NXT

Getting Served in Stockholm

October 27, 2014
by Sean Brennan

DSC 4405

#SDGC14. The service design network’s global conference.

Sweden. Land of coat checks, open flames, and blanket-wearing café goers; where the hot and handsome thrive in a cold, carb-filled environment. Two weeks ago, in the city of islands, a group of our Envisioners from LA, Boston, and Milan experienced first-hand Scandinavian service. And, even as our credit card fraud protection brought stores to their knees, Swedish shopkeepers remained patient and helpful. Truly the perfect setting for 2014’s Service Design Network’s Global Conference.

Day 1 kicked off with service design’s golden calf, Airbnb. Mark Levy, head of employee experience, shared how the startup grew into one of the largest hoteliers in the world—and how it still manages to keep its cool. “Dont fuck up the culture.” Mark related cofounder Brian Chesky’s advice on creating a thriving service provider in the 21st century. And he shared the values that make Airbnb such a great place to work, things like: be a good host, every frame matters, and embrace adventure. An ethos that, combined with cool offices, an inspirational brand video, and promises of dogs and beer at work had most, if not all, of the Millennials in our audience scanning the company’s careers page.

In fact, employee experience was a hot topic this year, with over 5 talks and workshops addressing the issue. Creating Value for Quality of Life, the conference theme, apparently works from the inside out, at least for service designers. Guldbrandsen & Lindeberg talked about transforming how employees think at a century-old organization, Continuum’s trend group, N X T, shared a model for maximizing Millennial engagement in the workplace, and Nathan Shedroff urged organizations to embed qualitative values like meaning, identity, and emotion into their cultures. SDNAnd while it’s easy to look to Airbnb as ‘doing it right,’ most companies don’t connect so directly to the hearts and minds of its staff. I mean, a social travel app is basically a Millennial wet-dream. But what about companies who make nuts and bolts?…or birdseed? How do they compete for talent? And how do they keep their talent engaged?? Because according to SDN, improving the quality of an employee’s work-life is the fastest route to delivering the best services.

Dennis Weil’s keynote finale was, for me, the highlight of the conference. After shaming the crowd for being too insular and high-minded, the former VP of McDonald’s shared a clear vision for how service design will need to evolve if it wants to stay relevant in the future. Weil positioned the practice as riding the waves of HCD and ‘Design Thinking’, but warned designers that a more participatory culture is emerging. Your strategies and your aesthetics won’t fly in a world where everyone has an idea and a voice. Weil believes that the future of service design will belong to the makers, risk-takers, and intellectually versatile who marry creative flair with technical know-how. It’s for those willing to make sacrifices, jump into the trenches, and work side by side with other doers. The two emerging areas where participatory culture will reshape design: Social Design and VC Design. Weil shared Sanergy’s model for creating a sustainable sanitation solution as an example of social design and pointed to Airbnb as VC design.

To succeed in these spaces, designers need to draw on their own passions, rally teams, and build integrated systems from the bottom up. It’s design that calls for an entrepreneurial spirit and for designers to step away from their journey maps, get their hands dirty, and make change happen.

filed in: NXT