Service Design Tour Berlin

Learnings and reflections from visiting seven companies

On the 23rd and 24th of February 2017, a group of twenty postgraduate design students travelled to Berlin to learn more about how service design is being practised by professionals working in the city. The event was the 4th edition of the Service Design Tour initiative and was the most ambitious tour to date, with appointments scheduled at seven companies.

Seven appointments

1. IXDS

Website: ixds.com/berlin

The tour commenced with an appointment at IXDS. Here the group received a presentation from Senior Service Designer, Jochen Heyden who introduced the company’s approach for creating services that support physical technologies. He described the set of principles which underpin the approach to work at IXDS: be empathic; learn from the experts; prototype, test, iterate and learn; understand your purpose.

Jochen shared how service designers at IXDS aim to solve customer’s struggles more holistically, considering the whole journey. When introducing the value of service design to new clients, IXDS uses an analogy of a theatre: describing the various stages through which a customer will engage with the service. Jochen explained how by highlighting the value in changing the backstage of a service, IXDS are able to engage with clients and bring them into a working partnership.

“You have to look at the ‘messy’ backstage. One good way you can do this is to use service blueprints. It is then a case of convincing the client lead on the value of what these diagrams provide.”

Following Jochen’s presentation IXDS Design Lead, Katina Sostmann led the group on a tour of the office space. She explained how those working at the company are not bound to a single space; they are allowed to move around the office and form project groups where appropriate. Furthermore, the group learned that the people at IXDS work according to project roles, rather than job titles.

One of the specialisms of IXDS is in their ability to create technical prototypes. At the end of the (upstairs) office tour, Creative Technologist, Benji Skirlo took the tour group down into the basement for a glimpse of the company’s prototyping space. In a room filled with electronic equipment, he spoke about the value of having a team who can imagine and produce tangible objects.

During the visit to IXDS, the group discovered how the company does not take the same approach to design for all their clients, rather, they adapt their working approach according to each client’s sector and project ambition. In all projects, IXDS aims to involve stakeholders from all areas of a client’s business, which matches with their principle of learning from experts prior to designing a service.


2. FUXBLAU

Website: fuxblau.de

At Fuxblau, the group met with company Co-Founder and Service Strategist, Olga Scupin who shared stories on how the company was formed, as well as her personal journey from business education into a career applying design thinking strategies. It was a candid discussion that provided the group with many useful insights on what it takes to make a living from service and strategic design.

Olga revealed how some clients have difficulty understanding design workshops. One of the major challenges when working with established clients is the difference in language between the design world the business world. Olga explained to the group how good cross-discipline translation and communication between stakeholders is crucial for making a project a success.

The company has strong connections with professional design networks in Berlin — in fact, the two founders of the company also are founding members of the Service Design Berlin network. By taking an approach somewhat similar to network building — offering flexible engagements at differing price levels — the company has managed to build up a mixed client base of large and small businesses.

“Charging more for the ‘big fish’ allows us more opportunities to work with the ‘little fish’.”

The work at Fuxblau is a mixture of design sprints, strategic design and service implementation. Their typical project approach is to begin by constructing a service roadmap with the client, helping them to understand the current landscape. They then work on building a suitable team for implementing designs that address problem areas or new opportunities within the roadmap. Following the implementation of a new service change, Fuxblau will continue offering their consultancy services before gradually stepping back to allow the client to take complete control of their new service design.


3. FUTURICE

Website: futurice.com

The final appointment of the first day was at Futurice. Here the group met with Service Design Consultant, Neil Calderwood and Business Designer Tuomas Silverang who spoke positively about the working culture within the Berlin office.

The emphasis at Futurice is less on design strategy and more on the creation and implementation of digital products and services. Their focus is on discovering and developing innovative, large-scale service products for clients in the private sector. Neil expanded on the subject of negotiation with clients, highlighting the importance of managing client expectations before and during a project. He explained how clients can be considered as belonging to one of three categories:

  • Clients with a plan: a client with an idea and executable plan for how it should be developed.
  • Clients with an idea: a client who has an idea but requests/requires input on how it should be developed.
  • Clients with a question: a client who has a challenge or problem to work with.

Towards the end of the appointment, Neil and Tuomas shared some of the materials which Futurice use to explore new service ideas. They revealed how the company has developed its own set of design tools tailored for working with clients in the technology sector.

The only open source design process and toolkit on this planet. Take it, use it, break it, make it yours and make it better. Lean Service Creation is made of best practices from hundreds of projects blending service design, user-centric approach, lean business thinking, agile development, and startup mentality.

4. FJORD

Website: fjordnet.com/offices/berlin/

Thanks to those at the Service Design Berlin network, we were able to contact Programme Management Lead, Sandra Fieber at the Fjord Berlin office. In coordination with People Operations Lead, Simon Lang, Sandra helped set up an appointment with Business Design Director, Christopher Böhnke who began by taking the group on a walking tour of the office space.

As the group were guided through the office, Christopher discussed the working culture and approach to project work at Fjord. The approach to project work at Fjord is to build ‘design teams’ around a defined problem. While touring the office, the group were able to see evidence of this approach as they encountered small gatherings of people situated in front of whiteboards or seated around a computer screen. The tour group noted a particularly high standard of professionalism at the Fjord office: each designer is expected to be able to ‘bring ideas to life’ and the company makes it a priority to employ people who can demonstrate a high ability with a specialist ‘craft’ skill, such as visual communication or digital prototyping.

“We are not only a design agency, but an innovation consultancy. We call what we do ‘innovation’, because ‘design’ alone is often misunderstood.”

The belief at Fjord is that every great service has a great organisational business model behind it. The group discovered that Fjord’s approach towards designing services involves developing a solid, strategic business design using experience and visual design as mechanisms to describe, sell and implement change. The main goal of the work of Fjord is to produce results for clients. This is in contrast to the way in which service design is presented in academia, where there is a greater emphasis on follow a process and reflecting on what you are learning as a student.


5. MANDALAH

Website: mandalah.com/home

Mandalah is a conscious innovation consultancy that supports the ambitions of large-scale, multinational companies to plan and implement sustainability projects around the world. The group met with the CEO of Mandalah Europe, Florian Peter and Service & Strategic Designer, Valeria Ossio who presented examples of their work with certified B Corporations.

Referring to project examples on the topics of sustainability and nutrition, Florian and Valeria explained the co-creative approach behind the project work. Valeria pointed out how this approach works in two directions — for example, it is necessary for designers to make an effort to adapt and learn the business language and working culture of clients. Florian then went into greater detail to explain how challenge and importance of measuring ‘sustainability’. Unlike other design teams, Mandalah embrace the value of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in the business world, seeing them as an opportunity to develop a “framework for caring”.

One of the primary client offerings at Mandalah is their Impact Labs. Following a period of research and purpose definition, a group of thinkers and doers join together for a 3-week hackathon centred around an ‘innovation challenge’. The group then develops a number of prototypes that address the challenge, using insights to ensure ideas meet the needs of both clients and users. Once a prototype has been through several iterations, it is made ready for ‘roll out’ with a launch plan and set of KPIs to test and monitor success.


6. SERVICE INNOVATION LABS

Website: si-labs.com/#service-design

Following a brief lunch, the group moved to SI Labs, where they were greeted by several employees including Business Designer, Kai Töpel and Marketing Specialist, Marcella Uhte. After a quick coffee break where the group made their introductions, Kai led the tour group through some ‘warm-up’ exercises to stimulate the students’ minds and get their bodies moving. These exercises also acted as a demonstration of SI Labs approach

the company does with clients at the beginning of a workshop.

At a previous appointment, the group had been introduced to the term “holacracy”. Upon mentioning this to Kai, he was able to make an impromptu presentation on how SI Labs adhered to this system of organisational governance. The group heard about how employees are responsible for managing their own workload during a project, being assigned to ‘project roles’ instead of job descriptions.

“The benefit of having roles, is that the workload is more evenly distributed – it is less likely that there will be a delay while waiting for a person with a specific job title to complete a task.”

Kai went on to share details on how SI Labs conducts client projects according what is technically possible, financially viable and desirable for end-users. He provided an overview of the various methods used in the design process and how they progress from quick ideation (storyboards, journey maps and service enactments), through to proving designs using methods that simulate expected real-world usage (paper prototypes, screen flows and click dummies).


7. BOANA

Website: boana.de

The tour culminated with a visit to Boana where the group met Mauro Rego, founder of the company. The meeting took the form of an open discussion that was centred on the realities of working within the sphere of professional design. Mauro shared from experience about how to demonstrate assertiveness as a designer; not allowing clients to dictate your work, instead seeking to challenge their presumptions and shape their project approach. This was a welcome lesson for the students, providing them with a valuable insight into professional approaches and behaviour.

He spoke about how a designer’s career might progress, from starting out with work on individual tasks, through to developing strategic directions with clients. Relating this to service design, Mauro explained how in a designer’s early career, they may start out by designing individual touchpoints, specific moments or activities within a service. As a designer gains more experience in a professional context, they may transition their role into designing how touchpoints are sequenced and combined in order to form a cohesive service.

Mauro elaborated on what it is to be a design consultant. Those in such a position are expected to have a more high-level view of a service and be aware of multiple criteria from both the user’s and business perspective. This awareness is what helps clients to make an informed plan for their future product/service development roadmap.

To end the session, Mauro outlined some of the qualities that make a successful designer:

  • Develop a core skill. At the very least, each designer should have one strong competency that brings value to a company.
  • Build your reputation. Be consistent in your approach to work and impress people with your professionalism.
  • Grow your network. Build trust among your design community and increase your chances of employment.
  • Practice your soft skills. Develop your approach to research, put forward your point of view and sell your ideas.
  • And above all, be nice. Because the world needs more designers who are humble, respectful and well-meaning.

Thanks

This edition of Service Design Tour was organised by Angelica Braccia and Kevin Fox. They would like to thank all of the people and companies mentioned in this article, as well as Esben Grøndal, Manuel Großmann and Caspar Siebel for sharing valuable advice and connections that helped make this tour possible.

Participants of Service Design Tour Berlin (February 2017)

About

Service Design Tour is an initiative that exists to provide current and recent postgraduate students with opportunities to connect with design companies around Europe. The initiative aims to enhance the understanding of service design between the academic world and professional practices. Each tour offers opportunities for students to learn how service design exists and is applied in real-world situations, and offers companies an opportunity to increase their profile among the young professional service design community.

Learn more and keep up-to-date with Service Design Tour via the official website or by following the initiative on Facebook / LinkedIn.

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