Service design background
and evolution

Figure 1.

Timeline: how did service design become what it is today

Service design seems to have had an important contribution in its early days by the work done by the first pure service design agencies like Livework and Engine, the influence of social innovation organizations and the participation of an active community of practitioners.

However, the most relevant progress took place when the financial crisis forced most of the design consultancies to reinvent themselves,which led to the need for a more competent conversation about the business implications of design.

On the other hand, the success of design driven companies like Apple alongside socio-economical factors, induced companies to investigate the importance of integrating design among other traditional business pillars.

Oli Shaw quote
Oli Shaw

Creative Director & Design Strategy | Group Design Director
at Fjord

“What I've seen in the last three/four years is that there is more and more need for business understanding - that doesn't actually mean that as a designer you need to have a full knowledge of business, but at least you have to understand the value that is there.”

Marzia Arico quote
Marzia Aricò

Service Design & Strategy Consultant
at Livework Rotterdam

“Service design is an extremely new discipline which emerged from interaction design. Today it is still facing many major changes.
Livework was initially mainly focusing on customer-experience, focusing on improving the quality of users and customers experience. One of the main limitations of that approach was an unbalanced focus towards the final user, while lacking to consider the complete system that delivers the service. Clients used to be corporates, with substantial budgets available from innovation departments. Projects were very "explorative", "future-oriented", aimed at understanding how to better anticipate customers' needs.

However, often those projects didn’t get implemented. Big budgets, awesome projects - with an exceptional attention on the customer's experience - but difficult to implement – often because there were not sufficient capabilities in play or the business drivers were not solid enough.

In 2009, the big financial crack impacted heavily on Livework and similar agencies. Many employees – almost half of the workforce - had to be made redundant, mainly because their clients, the big corporates, had to cut innovation budgets. Those large investments didn’t actually produce any business relevant results and agencies had to reinvent themselves in order to keep thriving and maintain their clients. During the same year, there has been a wave of publications related to design and its business relevance, such as Tim Brown’s "Change by design", Frog’s "A Fine line", Verganti’s "Design driven innovation". It became quite clear that design alone was not enough to tackle the organizational challenges clients were faced with.”

James Moed quote
James Moed

former Portfolio Director, Financial Service Design at IDEO,
freelance Consultant

“When I first started working in design, it was a new exciting tool to solve business problems. It was really the first time that designers where asked to move away from “pure form” to thinking. Clients didn’t even know what they were asking for: all they knew was “oh my god! You are talking to real people and you are prototyping things! That’s magic!” It seemed like they were completely entranced by this method and I think that was the original time when IDEO built its application including a very human centred perspective, to solving problems.

So eight years later - many thanks to IDEO and the popularity of design thinking – design shifted from being an outsider way of thinking to being a core set of toolkit. So now those companies know what they don’t know - but they are just very bad at it. They now know what a design approach to business problems solving is, they’ve read enough books on how to do it and they’ve seen it done – but they don’t really have the skills in house to do it.”

Marcella Maltese quote
Marcella Maltese

Senior Experience Designer
at SapientNitro

“At Orange I was responsible for a R&D lab and had to deal with very different aspects, from concept development to rapid prototyping on different types of projects – interior design, websites, mobile and so on. The most interesting part is how I saw it all changing, from being a very tech-driven engineering hub to a very design-driven hub: during three years the design team got increasingly more relevant than the engineer team thanks to the results achieved by design-lead projects.”

Jason Mesut quote
Jason Mesut

Founder at Resonant Design and Innovation Ltd,
former Head of User Experience at Plan

“I think (service design practice) is finally understanding that those projects take ages to be done and it requires a lot of patient and persistence. I still want to believe in this wider, holistic view, but I just think it's really hard to do it and it requires a lot more business appreciations and maturity.

However, I've seen more a few clients requesting it. And I've seen also some more recognition in the States where they were they were talking about it as “experience strategy” and design thinking. But it never really got hold as much as service design did, which is more a European focus. So it seems like the US is picking up on those things and as the US market does, they are very good in self-promotion and inflating the value and I guess we will see more of that.”

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