “service logic” considering that anything could provide or modify an experience. The experience might involve using a gadget only and maybe it might use a space or an artefact.. We don’t distinguish. So when you talk about product, service, system for us they are all the same – it's just a matter of what delivers what. What I think is relevant is to understand how does that change the place we are in, the processes we use and how does it change people’s behaviour.

Eva Kirchberger service design map That’s the impact we basically have to redesign when we are in the physical world. Online world is not as complex – because it’s digital only – however as said it can be embedded in the offline world. So if you think “how could the experience be better”, perhaps we might want to implement a screen near the table in a restaurant to upgrade the dining experience.. We don’t distinguish because the digital revolution we are in is increasingly blurring the boundaries with the physical world, so it's harder to say it’s just a digital service or just a physical product.

Which kind of problem solving process does your company follow?

The process present on Engine's website is respected. I just think that the implementation phase has a long tale and is increasingly important while the research phase used to be very important but there are now a lot of research-only agencies so it is less relevant. I believe there is a shift and emphasis but we follow that process pretty much throughout.

You need to be careful that people do actually sketch and talk about things they do really believe in instead of just replicating someone else’s ideas. For example many people talk about the double diamond because they heard about it but if you really look at what they do today, are we really sure they are following that process? I don’t think so.

How do you think service design will evolve in the next few years?

You should read my book which is coming out soon! I think there are different possible scenarios and we cannot predict which one will become reality. It depends by the different firms behaviours and by the market as a whole. I think that quality is important: clients might be satisfied by service design results or they might decide it’s just a trend that don’t really deliver on his promise. So I think there’s a bit of a risk there.

Those are the possible scenarios I've outlined:

Option A could be we will have more companies re-labelling themselves as service design agencies and increasingly doing service design, claiming less they are doing digital, which will just be absorbed by service design as a whole.
Option B is that digital design will actually own service design and everything we understand related to service design will automatically be implied when talking about digital design.
Option C: the label become useless as everyone does something different and clients don’t really understand what it actually is hence service design will still be done, not as a distinct practice but as other disciplines absorb its tools. So it could be that consumer marketing uses the user journey mapping to do what they do and people talk less and less about service design. I don’t think there's a risk for it to disappear – it might just become less demanded.
The opportunity is that if service design steps up more, projects can become bigger and service design companies could partner more with management consulting agencies to work on huge customer experience projects. So, we will see.


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