Emergence 2007 Conference

by New Idiom


This past weekend, I went to the Service Design Conference, hosted by the Carnegie Mellon School of Design. Similar to ID’s Design Research Conference (DRC) - formerly ‘about, with and for’ (AWF) - this is a completely student run event, but there are two differences. First, Professor Shelly Evanson chairs the event. She has input in crafting the vision of the conference each year, but ultimately most of the leg-work can be credited to a small group of hard-working students. Secondly, Shelly noted during her opening remarks that the students are required to organize the conference. This surprised me, since DRC is not only student-run but student-initiated too. This is not to say that Carnegie students don’t enjoy it. All members of the conference committee were quite enthusiastic and expressed how rewarding the experience had been.

Held over three days, the conference had a soft start on day one with two workshops and about 50 people in attendance. Day two was the official opening of the conference.    Conference director Jamin Hegeman started the day by showing a word-cloud he created in many-eyes.com, using data from the job title of emergence registrants to demonstrate the wide range of attendees from the professional and academic worlds. There was a notable number of speakers and attendees from Europe. Many-eyes is a free web application created by IBM that enables people to upload data and visualize them in a variety of ways, such as word-clouds, charts, tag maps, graphs and word trees. (This is a great tool for finding insights when you’re dealing with a ton of random data.)

Among the many great speakers in attendance, there was no consensus as how to define ‘service design’, although it was agreed that services were becoming an incredibly important part of our economy. Birgit Mager Professor of Service Design from the Köln international School of Design, Cologne University said that the GDP of most nations was led by the services industry, where the majority of jobs and businesses are created. In the 1960s German families spent 60% of their income on products, and 40% on services. In 2003, that percentage split has reversed, with more emphasis on services. Criteria on which she evaluates the success of a service is it’s usefulness, usability, desirability, efficiency, effectiveness and differentiated experience for the user.

One key theme that keep emerging was that service design involves a greater level of collaboration. Designers certainly do play an important role in service design, but should not be “owned by designers”. Rather, says Chris Downs, founder of UK firm live|work, service design should also be managed by consultants and thinkers too. More importantly, there was much emphasis on the role of the consumer. Core77’s Allan Chochinov showed several examples of how the Internet has empowered consumers to participate in the development and delivery of services.

I most enjoyed the talk given by Jennifer Leonard of IDEO and co-author of Massive Change. Titled “At Your Service: The Blind Men, The Elephant, and the Design of the World” she emphasized that the real value of service design was to look at it from a holistic perspective, and second theme that came up a number of times. No part of the economy goes untouched by some type of service and ultimately, service design is about serving the people. Deliver value not to their “pain points” but their “erogenous zones” as cited by FernandaViegas and Martin Wattenberg of IBM .

Service design is a very complex topic, and consensus on its definition still alludes us. But that is not say we cannot continue to do our due diligence as designers to continue making the world a better place. Oliver King from Engine generated a list of actions with the audience during his panel How Service Design Could Have Saved the World.

  1. Only work for the greater good
  2. Collaborate
  3. Develop facilitation and integration skills
  4. Be prepared to relinquish control
  5. But challenge your assumptions on what ‘good’ is
  6. Develop tools of criticality
  7. Be entrepreneurial
  8. Deploy sustainable design and innovation tools within organisations
  9. Find and support passionate leaders
  10. Teach and learn
  11. Develop a form of Service Notation
  12. Be proactive and be prepared to work pro-bono
  13. Observe and measure the long-term effects
  14. Form long-term relationships
  15. Be committed to issues and problems
  16. Maintain curiosity

Presentations and podcasts will be posted on the Emergence website soon. I’ll will follow-up with the link as soon as its posted. In the meantime my fellow designers, go forth and design great services. Remember to be observant, user focused, creative and integrative. But most importantly approach each service challenge from a holistic perspective.