ArticleNovember 14, 2019 · 5 min read time
Nitor’s service designers jumped on a plane and flew to Toronto where they participated in Service Design Network’s annual conference SDGC19 on the 9th-10th of October. In this blog post Nitor’s service designer Ville Henriksson provides his insights about the most interesting themes of the conference.
Two themes were constantly emphasized in the uplifting speeches, workshops, and award-winning service design cases. The first theme addressed the efforts to design pervasive service ecosystems in which individuals, communities, and businesses can act in a sustainable balance with the environment. The second one emphasized the service designer’s role to act as an enabler of co-creation, which requires the use of empathy throughout the design process.
It's always more than money
In a service design conference, it’s typical to see presentations that speak about co-creating value with different stakeholders and the multiple aspects of value from a theoretical perspective. They often discuss topics such as customer journeys, touchpoint experiences, and design methods, but lack a more systemic and holistic view about the impact of services and what kind of values they are built upon and supporting.
However, during the various keynotes and case presentations in SDGC19, it became clear that the variety of co-created values – or sacred capital, as the last speaker of the first day, Zita Cobb, called them – are very real and not just another manifestation of business jargon. They actually provide the foundation for successful service ecosystems. However, it requires that the profits and economical capital generated in the ecosystem circulate in the system and sustain the different forms of sacred capital. A perfect and concrete example on how to build such an ecosystem was Cobb’s presentation about award-winning Fogo Island Inn – a hospitality service on a small and remote island on Canada’s east coast.
Cobb, who is one of the founders of a charity called Shorefast, kept an excellent keynote speak about what is the right relationship between economic and sacred capital – namely human, social, cultural, natural, and physical capital. She is born in Fogo, located in the eastern shore of Canada far away from the global cash flows. With Shorefast and the community of Fogo islanders, she has built an ecosystem around a hotel called Fogo Island Inn that supports the economic and cultural resilience of their home island.
Illustration 1: Venn-diagram, financial and sacred capital
After the overfishing of cod partly destroyed the traditional source of living in the 60’s and 70’s, the islanders understood that to cherish their environment and culture, they need to turn the global cash flows towards the island and also stay there. Together they have created a service ecosystem providing hospitality services that are founded on the collaboration of the community and their essential values – their cultural heritage and the coastal nature. Cobb’s former boss put it well:
“The most important thing is to remember to keep the most important things as the most important things.”
Fogo Island Inn hotel & traditional fishing house
The most important things in Fogo are the islander community and the cultural and natural capital that they can utilize to co-create their unique service ecosystem. However, without a comprehensive understanding of their cultural heritage, environment, and resources, it could have been impossible to create such compelling service ideas and a successful business. Thus, the profits from the hospitality services are reinvested into the community to support the local craftsmanship skills and arts, i.e. carpentry, textile designing, and boat making. Without the sacred capital of Fogo islanders and their skills to co-create something extraordinary, the money wouldn’t flow to the tiny community.
What can a service designer learn from Fogo island and their successful hospitality services? Cobb emphasized the collaboration of the community and the importance of understanding the different values that hold these people together. This binds her presentation to the theme of co-design and the role of a designer. A designer should always work as a bridge-builder and constantly utilize one of her most important tools, empathy.
It's empathy – inside and out
One message was pushed forward throughout the conference; a designer should understand that they are a part of the system that they are also designing, and thus they should recognize the qualities of the material they are working with. Where a UX designer should know i.e. the technical barriers and possibilities of a system they are designing, a service designer should understand that one of the main focus of their design should be on the social structures, behaviors, norms, and roles that appear in the service system as they are co-created. And most importantly, they should be capable to self-reflect on how they might affect those structures and are affected by them.
Illustration 2: Iceberg, Focus on underlying patterns
How to make sure that a designer can be sensitive enough and understand the people and the social structures they form when designing a service? Make the design process as inclusive as possible! The phrase “designing with, not for” was repeated often, especially in the presentations that showcased projects, where services were co-designed with people or communities, who were previously seen as steerable or manageable groups.
The importance of empathy and the approach of “designing with” were also emphasized in cases where the service system consisted of multiple actors and were highly complex. For example, in social and health care as well as educational services, the collaborative design approach and empathy had been the way to create a meaningful process and a positive impact that benefitted the whole ecosystem.
At the same time, the speakers stressed that designers should never put themselves on a pedestal or act like a know-it-all design authority. Taking one step back and offering the stake to the people affected by the service had been the most crucial factor that leads to impactful solutions. These can be cases where services were designed together with people with disabilities, the indigenous people of Canada, or people facing homelessness and the current opioid crisis.
Illustration 3: Make the invisible visible: Role, norm, belief
It became clear that to build impactful services, one of the designer’s most important tasks is to provide a design process that builds trust between different participants. The process should call for inclusiveness; it should make the co-creators feel that they can be part of the development team, and they stand equally on the same ground as the other people involved in the process. This is not an easy task, but by using empathy with every stakeholder, regardless of their role in the design process, it is possible to co-create services that are founded on the real needs of the people that will be affected by the service. It is also the way to truly understand what you are dealing with and what you are part of as a designer.