Service Design Tour Milan

In early June 2016 we visited Milan for a third service design tour (following London and Copenhagen). We were 15 students from 14 different nationalities and 3 different universities who went for two wonderfully sunny days. Before the tour most of us enjoyed a full day of sightseeing in the city, which really lifted the whole event to another level.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJLAU_rvow4

Moze

Moze is a small design agency that has a very interesting focus on verification of their clients’ businessmodels. This means that rather than only developing apps or websites to client specifications, they help the client understand what digitisation means for their business. This was a recurring theme among many of our visits: that design companies were getting long, more vision-based engagements with their clients, rather than short-term objective-based ones. For Moze that meant they only work with very soft deadlines — and they explain their clients this from the get-go. It also means that they want to help them rather than simply making them happy, as they said.

They shared many interesting points around client-relationships. One was the previously mentioned validation of business models. But another was the experience that clients often-times felt they were losing time if they did not sit in front of their computers and did daily-routine tasks. This mindset meant that in Moze’s experience, it could be a challenge to get everyone to get in the same room and actually talk about the business idea, the market and the strategy — even though this talk is the one that is most valuable to have as a team.

They also shared some insights for explaining the value of design. For a recent public-sector client, they were asked to examine a website and “polish it”. The website however, was terrible through-and-through (we saw it!), and they tried to explain to the client that, the way the features were added and laid out simply made for a horrible user-experience.
As the client was reluctant to take this consideration seriously, Moze had them make walk-through videos of the site, explaining in words what to do when. This had been a powerful activity to get people to hear with their own words how messy the site was. Another point we heard about working with public-sector clients was about incentive structures. Some places, apparently, the help-desk get more or less budget depending on the number of support tickets they generate. So in their eyes support tickets are a good thing. It is important to remember that cutting costs doesn’t mean the same to every stakeholder!

Logotel

The first thing that stood out when we visited Logotel’s offices was the sheer size and history of the company.

Their main business model is B2B platform services. This means they create internal platforms for educational purposes at large businesses. This was a very different business model than what we have heard about on other tours, and just goes to show the variety with which companies apply the service design methodology.

It is also a way for them to engage in really long-running projects with their clients, giving them a financial security not common in the sphere.

Nascent

Nascent is a branding agency that was kind enough to let us in for a talk on how service design relates to branding. The case presented was about a redesign of an international furniture retailer.

It was very interesting to hear their thoughts on how reworking a brand is a fine opportunity to think about a firm’s service offerings as well. Not only because service innovation can help strengthen a company’s value proposition, but also because the process of service innovation and brand innovation are similar in their holistic perspectives.

In terms of how they work with clients, it was noteworthy that they had very trusting relationships with their clients. To the degree that they sometimes help their clients write briefs for other suppliers. This hints at two things. One, which was very common among all the companies, that long-term relationships are highly attractive, and agencies are very keen to commit long-term — while avoiding being perceived as focussing solely on their own bottom line, as some management consultancies might be.

Second, that a design agency can become a helpful partner, rather than “just” a supplier of specialised knowledge. A specialised supplier-role might not see it as their job to look for other external partners, while a partner-role will do what it takes to help their client (and not just making them happy, as Moze correctly said). We heard more about this partner-role at Frog Milan.

Frog

Frog Milan took us in for a tour and a very thorough presentation of three major cases. One with a major financial institution, one with a humanitarian organisation and finally a public healthcare project.

Without going into details about the different projects because of NDAs, here is a short overview of some of the interesting points relating to the practice of service design we heard.

In the research phase it was clear that they paid careful attention to the mapping of the social context. It was a public healthcare project, so looking outside of the hospital was key to understanding care and cure separately. They also inquired about stakeholders very broadly, to understand who is important in patients’ lives.

They also told us how they mapped the journey as-is, and realized that it was “broken” in terms of steps that hadn’t been carefully thought through. This was an interesting point, as it really goes to show how structurally laying out an experience with a process can lay the foundations of innovation. This happens because the broken journey gives hints at to where to apply creative energies to “fill it out”.

As mentioned previously, in introducing one of the cases they mentioned an understanding of the role of the designer as that of “foundation-maker”. This role entails doing a lot of the partnership-groundwork to get ideas off the ground, as they had to lay the foundation for a sustainable launch of the new concept.

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