Highlights and Reflections from the Global SDN Conference 2012 in Paris

The vibe of Paris is simultaneously inspiring and challenging— language barriers, clashing cultural differences and the Parisian information architecture for the public transportation makes it complicated to navigate the city during the visitor’s first couple of days. But after getting used to some of these differences, the charm of Paris really grows and over-shadows the complexity of the situation.

After the global SDN 2011 "from sketchbook to spreadsheet" conference in San Francisco (very different from the Scandinavian service design scene), my expectations for a conference located in Europe were high. My hope was that there would be a high number of attendees from Europe. I was very curious about what difference this would bring to the conference. I was expecting more public sector cases, a more open focus towards non-digital services and cases that are further in their implementation process. 

The conference mainly seemed to reflect being a global conference. The context of Paris did not stand out particularly as expected. The attendees were from all over the world - Japan, Taiwan, Sweden, Germany, Norway, United States, Brazil, Portugal, Korea, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Canada and the UK. It was a very interesting mix of people. This also meant that the conference content was reflecting this mix of nationalities and stories from around the world on the topic of culture change.

The Sunday before before the actual conference started, the SDN members were invited to attend the SDN member’s day. This day was focused on sharing the vision of the SDN and letting the members have a word on the future for the network. The specific areas discussed focused on the future of the SDN media, providing thoughts for the future SDN events and how the SDN should influence the academic focus on service design.

The first day of the conference took place at the La Poste - a conference area in the Parisian post office. Looking around you would not have thought that it was a post office, though. This conference day had one presentation track, starting with the formal intros, moving into key presentations and ending with a panel discussion and a wrap up.

The second day took place at EnsAD, a design school in Paris. Quite a different setting but interesting. The location really encouraged people to mingle and network because the rooms and corridors were quite small and narrow. This second day had three tracks: a presentation track and two workshop tracks. Perfect for this location with smaller rooms.

Presentation Highlights

What follows are some highlights from the presentations during the two conference days.

"The role of the service designer is not different from a group therapist" Lisa Woodley, NTT Data, describes how she half way through a workshop with a client realized that she was performing therapy. The workshop was no longer about the design output as much as it was about the changing the client’s way of thinking about their work and work environment. The presentation was given together with her co-worker Laura Keller from NTT Data.

Alisan Atvur, Senior Consultant at Frog, elaborates on how culture change can be considered an act of counseling. Alisan expresses, “Cultural change may be inspired by a single person or a thing but it is only manifested through the choices of people.”

Cybelle Buursink from the Department of Human Services at the Australian Government. Cybelle describes how design principals are being integrated into the Australian government and provide stories on which challenges and constraints she has had to overcome working with an organization with a quite rigid structure. The picture is a reflection of the process. Starting with leading futures services, next facilitating business change, next guiding departmental improvement and last influence policy formulations.

Robin Chase, the founder of Zipcar and the new French version Buzzcar, participated virtually. Robin had been interviewed before the conference and gave her thought on the future of services. Robin Chase says; “A Peers Incorporated structure is the only way that we can make our world move forward.” At TEDGlobal2012 Robin described Peers Incorporated as “a system and way of thinking that can benefit both corporations and individuals.” Read the blog article here

Robin Chase is of the opinion that the world will transition into a place where everything is rented and shared rather then owned. The services that she has started are clearly having success proving just this.

Shelley Evenson focused on what she calls “living service worlds” and gave her thoughts on what that means for service designers in the future. Shelley recently joined Fjord in San Francisco as the Executive Director of Organizational Evolution. In her talk, she focuses on three main topics within “living service worlds” - the rate of mobile adoption; sensors embedded in nearly everything; and the use of natural touch as interaction.

Shelley says; “Service designers are meta designers - designing for experience, not designing the experience.” Shelley argues that, an experience is not something that can be designer - experiences are experienced. A designer can design the touchpoints and the flow that should be experiences. And this is often mistaken with actually designing THE experience.

Professor in Architecture Nabeel Hamdi provides the audience with another perspective to what design and service can mean to the world. As an example Nabeel says; “What a house does is more important then what a house is.” Where this to be translated into the focus of service design the translation could be: What the touchpoint can do is more important then what the touchpoint actually is.

Birgit Mager, Co-founder of SDN spoke of design in the context of three levels; the interface level, the systems level and the strategic level.

Julia Schaeper, Service Design Lead and Innovation Associate at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, ended the second day with her compelling stories from care homes in England. NHS has worked together with care homes to create better solutions for the residence. Julia provides her advice on how to work in this kind of healthcare environment. Julia says “Involve people at all levels. Work with and within their culture.” And “draw on the positive aspects of their culture.” She encourages designers to use the language of the end user when actively involving them. She encourages designers to engage end-users and let them see and realize the positive aspects of their culture and surroundings.

And last but not least “Small change is okay. But we need lots more of it.”


It is good to see the service design is being recognized as a way of activating culture change. The elements and process from this design mindset can be and has been a part of creating culture change in organizations.

Examples given at the conference were expressed through the voices of people working in government, healthcare, peer-to-peer car sharing industry, academia, and financial business. The role and background of the speakers varied as well, but a common trait was that they all were speaking through the eyes of a designer to an audience of designers. And this style is both a strength and a weakness of the conference. The

strength is that the attendees feel like they are a part of a network and a unity that speaks the same language regarding a familiar mission. A weakness is that this language and conference style may exclude other potential audience members, such as business leaders, economists, etc. As a result, the relevance and logic of these presentations may go un-challenged or un-accepted by the non-design audience (i.e. business), which is the audience that is critical for seeing the adoption and growth of service design.

My personal hope is that next year’s conference brings an audience from a more diverse professional background. I believe our practice will thrive when it’s advocates a made up of business leaders, policy makers, economists, academics (from multiple fields) and designers. I hope that the content of these presentations is relevant and inspiring to more then just the design audience: it is this type of content that will invite non-designers to advance the practice of service design.

Photo credit to WhiteSpring. For more conference photos click here

Origins of How Might We?

"Origins of How Might We?" is a great article from GK VanPatter from Humantific. It is about the term “How Might We” and how it is not a new term that designers recently invented. 

VanPatter credits the early work of Sidney J. Parnes PhD from 1967. As written in the article; 

"Thanks to Sidney’s early work, “How Mights” have been in the public domain for decades, and have become integral to numerous creative thinking systems. Framed as questions in search of answers, “How Mights” can be seen in practical, everyday use within many innovation consultancies today, including Humantific, IDEO and many others. What’s different now is what we do with them.”

Culture And Design

I really liked this blogpost by Julia Moisand Egea from Adaptive Path (Austin). Culture And Design: Legacy Versus From Scratch. She shares her insights and thoughts on moving from France to America. It can be quite a change. Lots of emotions and thoughts go through ones head while making this transition. 

As Julia writes;

"Europeans will keep, maintain, restore while Americans will easily restart everything—life, house, job, education, and relationships—at anytime. Both approaches have their own pros and cons." 

Having experience and lived in both cultures it is very clear to me that this culture difference has a lot to say for the way that people react and approach life. It is an important cultural aspect that shapes how people think. To design effective systems and products it is necessary to understand the roots of cultures. 

Holger Maassen, UX Foundry, adds;

"… What I realize more and more is that language change the way of thinking and behavior." in Culture vs Behavior vs Language

I have been thinking about culture, language and mind-set change for quite a bit. I am half Danish / half American, so I basically grew up in a bilingual family. It is interesting to realize that language changes the way you think. And, it can change based on where you are on one day versus the next.

Few people think about it or are aware of it. But there is nothing made by human beings that does not involve a design decision somewhere.
Bill Moggridge, read more - Cooper-Hewitt

TenderROOTS is moving to the next step.

The TenderROOTS project has received the OEWD honorable mention for the ImproveSF Food Justice Challenge. Read the article about the winners here.

We, as a team, have decided to take the concept to the next level. We are currently detailing the proposal and approaching appropriate partners. Are you interested in partnering with TenderROOTS? 

See you at SOCAP12

Just got accepted as a volunteer for SOCAP12. Check it out, SOCAP12

Designing services to improve San Francisco

Katrine Rau Ofenstein presents service concepts at Adaptive Path

How can Central Market/Tenderloin residents store and prepare healthy food when their access to kitchen facilities is limited? This question was the starting point of a full-day workshop at Adaptive Path in collaboration with ImproveSF and residents from the area.

Through initial research, my team and I discovered that the challenge was not necessarily the lack of food services for the residents but rather a missing knowledge of the already-existing services. We designed a branding and marketing strategy for the food services to attend and promote their service through. 

Download the proposal here: TenderROOTS

SDN Denmark - local chapter of SDN

Service Design has been gaining foothold in Denmark in both the private and public sectors and the attention to the field is growing more for each day that passes. During the recent years professionals have taken charge and spread the word of Service Design to help it anchor fully in Denmark.

Service Design Network Denmark was founded as a National Chapter a year ago in August 2011, where the founding meeting of SDN Denmark took place in a small apartment in Aalborg. I had just returned from international work experience and felt a need for the service design scene to grow in Denmark. SDN Denmark was hereby established together with MAN PrimeServ and Aalborg University.

To read more, see denmark.service-design-network.org/about

Service design is the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers.

Design according to the needs of customers, so the service is user-friendly, competitive and relevant to the customers. Focus on the behavior of the customers, their needs and motivations.

Hillary Cottam & Charles Leadbeater (2004), Co-Creating Services

(Source: designcouncil.info)

SDN-DK Presentation by Bechmann

Søren Bechmann gave a presentation for the SDN-DK on how customer experience relates to service design. Bechmann was the first to write a book about service design in Denmark.

Thank you Søren for attending.