top of page
  • Writer's pictureIrene Cajas

Service design days: the experience

Over two full days, last October 5th and 6th, a group of over 300 people converged at the Disseny Hub in Barcelona to share experiences, insights and provoke new conversations around Service Design.

If you are new to the concept of Service Design and are scratching your head wondering what it is, here's a definition to help you have a better idea:

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. The purpose of service design methodologies is to design according to the needs of customers or participants so that the service is user-friendly, competitive and relevant to the customers. - Service Design Network

Service design is an inclusive field of design, one where designers (I use the term designers liberally, as it often includes people from varied backgrounds, not only trained in conventional design) collaborate and co-create with users to produce innovative solutions to our everyday problems, especially in the ever-changing world we live in.

This year's Service Design Days theme was precisely that: adapting to change. How can organization's adapt to their customer and employee's changing needs? How can we adapt to the rapid environmental change around us? How do we reconcile new technological advances and the way we interact with them? What tools do we use to better understand people's needs facing this change? How do we create meaningful connections with others around us as we navigate this change? How do we foster innovative solutions and environments as we face this change? These were just some of the questions that helped frame this year's edition of the Service Design Days. Where for over two days, more than 300 people from different backgrounds all gathered to discuss and learn how service design is helping us adapt to this change, whether this happens in small and large organizations (Ikea, PepsiCo, Spotify, Zalando, and King), in our environments (The Care Lab, Open Change, John Thackara, Idris Mootee), and in our relationships with others (John Curran and Arne van Oosterom).

During these two days, I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer, alongside a fantastic group of talented fellow designers, and be a part of this incredible event. With over 30+ speakers sharing their knowledge, experiences, challenges, and ideas, it was hard not to feel inspired, as I see the world around me slowly embracing design as a strategy to help solve some of the challenges and change we face. And while all the talks and speakers were amazing, thought-provoking and even hilarious (especially Idris Mootee and his analogy of companies as defunct camels), some resonated more with me than others. I want to share three of them and a brief overview of their message throughout their conversations and workshops.

Gender and design was the central topic in Erica Eden's (Director of Global Design Innovation at PepsiCo) talk. While working at PepsiCo, she conducted a Design & Gender Audit, the results were quite interesting and in them, she found that brands often make three crucial mistakes when creating innovative products and services for women: the solutions are generic, stereotypical (think pink, purple and curved shapes) and functional. She also found that for men this was quite the opposite, brands were catering to tribes (trendsetters and opinion leaders), and their aspirational needs all while creating exclusivity. She also found that there was a very powerful reason why designing for and with tribes, rather than constructed personas, worked (clear examples are Doritos, Mountain Dew, and Gatorade): decisions are emotion based. So how do you actually find the right tribes? You go out there, observe, research, connect and spend time with consumers to better understand what makes them click, how you can create real connections to your brand and in the process establish brand loyalty.

Design is about change; it is both informed by changed and it needs to adapt to the changing world around us. Many brands around the world have long catered to the traditional markets around the world, however, markets at the bottom of the pyramid in developing countries are deeply underserved. During her talk, Design is change - change by design, Lidia Oshlyansky, Design Lead for Spotify's Growth Opportunities team, shared how Spotify has been finding opportunities for changing (and greatly underserved) markets especially in Latinamerica. They have found that these markets represent a growing user base that wants products and services that they can use and enjoy in their everyday lives. Their response to this has been the release of Spotify Lite (currently for Android in Brazil), a data-friendly version that is aimed at providing people with limited bandwidth and phone storage capacity, the ability to enjoy and discover music. While the App has only been deployed in Brazil, for now, the team hopes to learn from the user testing and continue to improve its users' experience, eventually deploying the product around the world.

With over 7years experience in a big corporation, one of the lessons that stuck with me is: how do you measure the impact of design (especially one as ambiguous as service design)? And while for the past year I have been looking for the answer to that specific question, I have yet to find it. Niharika Hariharan, Design Director at McKinsey & Company, seems to be on the same quest as I, the reason why I could not pass the opportunity to attend her workshop on People and profit: measuring business value for intangible experiences. When it comes to service design, much of the focus is centered around the user, how they experience a service, product, system, etc., they are as involved in the research process as in the creation process. But measuring this is often challenging by the age-old standards of numbers and KPIs which makes service propositions unfortunately unsustainable for most business. Through the workshop, teams, worked on ways to find solutions that are both relevant to customers and the business by incorporating this kind of thinking throughout all the design phases: discovery, synthesize (shortlisting options with value for the business and people), test and mobilize (identify early adopters in the business who can support the idea), design and test and finally embedding these sustainable solutions. While the answer for finding effective ways to measuring the ROI of design thinking and service design in organizations remains partly unanswered, its refreshing to see how fellow designers are starting to find ways to answer this question and make progress towards getting non-designers to adopt these methodologies as a way to solve, transform and change our environments.

There were many more inspiring and thought-provoking conferences, roundtables, and workshops, including ways to incorporate conflict as a way to unlock creative potential and innovation, ways in which companies can break down business silos and become more customer-centric, case studies on co-designing Amsterdam's Red Light District to make it more liveable, etc. Not only did I walk away from my volunteering experience feeling inspired and motivated but also with a new network of connections both professionally and personally as I can say I met a great group of service design friends who were volunteering alongside me in this event. I'm looking forward to applying everything I learned and to see what next year's Service Design Days bring to Barcelona!

106 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page