Service design relies on a multidisciplinary and holistic approach to problem solving. Design firms generally encourage this hybridization process, but according to the agency typology, teams are formed either by service designers, which have multiple skills, or by specialists for each discipline - e.g. researchers, strategists, visual designers.
There is a correlation between the size and complexity of the work and the agency typology: boutique service design consultancies tend to work on smaller projects and focus more on research and ideation, while more complex projects are more often managed by larger design firms which mainly look after the implementation. However, service design firms are increasingly taking care about the implementation part as well just as much as traditional design agencies are integrating research and strategic capabilities.
Due to the holistic nature of service design, the majority of today’s service designers are senior professionals in their fields which believed on a wider system-thinking and learned on various levels methods and skills pertinent to other disciplines. Most of the people interviewed therefore appeared quite sceptical regarding the possibility for junior professionals to hold service design positions.
at Livework UK
“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.
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.”
Director at Livework UK,
Founder at Strategic Design Resourcing
“I think it's useful to have different things at different stages in the process. Generally, at Livework, everybody is a holistic service designer and everybody therefore does research, does design and creates material. Maybe once you get into the creation phase you need to bring in an interaction designer, or a UX or a product designer. At the moment we are working on an agile project, which is divided in sprints: there's an interaction designer which is contracting, helping us coding a prototype so we can put it in the field to test it - and he's working remotely. Those roles don't necessarily need to be part of the core team. It depends by which stage you are working on and what the client is asking for. Increasingly they want to see what is being built while you do the design work. I like that approach but I just think it brings in a slightly different shaped thing.”
DESMA Research Associate
at Engine London
“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.
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.”
Senior Experience Designer
“The creative group – composed by more than 100 people in our office – is formed by developers, copyrighters, visual, interaction and UX designers. For each of those domains there’s an internal organization. For any new project – according to the problem to be solved - people get selected from the various domains and they form a team.
The project I’m working on at the moment, for instance, is very unusual: our client doesn’t have an in-house team of designers, hence my team is constantly working for them and alongside them in this on-going partnership. The team is composed by two UX-ers, two interaction designers and a project manager. And since apps are live and they are being constantly improved it is an ongoing project, the length of each stream could vary a lot.”
Design Researcher and Project Manager
at Design Council
“Our team is composed by a chief design officer, a behavioural scientist, a service designer with a psychology background, a graphic designer. We also had a strategist in the past. It changes accordingly to the project. We had some people with specific expertise – for example industrial design – but who take a program/project management approach.”
Partner and Lead Service Designer
“We recruit people according to the role that we need in that specific time. So we initially recruited a designer, a senior manager and a community worker from one of the organisations we've partnered with; we hire people sometimes on temporary roles - we've worked with documentary film makers, writers, learning specialists and professors. And I think roughly 1/3 of them are designers: a bunch of people with a science background, some with a business administration background. We're often interested in people that have a very specific content background. So that's the point of difference I guess between us and an IDEO or an Engine. For us it's important to have people with a content knowledge in the team and we often try to build the capacity in the organisation. So we have these people that might spend half a year with us and be really part of our team - and it's interesting because at the same time they don't need to be in our payroll as we might not have the resources to hire them directly, so we "borrow" them from the organisation we're partnering with. Sometimes we even hire end-users as well.”
Creative Director & Design Strategy | Group Design Director
“I've been building teams and hiring people for the last 8 years. I always try to find people that are “hybrids”. So they can do interaction, visual, research or whatever it might be. Sometimes it's because of the individuals themselves, sometimes the hybridization happens because of the environment they are working in: some environments don’t want hybrids, they want people to fill a box - other environments stretch people too far.
So when putting a team together there's always a lead, a visual design component, an interaction, there could be a creative technology component, a business design component. There could be only 3 people or up to 4 - 5 and sometimes there's a need to add even additional components - but there always needs to be a core team that solves the problem - and I blend the skills accordingly to solve it. At a certain point there's someone that needs to visualise something, to present a flow, or to put an excel behind the business decisions, but up until that point I encourage all the team members to get involved. Technology people to sketch wireframes as much as visual designers, interaction design people to understand business numbers behind the specific stream and so on.”
“I find the skill set required to be a successful PM at Facebook very similar to the main traits of a successful service designer. In both cases you're part of a team and your job is to define what the problem/user need is and how to solve for it. Of course you'll never be alone but you'll work on it with your team.
The value the PM adds is the ability to understand and speak different languages, define priorities and coordinate the execution. You'll have vertical experts across Design, Engineering, Research and Data Analytics who will help you understand what the most impactful thing you can build is, but relies on you to:
1) Define what next steps are to understand the problem/opportunity (Are we looking into data? Are we running a on-field research? Maybe hacking a quick solution and testing it?)
2) Define priorities to execute against the plan effectively
3) Coordinate the work across discipline in the team (design-research-engineering) and with other teams when there is an area of overlap or simply you'll be touching their code.
This multidisciplinary aspect is the fun part of the job as well as what it makes it so similar to service design, because you'll find yourself sometimes playing the researcher role sometimes the graphic designer one and so on.”
former Portfolio Director, Financial Service Design at IDEO,
“It's not that they're not looking for juniors, but the danger with service design is that they are often good thinkers but not good enough at anyone part of what it takes to build the service! I don't even know if it's possible to be a junior service designer. Service design is the combination of different design disciplines to solve a complex problem that involves a combination of people and digital interactions and spaces and so on, right? So in some ways a service designer is just a designer who is good at working with other disciplines to solve a complex problem. What you find at a junior level sometimes is people who aren't really good enough at business, they don't understand business quite enough to be able to drive meaningful business decisions: they don't have enough reputation or even the right set of skills and at the same time they are not even great formal designers!
Their work is "ok", maybe they can or actually even worse they can't actually make anything and so you might say "hey let's build a prototype" and they are like "well I can draw a service journey... we can put on some post-it".. At a junior level to be able to frame and think you have to be very, very good in creative to be worth-it.”