Service Design Conference // Chicago 2015

The topic of service design has come up the past couple of years and I find it fascinating how quickly these two words are gaining popularity and acceptance in even the largest of institutions. UX was, and still is, not as generously accepted when introduced and I have a theory about why this may be the case.

My theory is that because the word, 'Service,' has humble connotations and is cognitively associated with actions related to hospitality, food industry, and depending on what kind of service you've ever received, it is generally accompanied with kindness and a smile. This word is also viscerally more accepted as something to consider and be curious enough to look into when mentioned. It is non-threatening in its introduction across many contexts and specifically in political contexts, it can also be quite powerful as it subtly comments on working class labor and ethics. It kind of just slides right into our vocabulary and this ability is not to be taken lightly.

Service Design Panel discussion at the end of day 1.

Service Design Panel discussion at the end of day 1.

Let's take a step back and compare 'User Experience' and 'Service Design.'

Some argue that they are different, some say that they are from the same family, and some just don't even know what to do about either of them. This is partly due to our industry's lack of firm definitions at times which allows it to be more inclusive to newcomers and gives room for more creative ideas but this is also destructive in our current business landscape because we don't look put together and decided.

From a larger HCD perspective, the principles and philosophy behind who you are designing for is one and the same. Both are pursuing the goal for a better user/customer/human experience. However, the beauty and revelation of this split that will inevitably grow and be more definite in the future is that it streamlines and organizes new design ideas and improves production flow to look more holistically at the human rather than quick fix moments. Not to say that this isn't being done in several UX circles right now, but I guarantee those UX circles can be draining at times while tethering between different hats that are undefined and nebulous.

The best way that I can explain this is through something I learned in my college anthropology studies. In anthropology, there is a separation/distinction between a person's status and the roles they take on within that status. People can have different statuses throughout the day but each has a set of roles that the human knows to act upon while assuming that particular status. This is why elevators are interesting because there is no set status or role - awwwwkkkkwaaarrrddd. 

When I get into my car, I have the status as a driver. As a driver on this particular day, I must pay attention to the road and push the gas + brake pedals while obeying traffic rules until I get to my destination. Those are my roles while I take on this status. 

When I get into my partner's car, I take on the statuses as the navigator and passenger seat companion. As the navigator, my role is to look on my phone and use my vocal chords in an audible fashion to tell my partner what turns s/he needs to make to get to our destination. As a passenger seat companion, my role is to also play music that is appealing to both my partner and me. 

So, why do I bring this up? Statuses and roles are innately how humans move about their lives - both physically and emotionally. We need this distinction and acknowledgement in order to better our industries and tribes. I believe that to some degree, 'Service Design' comments and works to juggle the different statuses humans take on while 'User Experience' comments and deciphers how to make tasks demanded by roles to be more efficient, pleasant, and useful.

You can't separate these two industries just like you can't separate a status and its role but acknowledging its separation and interdependence not only gives a nod to the anthropology community but also encourages and makes clear how to produce and operate these carefully designed moments - both internally and externally.

Anyway, the Service Design Conference in Chicago was fantastic. Here are 3 reasons why.

Erik Flowers walking us through a stellar workshop.

Erik Flowers walking us through a stellar workshop.

1) The speakers actually cared and spoke from the heart.

I don't know how else to expand on this but that every single speaker genuinely came to talk about what they had been experimenting with, what their struggles were, and how they were proceeding to do more service design work. Erik Flowers from Intuit and John Tuck from TrunkClub were some of the hilarious ones who you couldn't help but befriend, and Dianna Miller from Syracuse University anchored the hearts of every single audience member as she gave courage to designers in the room to share and extend their experiences. 

2) Attendees bonded over the challenges they faced and offered little case studies of their own to help others. 

You could almost feel the love and depth of care that lived in these stories while people began to share what they were going through in their organization. It was sort of therapeutic in a way and it even encouraged me to share the struggles of implementing design in a large corporation that, like many, just thought it was all about making it pretty. This was a safe place to share your struggles and also to proclaim what works. One of the biggest realizations for me was how necessary it was to come together and share these experiences - it brings back perspective and endurance to achieve the design goals I think every HCD designer cares about.

3) It was just large enough, the venue was enabling, and it was branded to be an experience that held together on its own. 

Sometimes I think the best service designers can be found in event planning industries. It is not an accident when they design seating a certain way, choose the kind of snacks people can select from, and how loud microphones are tuned to be. Putting on an event is no easy task and these guys nailed it. Everything was really seamless but simple. No super fancy things but just enough to make little moments feel special - like when they gave you your lanyard with a color coded dot on the workshop you selected. The amount of people there were just enough to make it diverse but not feel too overwhelming. To cap an audience count is design decision as well - but I'm sure you already knew that. :)

George Aye presenting the Chicago Public School Cafeteria project that I along with a group of designers helped design.

Service Design artifact from our workshop with M. Felix.

Service Design artifact from our workshop with M. Felix.

John Tuck from TrunkClub

Michael Felix leading us through a hypnotic workshop that was filled with meditation.

I really do feel as though I made some great relationships at this conference. I even reconnected with a professor of mine with whom I served on a project. It's strange how the world churns design circles and I'm really glad I made it out.